Swift and angry backlash against D’Arcy McGee MNA’s vote for Bonjour-Hi resolution

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By Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban Jun 12, 2019

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum voted along with fellow Quebec Liberals, the Parti Québécois and the governing CAQ in encouraging Montreal merchants to drop the “Hi” in the now-traditional Bonjour-Hi greeting.

Be sure to read below: In my opinion

The vote, proposed by the PQ, came in advance of Grand Prix weekend, when numerous tourists, including many who do not speak French, visit Montreal.

Liberal MNAs Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley were not present for the symbolic vote. Weil told the media she stayed away after receiving numerous complaints from constituents after voting for the same motion in 2017.

Birnbaum provided an extensive explanation for his vote on Facebook. The MNA said the wording of the resolution was acceptable to him, and it passed unanimously in terms of all MNAs present in the Assembly.

“Here is why I chose to rise for the vote….verrrry slowly,” he wrote. “English-speaking Quebecers, whether they live in Snowdon, Sillery or Sherbrooke, have a stake in supporting the protection and promotion of the French language. We are allies, not enemies in that cause— it’s time that this be recognized by all parties, as it is by ours.”

Birnbaum also contended that the CAQ government “has failed to take the slightest concrete measure to truly strengthen the place of French in Quebec — by increasing spending, as our government did, on francisation programs for new immigrants, by supporting English school boards in their constant efforts to improve French-second language programs (the CAQ plans to abolish the board), and in calling for the inclusion of all Quebecers in the legitimate and necessary effort of French-language promotion.”

There was much reaction to Birnbaum’s vote.

Harold Staviss, who with CSL councillor Ruth Kovac has been lobbying businesses to put up bilingual signs and send out bilingual communications to consumers, was very displeased.

“Do our MNAs have nothing better to do?” he wrote on Facebook. “What a joke! Three cheers and kudos to Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley for standing up for those that elected them. At least two Liberals stood up for their constituents. But with all due respect to David Birnbaum and Jennifer Maccarone, you let us down big time. I urge you all to show both David and Jennifer your total disgust for what they did. E-mail them, call them, use social media.”

Kovac herself sent a note to Birnbaum, which she shared with The Suburban, announcing that she is withdrawing her Quebec Liberal Party membership as well as her seat on the D’Arcy McGee riding association.

“We have discussed this issue on more than one occasion,” she added. “As an MNA, in my opinion, you are elected by the people and responsible first to them, irrespective of parliamentary duties. The 2017 backlash should have guided your vote this time. This vote was a resolution, not legislation! It is the English and multi- ethnic population that elected you, not a small Francophone town in a rural area.”

Kovac also wrote that Bill 101 and the OQLF “have never been about promoting French, but pushing for a slow and painful death of anything English.

“Having worked in different businesses before becoming a councillor, we know that it is the language of the customer that is paramount. This was an opportunity where you could have easily risen slowly or quickly with true vigour and represented D’Arcy McGee.

“I suspect that I speak for many.”

Former Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen responded to Birnbaum on Facebook

“To be inclusive, forward looking and positive… sure,” he wrote. “To respect, promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversations between private business and private citizens? Not the role of our parliamentarians. As you rightly point out, French is as healthy as ever in Montreal. No need to suppress the English language.”

CSL council regular Toby Shulman wrote: “I am calling my MNA. He has lost my vote.”

joel@thesuburban.com

More:

In my opinion:

While I an upset about the motion in the National Assembly, I don’t believe that David Birnbaum’s ‘reluctant’ vote in favour makes him unworthy as a representative of the English-speaking community, as expressed by some others. Now I’m no apologist for anyone, however politics isn’t a zero sum game. I believe in measuring a leader by the overall good he or she does for the community. I’m really not pleased with David’s decision to vote in favour of this resolution. I would have preferred that he cast a vote against, as difficult as that would have been for him. It would have sent a much stronger message than rising slowly, in my opinion. But, one cannot erase the many good choices David has made as our MNA. So I do think anyone who’s upset should let him know. It is only through these many contacts that any MNA can better represent us on the next resolution. Too often people are quick to criticize on single issues, disregarding a history of achievement.

National Assembly again urges merchants to drop use of “Bonjour-Hi” | Montreal Gazette

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Montreal Gazette, June 7, 2019 – I have great respect for my MNA, David Birnbaum, and I believe he is doing an excellent job in representing our riding. However, we differ in approach on this thorny subject.

In responding to Birnbaum’s explanation for his cautious support of the non-binding resolution in the National Assembly today, posted to Facebook, I wrote:  

To be Inclusive, forward-looking and positive? Sure. To respect promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversation between private business and private citizens? Not the role of our parliamentarians. As you rightly point out, French is as healthy as ever in Montreal. No need to suppress the English language.

