There’s a new rights group in Montreal. It’s called CRITIQ, which stands for Canadian Rights in Quebec. I’m a founding member of this group, and a bit conflicted as I write: I’m troubled that it was necessary to create this group, but I’m happy to have the opportunity to publicize it.
Some background. Over the past several decades, the threat of Quebec separation from Canada has waxed and waned, but has never fully receded. The constant undertow of nationalism that prevents Quebec from flourishing economically in an environment of assured civic harmony has caused a continuing haemorrhage of human and fiscal capital.
Throughout all this time, federalist coalitions have tried many different ways to meet the challenges posed by those for whom our presence is at best a blot on the cultural landscape that must be tolerated. We have militated in referendums. We have fought court battles against unjust language laws. We have attempted social reconciliation through institutions like Alliance Quebec. We even tried political confrontation through the now-defunct Equality Party.
But it is fair to say that our communities have never faced a government so emboldened in the politics of nullification and segregation as the present one. In gestures of hostility to the English language large and small, the Marois government is courting the most radical ethnic nationalists to bolster support for sovereigntization by stealth.
Public incidents of violence against English speakers have created a climate of tension amongst English-speaking Quebecers, a sense of despair that is palpable in the feedback I get from my fellow Quebecers (not to mention the outpouring of vindicated satisfaction I get from both anglo and franco Quebecers who left the province years ago.)
A disclaimer: Even though we’re mostly anglos at the executive level, this is not simply another anglo rights group. Nor do we have any aspirations to form a political party. There are 1.5 million non-francophone Quebecers whose civil rights are presently under attack. We intend to be their champion. CRITIQ’s mission is to promote the protection of rights and freedoms invested in all Canadian citizens according to Section 133 of Canada’s constitution and the equality protections afforded in Section 15 of the Charter.
In the past, the Liberal party paid no special attention to their captive minority communities. That’s over. We will not officially identify ourselves with any party. Rather we will seek individual allies where they may be found. We will make common cause with francophones who are revolted by this government’s restriction of educational opportunities for their children. We will also engage with allies in Ottawa to avail ourselves of the resources and power of the civil rights section of the federal Department of Justice. Several members of our executive have a long and honourable legal history in that domain.
Montreal will be the focus of a great deal of our energy. Our great city is in economic decline. The Marois government seeks to discourage the use of English in commerce, education and even private social life. Much of Montreal’s decline can be traced directly to draconian language laws that chill investment and repel attractive immigrants.
But Montreal has from the beginning always been a bilingual and bicultural city. Anglophones and francophones together built the great financial institutions, the hospitals, the charitable foundations, the theatres and symphony halls that we take such pride in. Montreal is not only the economic engine of the Quebec economy. It is Canada’s first great city and an international port of call. Yet Montreal is the only great city in the world where bilingualism is not considered something to celebrate by politicians.
That must change. Montreal is a distinct society within Quebec. English Quebecers, as well as bilingual allophones who choose English as their social language of choice, must not be made to feel ashamed or defensive. It is their choice – according to law, Quebec history and human right.
Although CRITIQ will not fight only for anglophones, it is anglophones who are bearing the brunt of the Marois government’s hostility. Our (fully bilingual) children continue to leave the province for greener pastures where they know they are welcome. Our school board is facing attrition at a rate it cannot long endure. The anglophone community is at a *point de bascule* - a tipping point. Either we advance to equality in every meaningful sense, or we will die as a viable community. It’s that simple.
We have played the role of defendants long enough. We are not the ones on trial. Those who would deny us our rights are. CRITIQ will be the plaintiff in the case of Canadian rights vs. the would-be separate state of Quebec. Find out how you can get involved at: critiq.ca.