Guy Rex RodgersWhat We Choose To Remember

Quebec is proud of its culture. The homegrown French-language star-system has made an asset of being a small linguistic island surrounded by an Anglo ocean. However culture in languages other than French, particularly English, is not immediately recognized as an asset. There are exceptions like Leonard Cohen, Susie Arioli and Martha Wainwright. When Arcade Fire won a Grammy award and shouted out “Merci Montréal” to a billion viewers, members of the Assemblée Nationale got so excited they unanimously voted a motion recognizing the importance of artists – French and English – as ambassadors for Quebec culture.

Louise Penny has become a literary darling in Quebec for her Inspector Gamache mystery series set in the Eastern Townships. There was a lot of buzz when she signed a contract with Netflix Prime to transpose the novels into a television series. Netflix would create jobs for local TV production crews, showcase Quebec in a quirky endearing light and increase tourism as new fans made a pilgrimage to Knowlton. It was a win-win proposition.

Then the CAQ got to work on Bill 96. Le Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ) immediately saw problems if companies with more than 25 employees must operate entirely in French. Hollywood shoots often hire hundreds of people. The BCTQ successfully lobbied for an amendment to exempt cultural productions from the 25 employee clause of Bill 96. Despite the legal victory, the CEO of the BCTQ lamented: “We gave our national and international competitors a stick on a silver platter to say, ‘Quebec is so complicated. Don’t go there!’”

Bill 96 complicates life in a multitude of ways. First of all, many services are now available in English only for historic Anglos. We have seen the scramble of youth trying to prove they qualify for English CEGEPS. It can take weeks or months. If you need urgent medical treatment how do you prove ‘historic’ status? And what if you don’t qualify?

During hearings for revision to the Federal Official Language Act (Bill C-13) MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos shared a story from a constituent whose doctor stopped speaking English at work for fear of being the target of a language complaint. Bloc MP Denis Trudel demanded that Lambropoulos apologize for making “false statements.” It was unclear what Trudel believed to be false.

The intent of Bill 96 is to restrict government services in English. The status of who is ‘entitled’ to receive services in English is so opaque that even well-intentioned civil servants might be reluctant to risk offering services in the forbidden language. And then there are civil servants who are not well-intentioned, as well as workers in private enterprise not directly affected by Bill 96 but happily responding to its dog whistle message that Quebec must be French only.

Thanks to BCTQ advocacy it is legal to work on a film production in English, but the crew could encounter problems off the set. I have been touring my own film What We Choose To Remember to communities all around Quebec for the past year. Each screening is followed by a discussion with the audience and Bill 96 is always a hot topic. I have heard many anecdotes about deterioration in the social climate, unofficial acts of incivility and official obstacles for English-speakers. These are not false accusations, no matter how vehemently they are denied.

François Legault, his CAQ government and Bill 96 have deliberately cultivated confusion and hostility. We know where roads paved with good intentions lead. No one can pretend to be surprised where a road paved with bad intentions is taking us.

Guy Rex Rodgers was founding Executive Director of the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) and recently returned to filmmaking. You can reach Guy at: [email protected]