Quebec Values

The province of Quebec is unique in Canada; many non Canadians know that Canada has two official languages – French and English – how many people know Quebec has it’s own legal system based on French civil law? It’s complicated; for anyone wanting to learn more the link below gives a good overview,

Quebec values is a term given to a bill expected to be introduced in parliament this fall by the Parti Quebecois – aimed at regulating religious symbols. If you worked at a government office, police station, public school or daycare, university or hospital you would be forbidden to wear a burqa, turban, hijab, yarmulke, or cross. Some exceptions would be allowed under the amendment to the Quebec Charter of Rights; a crucifix in the National Assembly would be considered an “icon of cultural heritage”,  as it was a gift from the Catholic Church in 1936. The Marois government is also considering an exemption for staff at institutions such as hospitals, with a clause specifying the exemption be reviewed every 5 years.

Bernard Drainville, Quebec’s Minister of Democratic Values is the driving force behind the bill he originally called the Charter of Secular Values. The debate was sparked in 2007 when the Bouchard-Taylor Commission took a look at “religious accommodation” in Quebec. Last week Charles Taylor spoke in a televised interview saying the bill far exceeds  recommendations of the commission.An excerpt of Taylor’s comments from a CTV news story….

“They are proposing such strict restrictions that it will create problems… People will feel rejected by Quebec,” said Taylor.

He said that widespread bans against religious icons would end up creating ghettos in Quebec.

“It tells a category of citizens ‘you are excluded, we don’t want you here.’ It doesn’t make any sense.”

While conducting their commission, professor Taylor and historian Gerard Bouchard found, early on, that Quebecers were almost paranoid with fear that Muslims were taking over society. Taylor and Bouchard found those fears were not rooted in reality, and said that Quebec should work to integrate all citizens.

“The rules we proposed were very clear: institutions are neutral, individuals are free,” said Taylor.  ridiculous –

I’m still pondering “Quebec Values” –  I believe it’s a step in the right direction, perhaps being taken a little too far. Asking a woman to remove her hijab when entering a government building seems a bit much. Then I remember I live in a country whose federal employees are forbidden to say “bless you” after someone sneezes – I’ll take attempts to extract church from state, however feeble or silly over the Tea Party any day.


Depending on whose statistics you deem most reliable, there are anywhere from 6,500 to almost 7000 spoken languages in the world. One point all agree upon – several thousand of them have fewer than 1000 speakers. Any way you slice it – that’s still a lot of language.

I’m fluent in “cereal box” French, can count to 10 in Japanese, am able to muddle my way through basic Spanish, and can say “thank you” in Mandarin. French is Canada’s second official language; a requirement for any government job, but Mandarin or Cantonese are the classes with waiting lists. We’re having a provincial election in a few days; a candidate in my riding dropped a pamphlet in my mail box – English and Chinese characters – no French in sight.

I’m not pondering the Chinese election flyer; it makes perfect sense – the candidate is Asian  knows the demographic, and wants to be elected. Lets not forget – Mandarin is spoken by almost 2 billion people, English ranks third  with a paltry 335,000,000 to the 406,000,000 of second place Spanish. French doesn’t even crack the top 10 list.

I’m pondering a changing world where official language takes a back seat to demographics. A world where thousands of dialects are on the brink of extinction. A world where translation is lost, and cultures fade into obscurity. A world that borders on linguistic assimilation as might makes right. A world that fails to recognize the irreparable damage of lost languages. And yes damnit, I’m pondering that election flyer.

Language tells stories,  is part of our identity, and defines culture. French is Canada’s second official language so demographic or not, I want it on my election flyer.I hate feeling like a politically incorrect jerk for making a fuss; I’m not a jerk – I’m a really nice middle aged Canadian woman who just wants cultural identity.

The world would be an incredibly dull place without all those languages. I love travelling to Cuba to pick up Spanish, or France to dust off my french – it breaks my heart to realize thousands of languages hover on the brink of extinction, and feel like an ass for making a big deal out of a lousy election pamphlet. That said, I would sleep much better if Canada’s second official language was given a little respect.