Barbara Kay: Quebec seeks covert exit from pledge to ethnic minorities
National Post - Friday April 5th, 2013
Quite a lot of printer’s ink has been consumed in the last few months on the iniquities inherent in Quebec’s proposed Bill 14, a substantial revision of Bill 101, Quebec’s 1977 Charter of the French Language.
One of the saddest things about the PQ’s return to power is that it upset an unprecedented détente between francophone and Anglophone Quebecers — a widely shared belief that no matter how wacky outsiders might (correctly) believe them to be, French-language protections were both needed and more or less appropriately stringent. But long before that, I spent six years in Quebec speaking almost entirely English, including amongst francophones, and didn’t experience a single linguistic conflict.
The resumed hostilities highlight the absurdity of Ms. Marois’ sovereignty-by-grievance strategy. Mr. Samson notes in his piece that Quebec ministers would be perfectly free to speak to American delegates in a language of mutual comprehension. Their gripe is with Ottawa, after all, not Washington or Albany, and even Pauline Marois understands that what Canadians see as bald-faced provocation would simply baffle, say, an American envoy. (“You can speak to me in English, but you won’t? And you want me to call Stephen Harper to complain? I think I’ll just catch the next flight home, thanks.”)
Under Bill 14, we have learned, bilingual municipalities could lose their bilingual status against their will according to slight demographic shifts; military families could see their traditional rights to have their children educated in English during their tours in Quebec terminated, effectively suffocating the English school system in that region; English CEGEPs could see their freedom to accept francophone students curtailed (which would hurt francophones a lot more than anglophones); and employees would have the right to sue their employees if they were asked to speak English on the job.
Here is another, quite insidious twist to Bill 14. Bill 14 will replace the current Charter’s words “ethnic minorities” with “cultural communities.” On the surface that seems rather anodyne. But in terms of human rights, that would be a momentous change. For “ethnic minorities” has status in international, national and provincial human rights codes, while “cultural communities” has no status at all.
When “ethnic minorities” feel their rights have been abrogated, they can make a moral appeal to the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,or the UN Covenant on Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities of 1992, not to mention the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But I suspect one especially pressing reason for the change is that with it, Quebec can ignore its signature to the Quebec City Inter-Parliamentary Union of October 2012. (See ipu.org for information on this organization, which seems not to have much political muscle, but certainly holds high ideals.)
The IPU’s latest gathering was held in Quebec City last October. The theme was: “Citizenship, Identity and Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in a Globalized World.” It produced the “Quebec City Declaration,” and as I note some of the declaration’s highlights below, please bear in mind that they were adopted unanimously – i.e. Quebec is a signatory to the following resolutions:
* “We, members of parliament gathering in Quebec City on the 127th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, firmly uphold cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial, political and religious diversity as a global value which should be celebrated, respected, encouraged and protected within and among all societies and civilizations”;
* “We are convinced that a diversity of ideas, values, beliefs, languages and cultural expressions…enriches our outlook and experiences at the national, regional and international levels”;
* “All individuals must be allowed the full enjoyment of their equal and inalienable rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…[and] should not lead to any discrimination whatsoever based on culture, race, colour [or] *language*…”;
* “Moreover, persons belonging to linguistic minorities should not be denied the right to use their own language or to gain access to minority-language education.”
This last provision really sticks in the craw. Bill 101 of course already abrogated this right, and Bill 14 would only extend its application in a more draconian fashion. But it takes a special brand of political cynicism not only to sign off on an international document one has not honoured in the past and has no intention of honouring in the future, but to hold the assembly in which these dishonoured human rights are praised in the very shadow of the legislature that mocks them.