Journal does it again

The Journal de Montréal has a … let’s call it a talent, for creating news with its investigations. Usually it involves a reporter going undercover, tricking a group of people into doing something they shouldn’t and then proudly writing an exposé about the whole topic.

And it gets everyone talking. People chat about it on the bus (as I heard this week), other newspapers comment on it and run follow-ups, and politicians react with promises to deal with the situation somehow.

The latest one involves a young reporter going out and pretending to be a unilingual anglophone while applying for jobs. Despite telling them she speaks no usable French, about 15% of them agree to hire her. Rather than focus on the 85% who thought that not knowing enough French was reason enough not to hire someone with experience during the busy Christmas rush, they proclaim that anglophones have it easy here, even in such predominantly French areas as the Plateau. (Really? The Plateau?)

There’s also a video with the journalist in question which basically has her explain what she did and what the legal implications are (apparently, none). Though she proclaims to be able to speak English without a noticeable accent, she didn’t give an example during the video, which would have been nice.

Like most of these pieces, there is a certain amount of legitimate public interest and a certain amount of needless sensationalism involved here. You really don’t need to know that much in either language to work at a coffee shop, especially in Montreal where most people are bilingual. The Gazette points out that the 85% who denied her employment because of her language is more interesting, while denouncing the whole idea as the kind of journalism “we do not need.”

At the same time, I think a lot of the criticism comes from people who compete with or just don’t like the Journal. Had La Presse done the same experiment and treated it with less sensationalism, their reactions would probably have been different. The ability of people to be served in their own language is a legitimate public concern, even if it seems nobody actually ran into problems here.
Either way, now the issue is out of the hands of the media and in the hands of the hot-button reactionary provincial politicians who would bathe in giant buckets of horse manure if they thought it would win them votes in swing ridings.

Let’s hope they don’t go overboard on a minor issue like this.

UPDATE (Jan. 17): Affiliation Quebec says they’re filing a complaint with the Quebec Press Council:

That the Journal de Montreal, in it’s (sic) front page expose on January 14, 2008, intended to inflame the already tender sensibilities of Quebec’s political and social balance, by acting as an “agent provocateur”, in its worst sense.

As a leading daily newspaper, Journal de Montreal has acted in an irresponsible and reckless manner by featuring an article of questionable news value, placed in a position where the editors knew a maelstrom would ensue.

Further, the story’s headline is quite unrelated to the subject of the material, and fails, in any way, to prove that customers are unable to be served in French.

Gosh, to think the Journal would be so bold as to print an article that provokes public debate on a controversial topic. Those bastards.

17 thoughts on “Journal does it again

  1. Christopher DeWolf

    I’m glad to read Boisvert’s column. Honestly, I don’t think it ever matters what the Gazette has to say about language; preaching to the converted, etc.

    Last year, La Presse did a similar investigation where they send reporters into a bunch of downtown businesses, pretended to be speak only French and noted whether or not people were able to serve them. In all but a couple of cases, clerks and store owners were able to serve them in French.

    That, to me, seems like a far less sensational way to approach the same issue. But it didn’t raise nearly as much of a fuss.

    What really irks me most about the Journal’s “investigation” is that it is wholly manufactured. There’s no actual evidence presented that would suggest that a significant number of unilingual anglophones are being hired to deal with the public. It’s also completely unrealistic: how many unilingual anglophones can’t even say more than “Bonjour,” which was the whole premise of this reporter’s charade? Even anglos who can’t carry a conversation in French can recite numbers, basic greetings, etc.

  2. Frank

    Not sure i get your statement: is Boisvert incapable of understanding and rip his shirt open ala SSJB/PQ/MMF because he chose, as did the Gazette, to focus on the rationally important 82 stores that did not hire the mole?

  3. Frank

    Mario, apologies. By attributing the last 4 words of your first post to you took on a whole different meaning; misguided it was on my part. Indeed you’re right in that “he doesn’t get it” and we’d all be hard pressed to follow the thinking of politicians when their thinking is oft malleable by self-interest strategizing.

  4. Lance

    You all have missed the point.

    What is being suggested here is that an English speaking resident of Montreal, who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid of language fascism in Quebec, should be prohibited from working. There are still many Quebec born individuals who only speak English: Why should they be condemned to poverty? This is again another example wherein French Quebec four legs are good, but walking upright on two legs is bad.

  5. CdnQc

    Yes, my friends, the countdown is on for the third Quebec independence referendum. The recent rumblings over language are the first storm clouds to begin slowly gathering in anticipation of the next near-death experience for Canada.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no more pleased about this than the rest of you about this scenario, but I can’t say that I haven’t been expecting it. Having moved to Quebec some years ago, I’ve actually had a front-row seat for the show put on by our patriotic Canadians living in Quebec who like no better than to antagonize our French-speaking compatriots by never lowering themselves to utter so much as a bonjour or a merci.

    Now, these guys were pretty low-key after Oct. 30, 1995. Now, that was a heckuva close call and the teary-eyed Canadian patriots were in shock. Actually, it took them a while to get their collective heart-rate back to normal. Maybe, just maybe, the Frenchies weren’t bluffing after all.

    But now, 1995 is a dozen years behind us, so why bother with French?

    And although anybody with half a brain who’s ever travelled to a foreign country knows it only takes a few days to master the basics of another language (please, thank you, yes, no, how much is it?, basic numbers), no one over said that this had to apply to our patriotic Canadians working in shops on Rue Ste-Catherine (that’s St. Catherine Street, in case you didn’t understand.)

    So from the people in your province who actually do love Canada, thanks a lot les amis. We hope you enjoy your new life in Brampton or Calgary a few years down the road when you inevitably leave us all behind, complaining that the French thing in Montreal was just sooooooo unbearable.

  6. QcCdn

    Not exactly sure of their exact location but recent experience suggests they are increasingly populating service sector jobs in shops and boutiques in various regions of Quebec.

    I refer to them as “patriotic Canadians” because their Canadian-ness is usually what they hide behind when people rag on them from not even knowing the basics of French. Sorta counter-productive, if you ask me, but the irony of what they’re doing is completely lost on them I guess…

  7. Christopher DeWolf

    I’ve encountered anglophones in the service sector who can barely speak French, though I’ve never met anyone who has justified this by pointing out the fact that they are Canadian. I sounds to me like you’re making unfounded generalizations.

  8. QcCdn

    I was using a tad of hyperbole, but it is also true that I’ve heard this several times personally from unilingual anglos, and have heard numerous francophones report these types of reactions when they’ve confronted staff who can’t speak French.

    Don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that one of the main justifications (if not the main one) for not/never speaking French in Quebec is “well, we’re in Canada after all”.

    And many newcomers to this country in particular obviously feel they have done their part to integrate to their new home by learning English (only), despite the fact they have chosen to settle in Quebec.

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  13. Tamara

    you wonder why new commers chose to learn English? “maybe because they can go any where in the world with English”

    By the way i’ an Anglo who want to dominate French the way i do English which happens to be my second language.. and i think i’m doing great!! i can speak to my husbang grand mother who do not speak or understand a word in English and has never been outside of wonderful quebec… i on the other hand enjoy when i am in an english enviorment with my hubby and can say what i want without anyone understandig…. bottom line i love both language and continue to learn French…


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