Today is la Journée nationale des patriotes in Québec. (Prior to 2003 it was Dollard des Ormeaux Day in celebration of the garrison commander who died fighting the Iroquois [Haudenosaunee] at the Battle of Long Sault in 1660. Times change.) In the ROC (the Rest of Canada) today is Victoria Day (in honour of Queen Victoria).
In Quebec, history is often retold as a battle between English and French
"Mon non est québécois"
"We" yes; "ethnic nationalism" no
"Nous et les autres"
Lord Durham's Report on the Affairs of British North AmericaAs the newly-installed Governor General of British North America, John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham, was tasked with writing the (in)famous Report in which he claimed:
There can hardly be conceived a nationality more destitute of all that can invigorate and elevate a people, than that which is exhibited by the descendants of the French in Lower Canada, owing to their retaining their peculiar language and manners. They are a people with no history, and no literature.Despite (or perhaps, in some small part, because of) Durham's predictions, the language and culture of the people of Quebec are still with us 180 years later.
[ . . . .]
In these circumstances. I should be indeed surprised if the more reflecting part of the French Canadians entertained at present any hope of continuing to preserve their nationality. Much as they struggle against it, it is obvious that the process of assimilation to English habits is already commencing.
How has Québécois culture survived?
The real answer to the question of French Quebec's survival is the willingness of individual Québécois to privilege the collective over individual ambition, to think in terms of "we" rather than "I." Quebec's language law (Bill 101) is a constant target of attack as it restricts the use of English on signs and requires immigrants to educate their children in French. What is truly striking, and rarely discussed, in the context of English being the lingua franca of North America and global business, is the willingness of the French-speaking majority of Quebecers to accept that their children may never learn to speak English (See "Yes, no, toaster").
Individual rights versus collective rightsThe conundrum of parsing perceptions of and from Quebec boils down to the distinction between individual and collective rights. (Personally, I tend toward a libertarian, live-and-let-live view though I remain wary of radical individualism.) As a minority in Canada and the Americas, francophone Quebecers are entitled to claim the collective rights of their language, culture and identity. However, as the majority in Quebec, they are compelled to respect the individual rights of citizens and the collective rights of minorities within the province. When the collective rights of the Quebec majority collide with the individual rights of persons within Quebec, whose values should prevail?
Rights versus privilegesQuebec's privileging of the collective rights of the French-speaking majority--most often in the form of language laws (Bill 22 and Bill 101)--is typically met with incomprehension in the ROC and by minorities within Quebec. Conversely, what Anglo-Quebecers might claim as "rights"--the "right" to a public sign in English, the "right" to educate offspring in English--are viewed from a French perspective as "privileges." Actually, parents who were educated in English in Quebec themselves maintain the "privilege" of having their offspring educated in English in Quebec.
English common law versus Napoleonic civil codeA typical criticism of Quebec legislation (beyond the infringement of human rights) is that it tends to be a solution in search of a problem. Certainly, this seems to be an apt critique of the recent Bill n°21 : An Act respecting the laicity of the State.
Is the wearing of religious symbols by persons in authority a threat to the collective rights of the people of Quebec? The English common-law approach to solving this question would be to allow a number of cases to be brought to court; that is, a number of plaintiffs claiming that their rights had been prejudiced by someone wearing a religious symbol (a police officer, a judge or a teacher). This jurisprudence, these precedent decisions of various judges, would eventually become the "common law." The French tradition, in contrast, is more top-down. A code of laws is enacted, and future judgments are based on that code. This legal tradition, together with the privileging of collective rights, adds to incomprehension in the ROC.
The Bouchard/Taylor Commission on Religious Accommodation
40 cases out of 73, were brought to the public’s attention during the period March 2006 to June 2007 alone. The investigation of the cases that received the most widespread media attention during this period of turmoil reveals that, in 15 of 21 cases, there were striking distortions between general public perceptions and the actual facts as we were able to reconstitute them. In other words, the negative perception of reasonable accommodation that spread in the public often centred on an erroneous or partial perception of practices in the field.
Bouchard's and Taylor's repudiations of Bill 21
The Separation of church and state is a French idea
Catholic church domination prevailed in Quebec until the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. Bill n°21 : An Act respecting the laicity of the State, which prevents persons in authority from wearing religious symbols, is less broad than the law in France banning religious symbols which applies to all civil servants and to students in public schools and has been in force since 2011. Bill 21 is less strident and overarching than the charter of values proposed by the Parti Québécois in 2013.
Individual liberty: the ultimate shared value in Western democracies
Rights versus freedomsNour Farhat, a young lawyer with aspirations of becoming a crown attorney in Quebec, has become the poster person in the conflict between individual religious rights and the collective aspirations of Quebec's becoming a secular society. The question being asked in Quebec is: "Should Nour Farhat have the right to display her religious convictions while she is prosecuting someone who might be Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or Sunni or Shiite or Christian or an atheist?" But the underlying question which Quebec has raised, since the opening discussion of a charter of values, is: Are religious rights individual rights? Interestingly, both the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms identify religious expression as a "freedom" not a "right." I have not, however, been able to find a succinct legal or constitutional distinction between a right and a freedom.
Freedom from ReligionThe broader Freedom from Religion movement puts Quebec secularism in a slightly different perspective. You might have seen Steven Pinker's endorsement of the Freedom from Religion Foundation television ads. Pinker, himself an Anglo-Quebecer who studied at Dawson College and McGill University before moving on to California then Harvard, established his position as an avid atheist in his monograph Enlightenment Now.
While I have generally accepted the idea that Quebec has little to fear from the growth of Islam; not only is Islam the fastest-growing religion in the world but, as Pinker points out, its adherents have proven more faithful and tenacious in their religious beliefs than followers of any other religion. In terms of (non)religious trends, the growth of Islam and of atheism have outstripped all other movements in Quebec in recent years.