Prodding Hydro Quebec to Tweet in English pays off

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After a few years of continuous urging, Hydro Quebec has finally decided to respect its English-speaking customers by Tweeting in English.

Previously, the public utility would only Tweet in English when they deemed the message to be an emergency and even then they required reminders or requests to do so. Information about power outages, general information and power saving tips, promotions and other info is now available on Twitter at @hydro_customer.

I had written to Hydro Quebec on occasion (search my blog for more about this) about the fact that they only Tweet out their power failure and other public messages in French only. This seemed totally counterproductive to me. There is hardly a good reason for a critical infrastructure public utility to restrict their messaging to French only. They could easily have created two Twitter feeds, in both languages, from the outset. Their response to me was that they only Tweet out emergencies in English. Di satisfied, I pursued this matter until they finally created their English Twitter feed.

Despite this step forward in providing information to customers in English, questions about your bill, electricity use or services will only be responded to from Mon. to Fri. (8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.) & on weekends (9 a.m.-5 p.m) on Hydro’s French Twitter feed @client_hydro.

Hydro also has an excellent mobile app to report and monitor power outages and useful tools on its website, all available in English.

The assistance of D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum and his tireless Chief of Staff Elisabeth Prass was instrumental in advocating with the minister and bureaucrats in Quebec City on behalf of constituents. They take this responsibility very seriously and on behalf of my constituents I wish to express my gratitude to them both.

Also of importance is the continuing coverage of language related issues brought to the attention of the public by local reporter Joel Goldenberg in the Suburban Newspaper. Joel’s reporting of language rights and the reluctance of certain city and provincial departments, as well as private companies, to show proper respect to English-speaking Quebecers as well as other Canadians and tourists has been very helpful.

Joel has been reporting on the exemplary work of Cote Saint-Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss in their relentless pursuit of respect for English-speaking Quebecers. I hope Joel continues to demonstrate local journalistic advocacy which is proving to be beneficial, one step at a time.

Now this is  call to all you Twitterers out there. There are only 150 followers on Hydro’s Twitter feed as of this date. Please click @hydro_customer now and follow them. Let’s see how quickly we can double this number. And let all of your followers know as well and we’ll increase it even more and send a message to the utility that this was a necessary and positive initiative.

So thank you Hydro Quebec for doing what was right and sensible. Their positive actions should shine as an example to be followed by other agencies and departments. Merci beaucoup.

 

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2016-09-14-hydro-tweet

 

SAAQ motorist-bicycle safety site only in French

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A new Quebec government website advises motorists what measures they should take to safely share the road with cyclists.

However, the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec website respectonsnosdistances.gouv.qc.ca/is only in French. As The Suburban reported recently, Quebec’s language law generally allows for bilingualism where safety is involved, and numerous Quebec government websites have information in English.

The site points out the rules of the road for motorists, such as a driver being able to pass a cyclist on the same lane as long as the driver reduces his or her speed, and stays the required distance away from the cyclist.

The French-only status of the site was pointed out to us by Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen, who has called for other municipal and provincial-related websites to contain English content as well.

Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss, who has lobbied with Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac for more bilingualism from businesses and government in areas with significant anglophone populations, wrote to D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum about the website and a recent French-only June 29 communiqué, also about safety on the road between drivers and cyclists, as well as an announcement of tougher punishments for drivers who open doors on passing cyclists.

Birnbaum told The Suburban Monday he was not able to convince Transports Quebec to issue an English version of the June 29 communiqué, and expressed his disappointment.

Birnbaum added that he was only made aware of Staviss’s objection to the new website Monday, and was not able to comment yet.

We have contacted Transports Quebec, and await their response.

Source: SAAQ motorist-bicycle safety site only in French | City News | thesuburban.com

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In my opinion: Thanks to MNA David Birnbaum and his trusty Chief of Staff, Elisabeth Prass. They wasted no time following up on my email to them wherein I expressed concern and dismay that the Quebec Transport Department did not seem to think this very important safety message was important to convey to the English-speaking community. The oppressive language laws do indeed permit public safety messages to be carried in a language other than French. Transport officials should be more in line with Premier Couillard’s election message to the English-speaking community that we are not the enemy and our language does not diminish the French language.

QCGN says language minorities require separate rights support program

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Equality rights are of real importance to Canadian society, but language rights are fundamentally different and the two streams within the Court Challenges Program should be independent of each other, the Quebec Community Groups Network told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights studying the government’s pledge to reinstate the program.

