By Joel Goldenberg
The longstanding and very successful campaign by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac, along with activist Murray Levine and Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen, to ensure anglophone Montrealers are treated with respect has garnered a lot of support. So have recent previous battles against the Payette Plan and Bill 14 led by this paper, it editor Beryl Wajsman and organizations like CRITIQ.
Staviss, Kovac and their cohorts are all lobbying companies and government institutions who deal with communities that have significant or majority anglophone populations to provide services in English as well as French, all in conformity with Quebec’s language laws.
The successes have included Subway, the Montreal fire department’s website; Westmount in changing their unilingual French parking signs (however slowly), Costco, Second Cup, Cineplex, Toys R Us, Winners, and McDonald’s. The website providing information on the Turcot reconstruction was also bilingualized, after we revealed that it was French-only and thanks to lobbying by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum.
Those who are campaigning for respect have pretty modest goals. None are calling for the repealing of Bill 101, which would be a political scalding and burnt potato —at the very least— in this province.
And yet, judging by some reactions I’ve heard on radio, and seen on social media in reaction to the campaign in general, and most recently Levine’s lobbying for Westmount to be repaid, with interest, for the OQLF’s “error” in forcing Westmount to unilingualize their parking signs 20 years ago for $30,000, the negative consensus reactions seem to be:
“Learn French” or, to paraphrase others, “don’t rock the boat.”
And this is from some anglophones and allophones. Some seem infected with the same political correctness of the so-called anglo “lamb lobby” of 20 years ago, who fretted about francophone press reaction to any quest for rights. Others are self-proclaimed protectors of the French fact in Quebec. Another group is the younger “hipper than thou” crowd who were in diapers when the hard fought battles to ensure language rights were taken to the Supreme Court, and even the United Nations.
They all miss the point, from several kilometres away. Yes, even the most unilingual of Montrealers knows that “stationnement” means parking, “Lundi” means “Monday” and “poulet” means “chicken.”
But when stores or provincial government institutions dealing with residents in areas like Côte St. Luc, Westmount, Hampstead, Montreal West, and even the the non-officially bilingual NDG and St. Laurent, do so only in French, it’s a huge insult and makes absolutely no sense. (Thankfully, the latter two boroughs do provide many services in English.)
Propose offering service and signage in French only to Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West council, and prepare to be laughed out of the room.
And it’s not even that easy for some cities to be officially recognized as bilingual. At the time of the mergers in the early 2000s, the PQ government changed the rules. Instead of the language most used by residents, the criteria became mother tongue. This prevented the Côte des Neiges-NDG borough from having the possibility of being designated bilingual.
I remember when it was pointed out at the time, on several occasions, that someone like CJAD host Tommy Schnurmacher, who was born in Hungary, would not be recognized as anglophone for the purposes of a city’s bilingualism designation. One of many absurdities we experience here.
And yet, there are some out there who are utterly dismissive of even the most modest attempts at ensuring the rights of anglophones.
Learn French? What about learning respect and the meaning of principle?