By Beryl Wajsman
Whatever one’s position on Bill 96, having it apply retroactively to English death certificates issued by Quebec 14 years ago is obscene. Even death cannot seemingly escape the long reach of this province’s language psychosis and venality.
Montrealer Steven Grover’s father David died in 2009. The Quebec government issued a death certificate in English. Recently the province’s Natural Resources Ministry — using Bill 96 as an excuse — required Steven to have it translated. The certificate had been acceptable in 2009 when the family settled David Grover’s estate, but was needed again for the sale of land he partially owned.
Steven Grover said he thought the rejection was “frivolous” and “mean-spirited.” We think it’s worse than that. This is what happens when bad laws put more power into the hands of vengeful bureaucrats. Even if the Premier did not intend for the new language law to be used in such an egregious and retroactive manner, when you unleash prejudice you can’t control the outcome.
Many organizations have reported other incidents like the Grover affair. There will be many more. But this affair reveals another hypocrisy of this government. It had promised that “historic anglophones” would not have their rights affected. Well, the Grovers are historic anglophones. But that doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
On May 31, the Task Force on Linguistic Policy took the Quebec and Canadian governments to court for failing to protect the constitutional rights of English-speaking Quebecers. Cases it cited included a woman suffering from ulcerative colitis who is not a historic Anglophone and cannot get service in English; the mother of a boy with autism, and a businessman who will no longer be served in English by the Quebec government.
The government had promised that health services would not be affected. Yet there have been dozens of cases where hospitals have stopped issuing English written instructions to patients undergoing treatment. Even treatment for cancer.
Incidents like the Grover affair reveal the true face of the impact of Bill 96. It strips away the pretence of equity and unmasks the ugliness beneath. Last year, the Legault government paid millions of dollars for advertising that Bill 96 “would not affect English-speaking Quebecers.” The government even took ads in American media trying to blunt the negative impact on foreign investment of this legislation. Its actions have been to the contrary.
The government knows the impact of illiberal license. It also knows the ugly ethno-centric underpinnings of so much of Quebec nationalism. The Grover incident is not isolated. This legislation has let loose the devils of discrimination. It has given license to the nullification of equal status for a fifth of Quebecers. It has institutionalized yet again two classes of citizenship.
The application of the law is severe and not subject to reason. It had already been established that going forward all birth, marriage and death certificates would have to be in French. But no one expected that the provisions of Bill 96 would be retroactive. The precedent this sets is chaotic for the legal and business communities.
Now the heartlessness of this law, and of this government, becomes clear. There is no mercy even for the ill and the infirm. And not even for the dead.
This article first appeared in The Suburban. Reprinted with permission.