Advance the attack! A response to the De Courcy-Lisée letter

Par Beryl Wajsman le 21 mai 2013

Clearly the letter that Ministers De Courcy and Lisee released was nowhere near enough. Not enough because they failed to address the central point – Bill 14 is not necessary and is nothing but an attempt to solidify the `pur et dur` base through more politics of division. Not enough because the Bill demeans all Quebecers, francophones as well as non-francophones. Not enough because the government is still not willing to stop the economic destruction of Quebec by ceasing to put up these false issues of discord. But let us take another point of view for a moment and make what some of you may consider a strange plea.

Three things struck us about the letter. First, that it was written at all. Secondly, that it did recognize the critical violations of civil liberties in this Bill that were condemned in many presentations at the National Assembly hearings. Thirdly, that it can be used as yet another weapon against the Bill itself.

The Ministers did not have to write this letter. They knew going in that nothing short of removal of the Bill would satisfy opponents. These are intelligent people. But they are manipulative and shrewd politicians first and foremost. They know that this Bill is destructive and unnecessary. They know this letter will not get them one vote from the audience that reads it. Some might say that they wrote it as a sign of respect to the non-francophone community. Closer to the truth – sadly – would be the other interpretation that they wanted a strong rejectionist reaction. They could then go back to their base and say “See, we tried to engage, but there`s no one to talk with on the other side.” It is that knee-jerk rejectionist reaction that we need to guard against. Not only must we not stop engaging, we can use elements of this letter to attack the very government and the very legislation it seeks to defend.

In the second paragraph of the letter the authors state that the Bill has been seen as an attack on English rights. The authors imply that was not the intent. Fine, let`s use that. Let`s play their game.  If that wasn`t the intent Ministers, then reverse all the discriminatory issues. The Ministers made it clear they are now prepared to let the issue of bilingual status for municipalities alone because the government respects “identity and heritage” including that of non-francophones in Montreal. Fine. Let’s take that and push for bilingual status for Montreal where more than half the population is non-francophone. Bilingual status doesn’t mean everything is bilingual. It simply means that if individuals and corporations need information in English, it will be provided. Immediately. No discussion. Out of “respect” right? This letter gives us a weapon to use as a wedge to break through the legislative battlements. Let’s go for it.

The letter recognizes that the “ethnic minorities” designation does carry important legal protections whereas “cultural communities” does not. This was the first in the series of civil rights concerns presented at the hearings. The Ministers stated that the designation will either be kept or they will assure that any change will not affect anyone’s rights. They claim they “didn’t see it (opposition to this) coming.” As disingenuous as it sounds, let’s take them at their word for now and push forward. If they recognize the legal protection that phrase affords, then logic dictates that the PQ must respect the documents that give it weight. Specifically, the UN Covenant on Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities of 1992, the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 2012 Quebec City Declaration, the Canadian Charter of Rights and the Quebec Charter of Rights. Let us use the Ministers’ promise to drive home the point that those documents require a greater degree of respect for English in the public square. The UN Covenant guarantees the use of ethnic minority language rights in all spheres and the Quebec Charter states that there will  be “ no discrimination against individual human dignity based on language.”: This can be used to continue the fight not only against 14, but with this admission against elements of 101 as well. Repeal may not be in the cards, but the door to rollbacks has been opened however inadvertently.

The Ministers wrote that insofar as Bill 14’s extension of the powers of the OQLF and the minister responsible are concerned, the government realizes that everything must be done to counter the “excessive character of the Office”s power or those of the Minister.” Therefore, if the office’s and the minister’s powers are now recognized as excessive, how much more important is it to eliminate from the Bill the extended search, seizure and no-notice prosecutorial powers of inspectors. If De Courcy and Lisee are ready to reign in the Office and the minister, they must do the same with inspectors since they are the frontline offenders. In fact, De Courcy and Lisee bring out `Pastagate” as an example of excessive use of power. Let’s use this admission to curb the inspectors once and for all. Their powers were a a critical component of the civil rights concerns presented at the hearings.

On the question of the right to “live and work in French” the Ministers claim that it has been inappropriately called “discriminatory” because it is made conditional on the phrase “within the bounds of the Charter of the French Language.” Fine. Then if they admit that it is discriminatory out of those bounds, they need to take that phrase out of the Quebec Charter of Rights where the Bill proposed to put it. Their own arguments can be used against this Bill.

The Ministers’ still refuse to see that closing CEGEPs to French youngsters is discriminatory against francophones and ghettoizes them. We have to keep hammering on that point. The anti- Bill 14 fight is a fight for the civil rights of all Quebecers not just Francophones. Our communities must engage with Francophones as Quebecers. This is not just our fight. It is everyone’s and the non-francophone communities must be seen to understand that and act on it. 

The Ministers use selective and misleading statistics to buttress their argument that 101 should be extended to smaller businesses. As Mark Twain once wrote, “there are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies and statistics.” But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the Ministers insist on using trumped up numbers, let’s use their own against them. The OQLF reports from this past November demonstrated that 93% of people in downtown Montreal are served in French and even on the West Island the percentage is 81. Let’s keep on throwing that out into the public debate. 

The Ministers end  by stating that “Bill 14 exists because a majority of francophones feel that their cultural security is at risk.”.Two important comments need to be made. First, where is the proof of the “majority?” Almost as many francophone voices rose in opposition to Bill 14 as non-francophone ones. Secondly, even if it were true that a majority “feel” something, it is the responsibility of political leaders to deal with reality and justice and not pander to what is “perceived.” That leads to mob rule.

Finally, the Ministers ask for “reciprocal empathy” in a continuing dialogue. That’s one point we can all agree on. And we hope you will use the arguments set out here  as the content of that dialogue. Because if the Ministers truly want to be empathetic – and to be given the “benefit of the doubt on their good faith” – then we cannot lose in our fight against this egregious, draconian and unnecessary legislation. Advance the attack! This letter, intended or not, gives us all the ammunition we need to win.


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