“Courts play a central part in protecting and advancing linguistic rights, a process that invariably pits governments against Canada’s official language minorities,” commented Marlene Jennings, who appeared with the QCGN to represent Quebec’s English-speaking minority community.

“Our community has a long association with the Court Challenges Program, which was key in upholding and advancing the language rights of English-speaking Quebecers; particularly in the 1980s when we fought for freedom of expression in Ford,” said Jennings referring to the case where the Supreme Court ruled that English was allowed on signs as long as French was predominant.

“The Court Challenges program was also instrumental in funding cases that defined the scope of minority language educational rights after the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982,” recounted Jennings, who noted that the protection and advancement of these rights remains a very real and continuing need in the face of legislation like the much maligned educational reforms sought by the Government of Quebec.

Opinion: Bill 86’s school board reforms are no threat to the anglophone community

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Opinion: Why Côte-St-Luc city council opposes Quebec’s school board reform

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More from Mitchell Brownstein, Special to Montreal Gazette

In print: December 16, 2015

Monday night, Côte-St-Luc city council passed a resolution opposing Bill 86, the Quebec government’s plan to change how school boards are governed.

While this law would affect both French and English boards, it is a particular affront to the English-speaking community.

Bill 86 would eliminate the election of school board commissioners by members of the community, and replace them with councils that either would not be elected at all, or, could have a minority of community-elected councillors — if 15 per cent of parents request elections.

English-language school boards are the only level of government that the English-speaking community has an absolute right to control and manage. English-language education is a minority right that is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is one of the few ways in which the English community can express its voice and ensure its vibrant future in Quebec. Section 23 of the Charter confers upon the minority English-language community the right to manage and control its educational institutions. Such management and control is exercised through the election process. The community’s designation of its own representatives to direct its educational facilities ensures the flourishing of our language and our unique culture as Anglo-Québécois.

Our fundamental rights are entrenched in the Charter in order for their inviolability to be enshrined with the utmost protection the law can offer. Constitutional guarantees are designed to protect Quebec’s English-speaking minority rights regardless of the views of the members of the majority language group.

Passage of Bill 86 will be a decision of the National Assembly, where only a small minority of MNAs are members of the English-speaking minority. This means the French-speaking majority of the members will be making fundamental decisions related to constitutionally protected English school boards against the will of the elected commissioners and without having properly consulted our community.

Education Minister François Blais claims that the reforms offer a greater say to parents. However the reforms completely lock out anyone who is not a parent of children in the school system or employee of the school system from being part of the process. Why are grandparents, future parents and every other community member — all of us having a vested interest in our schools — left out?

It is the antithesis of democracy and appears to be suspiciously like the health reforms, where previously elected health board administrators or hospital directors lost power to people named by the minister. Does anyone imagine a future Parti Québécois government will be appointing people to these functions in the health and now educational sector that will please the English-speaking community?

The entire process is extremely dangerous.

Our municipality has a large population of English-speaking residents, many of whom attend, have attended or have children or grandchildren who attend English-language public schools. Our city council strongly opposes these reforms and supports the election of school board commissioners by members of the community, not only parents, for fixed terms.

As elected municipal councillors, it is our duty to speak out in order to protect our minority groups in the same way as our council has presented Canadian Unity resolutions in the 1990s, led the fight to maintain our municipality’s bilingual status, opposed the Charter of Values and supported other initiatives affecting the minority groups that we represent.

Our council will not stand idly by and allow this injustice to occur, and encourages other municipalities and the community at large to speak up and be heard so that we can ensure a strong, vibrant future for the English-speaking community in Quebec.

Municipalities are administrative bodies that understand that grassroots involvement is essential for our institutions’ prosperity. We are therefore requesting that all municipalities in Quebec adopt a similar stance and that our resolution be sent to the minister of Education, Higher Education and Research and the member of the National Assembly for D’Arcy McGee, the premier of Quebec, the member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the Canadian Minister of Heritage.

Mitchell Brownstein is a Côte-St-Luc city councillor and attorney.

 

Tenacity and perseverance pays off in fight for respect

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When it comes to staying power you’ve got to give credit to Cote Saint-Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss. These two, a veritable dynamic duo, don’t take “non” for an answer. Their fight, seeking respect, and justice, for Quebec’s embattled English-speaking community, is praiseworthy.

As noted in yesterday’s edition of La Presse as well as on CTV News the two advocates have had impressive successes in standing up for rights and respect to some of the biggest retailers and businesses in this country.

