Bilingualism isn’t a threat to Quebec

Chris DeWolf emailed me about this blog post on the two solitudes from Voir’s François Parenteau. In it, he argues that anglos are zombies (then he argues that we’re not zombies) and that we’re coming to get francophones so we can enslave them, or other such nonsense:

Et c’est vrai aussi que, d’un point de vue strictement francophone, les anglophones sont des morts-vivants. Ils sont vivants, en ce sens qu’ils marchent, travaillent, mangent, dorment, votent et font des enfants. Mais comme ils font tout ça en anglais, ils sont morts au regard de la communauté francophone. Ils ne créeront jamais rien en français. Ils ne consommeront aucun produit culturel en français. Ils ne retireront rien et n’amèneront rien à la sphère culturelle francophone. Ils la “compétitionnent” même avec la leur propre, indépendante, nourrie à même la culture majoritaire de ce zombie-land qu’est l’Amérique du Nord. Et pire encore, on le sait, ils transforment automatiquement en zombie les francophones avec qui ils entrent en contact. Il n’y a qu’à voir les communautés francophones hors-Québec pour s’en rendre compte.

My problem isn’t that he’s paranoid, or that he spews vitriolic hatred and xenophobia, painting hundreds of millions of people with one gigantic brush. My problem is how familiar this kind of language is, leading people to believe that such opinions are valid.

I wonder if I should even point out that the entire premise for the post is wrong. He says census data shows that French is the mother tongue of less than 50% of Montrealers (which is true), and that this is because of an increase in the number of English speakers. A quick look at the census data shows that almost all the change in percentages comes because of an increase in immigration and the number of allophones (who speak neither language at home). What’s more, a majority of these immigrants to Quebec are choosing French over English for the first time.

Of course, facts are irrelevant. What matters is what’s in his gut. And the irrational fear is there. Just like Americans think they’re going to get swarmed by illegal Mexican immigrants and have to speak Spanish, people like Parenteau think there’s an organized anglo conspiracy to rid Quebec of the French language, and that the percentage of francophones, now around 80% province-wide, will drop to zero.

I’m not suggesting that being surrounded by a population 50 times your size doesn’t put a melting pot pressure. It does, though nowhere near as big as alarmists make it out to be. And the shrinking population of francophones outside Quebec should be of concern as well to anyone who wants this country to promote bilingualism.

But it’s not equivalent to South African apartheid, as one commenter (who wants everyone to know he has a bachelor’s degree) suggested.

Facebook and YouTube have to change

Parenteau points to the English-only Facebook as an example of the assimilation of francophones into anglophonia. I think it’s annoying that Facebook is only now considering creating versions of itself in other languages. YouTube, which launched an English-only Canadian site despite already having translated versions, is even moreso.

But the blame for this should rest on Facebook and YouTube, not anglophones in general. And the suggestion that francophones should boycott these sites (yeah, good luck with that) is exactly how it should be dealt with.

Blaming anglos doesn’t solve anything

Even if we ignore all of that, the fact remains that Parenteau and company don’t put forward any serious solutions for the problem of “zombies” eating their brains. Some suggest sovereignty, which wouldn’t stop Quebecers from using Facebook, nor would it make French more common elsewhere in Canada. Restrictive legislation like Bill 101 just makes companies look for loopholes, which is why Momma’s Pizza House is now Maison de Pizza Maman but Burger King is still Burger King. Boycotts and popular campaigns don’t work.

And most importantly, blaming all us anglos for the problem and calling us names won’t do a thing for the cause. It’s not going to make us all run away to Toronto or start speaking French. It’s just going to get us riled up and start writing blog posts.

But I’m not going to stoop to François Parenteau’s level. I’m not going to pretend like he represents the majority of francophones. I know better than to suggest that 80% of Quebec’s population are ignorant xenophobes who want to rid the world of everyone who isn’t like them.

Why aren’t we happy with bilingualism?

Montreal is the most bilingual city in North America. It’s a place where it’s not uncommon to find people switching languages in mid-sentence. But rather than embrace that, the two solitudes are at each other’s throats. Yes, that means we have some unilingual anglophones, but they represent less than 5% of the population. Is this really the end of the world? The alien invasion? The apocalypse?

We should be celebrating the fact that we can speak two languages here. We should be promoting it as an economic strength. Instead, we have people like François Parenteau who believe refusing to speak another language makes him a better person.

