I am dismayed by the lacklustre engagement on Bill 96, especially from the established political parties and the national press, because it is a national issue that goes beyond individual consequence. Fear of igniting the perennial French-English debate/struggle, and fear of losing seats/ influence explains that political silence, but that same timidity is tragically preventing debate on issues that threaten both Quebec society and Canada writ large. Bill 96 is bad for Quebec, bad for the Quebecoise, and bad for Canada.
Last week, Andrew Salked was correct to point out the consequences for Franco-Quebecers of this proposed law. In the real world, limiting educational opportunities in English for French-speakers means limiting their life prospects, both in terms of their own qualifications as well as what might be offered in the global economy. The proposed language restrictions will limit investment (and hence opportunity) in Quebec and consign it to a backwater status internationally.
But forget the French-English argument, that’s not the important point. When Francophones figure out that these limitations hurt themselves, they’ll change them, although for sure not to the extent that some Anglophones would wish.
More worrisome is the kind of state that this bill envisions, the kinds of state power it would impose. Bill 96 allows for shocking new powers for Quebec: the power to impose a prescribed manner of conducting personal day-to-day affairs (operating internally in French as compared to any other language of choice); the power to search and seize personal property (cell phones, laptops etc) without warrants (in order to collect evidence that internal communications are being conducted in forbidden languages); and the mandating of anonymous accusations of language infractions (snitch lines that will inevitably be abused). These new authorities will be at the disposal of not the Ministry of Justice or the police, but rather the Office de la langue française. Who are they accountable to? And all of this is justified under the Constitution’s “notwithstanding” clause, which shields it from judicial oversight? Do we want a state with those kinds of authoritarian powers? If this is not a slippery slope, what is?
One wonders why so-called “libertarians” are not concerned about this intrusion of the state. Personally, I am not of that political persuasion, but I always thought that many Quebecois were. This is not about French-English dominance, this is about personal freedom, privacy, and the limitation of state power. This government needs to be held to account for its fascistic tendencies. First it was the anti-hijab/kippah law, and now it’s the anti-anglo regulations. What will be next? Do we want to live in a nation where “je me souviens” means remembering when we had personal choice, dignity and mutual accommodation?
Jonathan Laine is a resident of Wakefield, Quebec