While they push forward in the business world, I continue to seek visibility of English among the Quebec government’s departments such as the Quebec Police Force, Hydro Quebec, Transport Quebec and Urgences santé, as well as the City of Montreal’s administration, as permitted under the repressive language laws.

As the former executive Director of Alliance Quebec, the once mighty English language rights lobby, I am greatly appreciative of those that have continued to battle for what is right, fair and just. Kovac and Staviss have done just that along with the support of the Suburban Newspaper’s Joel Goldenberg and Beryl Wajsman. I thank them and encourage them to persevere.

Justice will prevail in the end. Unfortunately, in Quebec, it takes a long, long, long time.

A guide to Quebec’s signs language law

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February 4, 2015
The Suburban

The following is a guide to Bill 101’s language of signs provisions, as contained on the Quebec government site publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca, which prints the law in detail.

We present this in light of last week’s Quebec Court decision upholding Quebec’s language of commercial signs law, and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss’s and Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac’s ongoing campaign for linguistic respect from companies and institutions serving areas with significant anglophone populations.

As we have discovered in the last several months of the campaign, there are some misperceptions about the language law, the most common being that only French is allowed on commercial signs. This is especially the case for company officials based outside Quebec.
In most cases, French must be “markedly predominant” on signs— have a greater visual impact than the other language.

There are many conditions involved.

• If French and another language are on the same sign or poster, “the space allotted to the text in French is at least twice as large as the space allotted to the text in the other language; the characters used in the text in French are at least twice as large as those used in the text in the other language; and the other characteristics of the sign or poster do not have the effect of reducing the visual impact of the text in French.”

• If French and another language are on separate posters of the same size, there have to be twice as many French signs as the other language, and the characters of the French text have to be “at least as large as those used in the text in the other language.”

• If French and another language are on separate posters of different sizes, “the signs and posters bearing the text in French [have to be] at least as numerous as those bearing the text in the other language; the signs or posters bearing the text in French are at least twice as large as those bearing the text in the other language; and the characters used in the text in French are at least twice as large as those used in the text in the other language.”

•••

This is the way the law applies in specific instances:

• Public signs and posters must be in French, and can include another language if French is markedly predominant. Exceptions are “news media that publish in a language other than French, or messages of a religious, political, ideological or humanitarian nature, if not for a profit motive.” The government can determine other types of exceptions.

• Inscriptions on products, including containers and wrappings, instructions and warranty information; as well as menus and wine lists, have to be in French. These items can also have translations, “but no inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French.” Exceptions can be possible, as determined by the government.

• “Catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories and any similar publications must be drawn up in French.” As well, as in the above entry, “the French inscription may be accompanied with a translation or translations, but no inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French.”

• Computer software, such as games and operating systems, must be available in French “unless no French version exists.

“Software can also be available in languages other than French, provided that the French version can be obtained on terms, except price where it reflects higher production or distribution costs, that are no less favourable and that has technical characteristics that are at least equivalent,” says the law. Exceptions can be possible, as determined by the government.

• In the case of toys and games, except for computer-related games,  those that “require the use of a non-French vocabulary for their operation are prohibited on the Quebec market, unless a French version of the toy or game is available on the Quebec market on no less favourable terms.” Exceptions can be possible, as determined by the government.

• The name of a business has to be in French. As well, “the name of an enterprise may be accompanied with a version in a language other than French provided that, when it is used, the French version of the name appears at least as prominently. In public signs and posters and commercial advertising, the use of a version of a name in a language other than French is permitted to the extent that the other language may be used in such signs and posters or in such advertising [as long as French is markedly predominant.]”

• “A non-profit organization devoted exclusively to the cultural development or to the defense of the peculiar interests of a particular ethnic group may adopt a name in the language of the group, provided that it adds a French version.”

• Health services and social services [which adopted their name before Aug. 26, 1977] “in a language other than French may continue to use such names, provided they add a French version.”

Urgences Santé website to be bilingual

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Jan. 21, 2015 | Suburban News | Click to enlarge

Jan. 21, 2015 | Suburban News | Click to enlarge

Thank you to D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum for his interest in advancing this dossier. Each time I contact him concerning local and language issues he and his skilled staff are quick to respond and to make representation to the relevant ministers. In this particular case, David’s assistance was significant in getting a quick and positive response from Urgences Santé.