16 thoughts on “Bilingualism isn’t a threat to Quebec

  1. DAVE ID

    People like Parenteau are bigots and don’t deserve the attention you are giving him here, though the counter is a necessity. He’s such an idiot and should just stand back and play the word replacement game, replacing Anglo with black and French with white to change the angle of his argument and it would never have been published.

    We should be celebrating the fact that we can speak two languages here. We should be promoting it as an economic strength.

    I’ll drink to that.

  2. Christopher DeWolf

    Parenteau’s column is glib and I wouldn’t have had a problem with it if it wasn’t for that paragraph you quoted, which implied that anglos are somehow totally removed from the “francophone” cultural life of Montreal. That’s obviously not true and I’m astounded by the fact that Parenteau seems oblivious to the extent to which many community, political, cultural and artistic organizations in Montreal involve anglophones. Does he live in a bubble?

  3. Fagstein Post author

    I would argue that yes, maybe he does. There are plenty of unilingual people (on both sides) who think the others are one big block (or bloc). Anglophones who think all francophones are dirty separatist bigots, or francophones who think all anglos are rich West Island snobs who want to move to Toronto.

    Like most of society’s problems, education and communication are the antidote. Sadly, some people seem to be steadfastly against both.

  4. Lance

    Your diagnosis of the problem, and your proposed remedy, viz. “education and communication,” are both wrong.

    The “collectivity” in this province have, unsurprisingly, an “identity” problem; accordingly, the problem and the remedy rest with properly defining this ‘”identity” problem.’

    Just as Israel can never seem to solve its “palestinian” problem, because they are a “people” that were invented for political reasons, (when armed aggression failed), so too there can never be a Canadian solution for its Quebec problem, for similar reasons. (I would add, at least, the French in Quebec are no longer taking hostages or planting bombs; well, that is, at least recently.)

  5. DAVE ID

    Holy Crap, somebody (that’s you Steve) ban Lance. Quebec did not take hostages, the FLQ did. Quebec is not a PROBLEM for Canada, it’s a reality that must be dealt with I remember my history, it was the French on which the genocide was perpetrated by the Anglos, not the other way around and we are still here. We were not invented.

    The only reason this is an issue is because people like yourself decide to make it one.

    (Ed: This message was edited to conform to my draconian censorship rules. Let’s keep it civil people)

  6. Roberto Rocha

    Parenteau simply confirms what Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser said: “I think it is generally true that majority communities are generous of spirit when they feel secure and are mean-spirited when they feel insecure.”

    In context:

    As an immigrant to Quebec, I’m seeing Quebecers slowly shifting into a kind of panic mode as they realize their “thoroughbred” population is falling as outsiders are coming in to replace them. One must wonder, at the rate it’s going, how long it will take for foreigners to outnumber natives.

    At that point, one can argue, Quebec culture as we define it today will pretty much be history.

    Some people face this scenario with dialog. Informed debate. Strategies to adapt. Others, like Parenteau, prefer to ape the ugliest of humanity, the kind shown by ignorant reactionaries in the Bouchard-Talylor roadshow. You know, the type of behaviour that most francophone Montrealers, at least those I call friends, are embarrassed about.

  7. Fagstein Post author

    I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve always seen fear of immigrants and fear of anglos differently, even if they’re coming from the same people and for the same fundamental reasons.

    One is about language (and it’s la faute du fédérale). The other is about traditions (and seems to be the fault of the immigrants themselves, even if they’re not the ones asking for it).

  8. DAVE ID

    Fine, leave the F word out, I can deal with that. But if a little word like the F word makes you tremble, why then do you permit racists to post lies and perpetuate ignorant falsehoods that are an insult to an entire community? Because Lance implied that all of the Quebecois (in his meaning the French) were terrorists. I find that far more offensive and uncivil than the F word.

    Say everyone has a right to their opinion and I’m sending the snippers. ;)

  9. Lance

    If what I was saying wasn’t true, I don’t believe that you would be foaming at the mouth as you are. And, attempting to censure me is pretty much in-line with how the French in Quebec handle criticism. And, no, I am not a racist. I dislike the tyranny of the majority in the province of Quebec because it is illiberal, and, by its own admission, “unaccommodating.” Such intolerance is even brought by the French to the Supreme Court of Canada (as in the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Appellant/Respondent on motion v. Léon Mugesera at, where the Court wrote:

    “Regretfully, we must also mention that the motion and the documents filed in support of it include anti-Semitic sentiment and views that most might have thought had disappeared from Canadian society, and even more so from legal debate in Canada. Our society is a diverse one, home to the widest variety of ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups. In this society, to resort to discourse and actions that profoundly contradict the principles of equality and mutual respect that are the foundations of our public life shows a lack of respect for the fundamental rules governing our public institutions and, more specifically, our courts and the justice system.”

