Saturday, July 01, 2006

How language cops ruin everything

The Town of Mount Royal municipal government recently started disfiguring its street signs to comply with threats of ongoing fines from the Office québécois de la langue française, a tax-payer funded provincial agency.

A disfigured TMR street sign

That this happend is shocking and disheartening on a number of levels. TMR had transformed itself from an anglo-saxon heartland into a multi-ethnic, multi-religious town and a model of bilingualism working on a local level. Its residents are a mix of English-speakers and French speakers -- most being bilingual. TMR was part of the federal riding of Mount Royal, which the father of Canadian bilingualism, Pierre Trudeau, represented as an MP for more than 15 years. Its English-language elementary school, Dunrae Gardens, was one of the first schools in Quebec to introduce French-immersion. One of its French-language high schools is named after Pierre Laporte, the Quebec government minister murdered by Quebec-nationalist terrorists in 1970.

In short, TMR is a model town. Which is why the small-minded, language-supremacist Office québécois de la langue française threatened TMR with repeated fines.

On what basis can a Quebec government agency fine a municipality? Quebec law states that only cities and towns with a majority of (mother-tongue) English-speaking residents can offer bilingual services. These towns get a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card called bilingual status. With this status, towns like TMR can also offer services in English. Without the status, they cannot.

TMR lost its (mother-tongue) English-speaking majority about 10 years ago. But the Quebec government grandfathered bilingual status for towns that had it. So, towns like TMR kept their bilingual status and cannot lose it unless local council requests the government to remove it.

According to the Charter of the French Language, towns with bilingual status can post bilingual street signs provided the French is "predominant" (although not "markedly predominant" as it is for commercial signs). A senior Cote St Luc city official told me the street signs in TMR are perfectly legal and it is unlikely any court would uphold a interpretation of the law that suggests Chemin Atherton Road is not legal.

Three years ago Cote St. Luc received a threatening letter from the Office québécois de la langue française. But the city's elected officials told the Office they would never take down their bilingual street signs and threatened the Office to sue them. The Office hasn't bothered them since.

Amputation of the English lettering

Most of the disfigurement campaign is done. But the industrial park area to the west of Decarie Blvd. has not yet been covered up.

Avert your eyes from the hideous English lettering (on the right)

Soon TMR will not be able to welcome its 40 percent English-speaking residents in English

Finally, apart from the petty, vindictive and vicious bureaucrats at the Office québécois de la langue française, there exists another species of bureaucrat whose incompetence also ensures that Quebecers won't have to face hideous English words while driving.

The street called The Boulevard is one of those place names that cannot be made French, such as rue Crescent, rue University, rue McGill College, cote du Beaver Hall. And the language cops have left it alone. The street, which runs through Westmount and Montreal is called The Boulevard in both towns (see the first two illustrations below).

But the City of Montreal has recently replaced The Boulevard street-sign at the corner of Cote-des-Neiges. Some clueless city official probably proofed the artwork for a new street sign and decided to fix what he assumed was a typo. Or maybe he knew it wasn't a typo but changed it anyway. The result: The Boulevard is now Le Boulevard (see the third illustration below).


Oh ya. Happy Canada Day.


DAVE said...

First, the nit-picking "Québécois" has an uppercase Q, so the "Française" have an uppercase F. You're not helping your argument by lowercasing them, no matter what your opinion of the Office (I despise them myself) I think it's stupid to attempt to erase the English heritage from the books for some draconian measure to protect the language. My language will only survive as long as we speak it. This is just as bad as the white-washed history books I had to educate myself with in school with all mention of the ethnic cleansing my culture survived removed. You don't correct a wrong with another wrong.

Anywho, I love the template.

Darryl said...

Actually, I spelled the name of the organization correctly. See here for an example of its usage:

Also, there is no capitalization of language names in French (such as anglais, francais) nor of country or provincial descriptions (such as canadiens, québécois, américains).

DAVE said...

Well then I stand corrected. That's my biggest probleme with having learned Franglish, I mix up a lot of the rules and often.

Anonymous said...

Why the hell can't we be more like Ottawa!!?? It's Montreal for god's sake! English and French are the heart of the City..!!! Yeesh.. talk about a game of cat and mouse... I wonder what all the American tourists think about this redicuolous crap.. how embarassing.

Anonymous said...

I moved to Calgary in July of 2006 and after reading this article, I am more an more convinced that I made the right move. To h_ll with the separatists and their abuses of power. I am 30 years old, I spend 29 years in Montreal I am a hard core Habs fan and love my city. But for God's sake, it's unbearable. I am content with visiting two or three times a year to have some real food (CowTown can't cook for sh_t compared to MTL) and visit family. But there's no way I'm coming back. Good luck guys!

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