Pushing for bilingual highway safety signs

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The Suburban, Jan. 7, 2015

Harold Staviss is keeping up the fight to have bilingual highway safety signage in Quebec, rejecting the transport department’s argument that the signs have nothing to do with health or public security and thus do not require English under the law.
“Don’t such words or phrases as ‘cahouteuse’ (bumpy road), ‘degel’ (thawing), ‘ralenti’ (slow down), ‘securité’, ‘incident voie droite bloquée’ (right lane blocked because of incident), the requirement of installing winter tires prior to Dec. 15  and/or important alerts for construction, which appear on the electronic signage in French only, have to deal with public safety?” Staviss wrote to the department. “These words/phrases on the electronic signage from time to time have everything to do with public safety messages and should most definitely be in both the French and English languages, the whole as provided for under the relevant provisions of the Charter of the French Language… In any event, if there appears to be some doubt, wouldn’t it make more sense and be more logical to err on the side of safety and have them in both of the aforementioned languages?”

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Quebec not budging on English for public safety signs

In my opinion: Thank you Harold for continuing to press the transport department on their misguided application of the overly restrictive language laws.

The large panels placed strategically by Transport Quebec are there for one reason only: To provide safety alerts to motorists. For them to argue that these messages do not constitute public safety information is completely dishonest and downright dangerous.

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum must also take up the cause and push for bilingual communications in public safety from various Quebec departments as permitted under the law.

 

Asking for linguistic respect works

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Suburban | Dedc. 31, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | Dedc. 31, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Birnbaum to look into SQ tweet language issue

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Suburban Newspaper | Oct. 1, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Suburban Newspaper | Oct. 1, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Thank you to our MNA David Birnbaum for taking an interest in this issue. David has taken up the cause of a few emergency services issues very quickly in his mandate out of concern for our residents. His keen interest and quick action is appreciated.

Contrary to what the SQ has stated, Bill 101 does not prohibit English when it comes to public safety as the Montreal Police Department has correctly determined, in large part, in its use of social media. Indeed, there is some question as to whether or not Bill 101 has any jurisdiction at all over the use of Internet communications. Nevertheless, the provincial police has a mandate and duty to communicate, and logically to be understood, by residents of Quebec and visitors to our province. Tweeting in French only is a misinterpretation of their requirements to communicate effectively.

I will follow this dossier closely and next will encourage David to investigate why Transport Quebec is using the same narrow rulebook to exclude any English public safety messages from its enormous digital billboards on autoroutes across Quebec.

We tweet in French, Quebec Police Force

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Conversation with the Quebec Police Force on Twitter, July 30, 2014

Conversation with the Quebec Police Force on Twitter, July 30, 2014

 

How ludicrous it is that the provincial police will not communicate with hundreds of thousands of English-speaking Quebecers plus hundreds of thousands more tourists and visitors unless they are asked a question in English?
This nonsense has gone unchecked for far too long and it’s high time that the Liberal government correct the overzealous policies of its departments that are nothing short of mean-spirited, disrespectful and counter-productive in the dispensing of public safety and public service messages.
The Surete du Quebec / Quebec Police Force has a mandate to serve all who live in or visit Quebec. They have an obligation to communicate with the people they serve, through various means including social media. Yet, their policy on use of English on Twitter, as indicated above, shows a blatant disregard for all English-speaking Quebecers and English-speaking visitors. Public safety messages are broadcast in French only. To hell with English, they’ll only reply to specific questions in that other language. And forget seeking out a job with the QPF, errr SQ, in English, as that section is in French only on their website.
Premier Couillard made it clear in the election campaign, barely four months ago, that English is not a disease and English-speaking Quebecers are not the enemy here. Our language does not diminish the French language at all. He said not a single Quebec parent doesn’t want their children to be bilingual. It’s time to prove he meant what he said and to loosen the stranglehold that Bill 101 has on every public agency, department and service under the Quebec Government. Then, even the SQ could wish us all a happy and safe vacation.

It’s a matter of respect

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The Suburban Newspaper’s Joel Goldenberg began a series this week dealing with the efforts of Cote Saint-Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss along with others who continue the struggle for language rights and respect in Quebec. For too many years retailers, companies and government offices have either refused to serve clients in English or have displayed French only signs even though the restrictive language laws allow for other languages on commercial signs.

I have singled out the Montreal Fire Department for their abysmal lack of English on their website and in social media, particularly their almost exclusive French tweets.

As well, I have criticized Hydro Quebec for not communicating nearly enough on their Twitter account.

The Quebec Transport Department is faulty at their lack of English on the massive public safety messaging electronic billboards they have erected on major highways around the city.

These are but a few examples of institutionalized discrimination against English-speaking Quebecers and tourists.

I encourage Kovac and Staviss, and anyone willing to get involved, to continue calling and writing to these companies, stores, agencies and offices and demanding the respect and rights that have eroded over the last four decades.

Read the article here: It’s a matter of respect_bilingualism_Suburban_2014-06-25

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