    And more recently in the dissent written in Bruker v. Marcovitz, 2007 SCC 54 at:

    Antisemitism in and among French Quebec, I’m afraid, is not just historical, but alive and well in the here and now.

    My point of view, that I believe is well supported, both historically and morally, is that the French in Quebec province should disappear. I believe that the best way to effect this result is for there to be a full separation of Quebec from Canada. (I am a fifth generation English-speaking resident of Montreal by the way.) After Quebec independence, for economic and cultural reasons, Quebec would give up the whole French-language supremacist tyranny real fast. Canada, the mythical state that it is, would also disappear. Provinces such as Alberta and Ontario would quickly be absorbed into the United States; the other provinces, however, would likely have to wait in line behind Puerto Rico.

    Quebec, however, in an effort to maintain its standard of living, would cease to be French and make special pleading for incorporation into the United States; but would, again, have to wait behind Puerto Rico.

    Unfortunately, all of this could take at least ten years; and perhaps as many as fifty years. I’m not willing to wait that long. The Bouchard-Taylor nonsense, the very ugly epithet “anglophone,” ect., has convinced me that I can no longer wait for this cesspool to self-destruct. I’m off to America where fundamental rights are granted by God through the U.S. Constitution; and not by the indulgence of a tyrannical majority that can withdraw the same at a capricious whim.

    Does Fagstein see from whence the intolerance originates? Will he censor me in an effort to convince the oppressor that he is not, indeed, a spoiled child that can run over the basic human dignity of others notwithstanding the language that he or she speaks? Why is it acceptable to discriminate based on language? Once discrimination of any kind is legalized, as it is in Quebec province, it is a short step to discriminate on equally fundamental human characteristics. So I ask: Who is the racist!

  10. DAVE ID


    HA HA HA

    HI HI HI

    HO HO HO

    HE HE HE

    Lance you crack me up with your laughable premises to hate French people. Be sure to move down south, Alabama even where you’ll be welcomed there. The love hating. They hates the black man over there though, not the French man. But hate is blind and clean I’m sure you’ll adapt quickly.

    It’s so easy to pick out those bumps in the road where the system failed and make your case for it like the religious who can find anything to prove their point in their little book of scripture. The exceptions don’t brake a rule, they often confirm it. Problem Diagnostics 101. You have issues in your life and you want to point the finger at something. You have internal problems and want to find an external cause to it. You are very sad.

    And I want you banned because you spread lies, not because I can’t handle criticism, you didn’t offer any.

  11. François Parenteau

    I feel the need to point out that this whole article in VOIR describing anglos as zombies was precisely making irony of the paranoïa surrounding any linguistic debate in Quebec. IRONY. I know irony can be tricky sometimes but you need only to get to the end of the same article to know that if I’m worried about the health of the french language in Québec, I feel the need to say again and again that we have to build bridges between the communities. In fact, I even consider myself an anglophile, even if I react strongly against any sign of francophobia in Montreal, wich is by far not prevalent but, sadly, does exist, and recently seemed to me and a lot of my friends to be on the rise.

    By the way, I’m quite bilingual (I wrote this by myself, even if the automatic spelling corrector on my computer kept indicating to me that almost all my words were errors… so forgive me if there are some in english), and have said repetedly that while the fight to make sure that Quebec remains a french culture is important, we need to make our anglophones neighbors feel included and deal with them in the most open-minded way, as indiduals, and that being able to speak english for a francophone today doesn’t represent a threat to the french language and is in fact a necessity of modern life almost everywehere.

    Yep. One can be an independantist and still be human… Even if some people would like it otherwise…

    Since I discovered to my horror that this big misunderstanding was getting echoed through the net, I felt the need to at least be precise about what my intentions were. Because a civilized debate is always better than misinformed mud-slinging.

    François Parenteau

  12. jerome

    Quebec is the only place in the civilized world that I know of where the majority has to pass laws to protect it’s culture from the minorities! How lame!

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