I read this afternoon that a group of big retailers will need to change their signs in Quebec to accommodate language laws that are in place. Costco, Best Buy, Gap, Old Navy, Guess and Wal-Mart are asking Quebec’s superior court whether the Office Québécoise de la Langue Française (OQLF) has the right to demand such changes to their trademarks. The OQLF wants these businesses to add French generics to their trademark, something that has been pretty common in recent years after crackdowns by French-language authorities. These generics are usually terms that describe the service or product sold by the retailer or a descriptive term that is added under a trademark name. A good example of this is Second Cup and its recently added “les cafés” before its name in order to comply with language laws. I have always wondered why a registered trademark would have to be translated, when I went to France KFC was KFC and McDonald’s was McDonald’s, people didn’t seem to have a hard time understanding what was being sold or what service was available. This is tiresome and unnecessary. The PQ is simply attempting to stir up old antagonisms. I would submit that the province has bigger issues to deal with (like the 30 000 homeless in Montreal). Language however, is a touchy and hot topic in Canada and always has been…
I find the language debate in Canada, and especially in Quebec, to be a difficult reality for me. Let me explain a little, I think that context is extremely important for this subject. Canada has always been divided about language and by default culture; we are a multicultural nation and it is normal that we may not agree with everyone on what Canada is or what it means to be Canadian. I am from New Brunswick, I am Acadian, language and my identity tied to my language has been a life long struggle. I grew up in a family where my mother’s side was francophone and my father’s side was anglophone, so I learned both languages at the same time as a child to be able to communicate with my relatives. My parents wanted what was best for me, so I went to school from pre-kindergarden to end of highschool in french (which was considered a school of privilege, a fact that I would be reminded of often by some of the neighbourhood english kids) and then did my university in english. So you could almost say that I am the poster child for the language debate, I am proud of my Acadian roots and my Anglo-Saxon roots, I believe that this is what makes my country great. I must admit that I have never been on the right side however, and this has made me the victim of bullying on both sides of the language spectrum.
As a child in NB I got beat up, called names like “frog, French fag, faggot, etc.” for being French. There were fights during my lunch hours where kids from the English school would come down to our school and pick a victim and beat them up as a group, it used to be called “Frog Bashing” (I actually have a dent on my forehead thanks to a skateboard to the head during one of these infamous bashings). My first “political” activity was egging the house of a COR NB party candidate during a provincial election campaign that happened to fall near Halloween. For those of you unfamiliar with New Brunswick politics; in the late 1980s, support for Premier Richard Hatfield and his Progressive Conservatives has collapsed because of corruption scandals in their government. As well, many English-speaking New Brunswickers were unhappy with the government’s promotion of official bilingualism (the use of English and French in public services). COR promised to repeal the 1969 Official Languages Act, which made french equal for official purposes with english on a province-wide basis. COR proposed providing government services only in areas that are mostly Francophones. The french speaking Acadian population believed this to be an anti-francophone policy, so the COR party had no support in areas with large francophone populations.
New Brunswick is officially bilingual since 1969, something that the Acadian population had to fight long and hard to achieve. I have always associated with the Acadian identity, a nation that was deported and destroyed and somehow survived against all odds. This Official Languages Act is a huge victory for a nation that was shipped off to all ends of the world, some were lucky enough to hide and continue this wonderful culture. So you can all imagine my joy and excitement to move to Montreal in Quebec for my Master’s degree, I would finally no longer be a minority but a francophone just like everyone else, I would be able to live in french. I was devastated to be welcomed as an anglophone when I arrived in Montreal, being served by people in broken-up english in stores, I didn’t understand what was going on…
I was later explained by people who, seeing as how I did not have a Quebec accent, that I had to be an anglophone, I did not even have the chance to prove my french roots: I was already labeled as a bloke (btw to all of you who insult anglophones with this term, it is simply an informal term for man or boy). I still to this day get called an anglophone on an almost daily basis, even by people who know me and know that I am an Acadian. I am not a Separatist, I do not believe that Montreal is english (I find that it is a beautiful mixture of french, english, creole, arab, and many other languages and cultures), I find that there are more important things for us to figure out before we start talking about a country that is Quebec. I have a question for the Quebecers out there: What are you so afraid of? French is abundant and strong, take it from the Acadians that survive in an Anglo-Saxon world and still maintain a beautiful and rich culture. Also, I have heard many times by Sovereignists that they would work with First Nations to insure a compromise if Quebec became a state, why are you not trying to find compromise with anglophone Canadians? Is it still because of a war that happened hundreds of years ago? Isn’t it time to pick yourselves up by your boot straps and try to find peace? I find that Quebec is still morning a defeat that occurred hundreds of years ago, Acadians I find celebrate the culture that somehow survived after a mass deportation and oppression. I think that you could learn a lot from these francophone neighbours.
Also, I find that nationalism is dangerous; more and more I am finding what I find to be xenophobic and racists comments by people around me or even politicians. This last provincial election was filled with hate speech and close-minded arguments. It breaks my heart to see people act hateful towards anyone that is not them. I find that more and more we are faced with an “us” vs “them” debate in this province and I can only see bad things come out of it. It is Ok to fight for what you believe in, but it is best to do it with everyone’s happiness in mind. My mother speaks with great pride about how her province is officially bilingual, something that she didn’t always have, but that she is thankful to have today.
I wait and hope for the day where I will be recognized as the francophone that I am, even if it is different from the definition that others have… Just because I’m different does not mean that I am not what I identify myself to be… I still believe that Quebec is a multi-cultural society, even if my Premier says that it is not a Quebec value… I also hope that one day our federal government will recognize Acadians like a nation, just like our neighbours Quebec. I am however, never interested in separating from this country; a nation is stronger than a country.
«Les Acadiens sont un peuple, et un peuple est plus fort qu’un Pays. Un Pays est une institution, mais un peuple est plus fort qu’une institution, car il a une âme, il a des rêves, il est vivant….» (Antonine Maillet)