Posts Tagged ‘language police’
In a move sure to confuse the hell out of some self-righteous language activists in Canada who try to justify their opposition to Québec’s language laws by claiming to be fighting for the rights of native canadians, Nunavut’s lawmakers unanimously adopted their own version of bill 101 yesterday.
The citizens of Nunavut adopted a Language Law inspired by Québec’s French Language Charter in order to protect the rights of the citizens of the booming territory to live and work in their own language.
The law, Bill 7, will make Inuktitut mandatory in all schools and it will become the language of work in the public service by 2011.
The law includes the creation of the Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit a.k.a. the Inuit Language Authority and of a Language Commissioner. This commissioner will have “investigative tools for securing the compliance of the public and private sector organizations that have not had Inuit Language duties in the past”, including taking matters to the courts.
Unlike the Office Québécois de la Langue Française which can only act upon citizen complaints, the Nunavut Language Commissioner will have the power to initiate investigations. Fines for violators of the law could be as high as 5 000$ for individuals and 25 000$ for organizations.
From now on all signs, inclusing those of a commercial nature, will have to be in Inuktitut and the Inuktitut will have to be of at least equal size to any other language used. Businesses will also be legally required to be able to serve all customers who demand it in the Inuit language.
According to the Canadian Press, although 91% of Inuit said they could speak the Inuit language, only 64% used it at home, a dramatic 10% drop in only 12 years.
When it comes to negative branding, opponents of Québec’s language legislation hit a home run when they coined the term Language Police to designate the governement bureaucrats charged with enforcing the French Language Charter. Probably the only thing that could do worse damage to your international public image than a Language Police is footage of your citizens hitting baby seals on the head with harpoons…
The nickname, however, was not even their own idea. The best the most clever Angryphone of them all, Mordecai Richler, could come up with was Tongue Trooper. It is Morley Safer of CBS’s 60 Minutes who is said to have been the first to use the term Language Police.
There is, of course, no such thing as a Language Police in Québec.
The general objective of Québec’s French Language Charter is to protect the right of every citizen of Québec to work and receive services and information in French in Québec, something that has often been problematic, especially in Montreal, even though French-speakers are the majority of the population.
To acheive that goal it made it mandatory that all businesses in Québec be able to serve their customers in French, both verbally and in writing, whether it be through menus, posters, telephone customer service, advertizing, on the internet or in person.
If a citizen felt his right to service in French was not honored, he could make a complaint to the Office de Protection de la Langue Française, the governement agency in charge of the Charter’s application. The agency would then send a agent to investigate if the complaint was justified, and if it was, to inform the business in question that there had been a complaint and assist him in correcting the situation.
If, and only if, the business in questions refused or failed to make the corrections the OQLF could forward the complaint to the Minister of Justice, who has the power to impose a fine.
In 2006-2007 there were 3873 complaints. Only 72 of those were eventually forwarded to the minister.
The OQLF agents are no more a police force than food inspectors or workplace safety agents, but Language Police is a powerful image and through endless repetition by less thorough reporters than Mr. Safer who couldn’t spell hyperbole, the idea that Québec has an actual Language Police has taken on a life all it’s own and otherwise informed visitors fully expect to see them patrolling the streets of Montreal in uniform.
The myth of the Language Police has hurt Québec and Montreal’s image, but it’s to late to do anything about it. The image is there and the name stuck.
In such situations the only thing left to do is embrace image. Québec could make the agents of the Office Québécois de la Langue Française actual constables of an actual Language Police, give them uniforms, badges, governement issue tape-measures and taser guns.
This change of terminology, however, will cause changes accross Canada as other pencil-pushing civil servants will also want to be called police officers. You see, cops earn more money and have way more luck with the ladies than white collar bureaucrats.
Employees of the CRTC, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, will be become the Thought Police, to reflect their power to decide who has the right to broadcast, what they can broadcast, and how much they can charge for it. The bureaucrats in charge of monitoring the 35% of Canadian music radio stations are required to broadcast by law will be known as the Rock n’ Roll Police and those found guilty of not playing enough Bryan Adams will be sent to a jail in Newfoundland known as the Jailhouse Rock.
Workers at Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal who investigate complaints of discrimination against visible minorities and women in the workplace will be renamed the Race and Sex Police.
City zoning officials in Saskatoon, whose job includes inforcement of a city bylaw that legally requires residents of the Hughes Drive developement to use a minimum of four colors on the facade of their houses and that “the selected colors should match the range of Benjamin Moore “Historical Colors”, will be known as the Royal Canadian Color Police.
Soccer moms in Saskatoon risk heavy fines if they should fail to coordinate with their neighbours, but that is nothing compared to the plight of homeowners in Edmonton where the Veranda Police will patrols the streets of Spruce Village on the lookout for violators of the “covered porch” architectural guidelines.
Well, the decision whether or not to turn any little government employee into a police officer is one Alberta and Saskatchewan will have to make for itself.
As for Québec, the world already asumes we have a language police so there will be nothing lost in getting one. In fact, it would be a unique opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.
An actual Québec Language Police could play the role Mounties play in the rest of Canada. Language cops in crisp blue uniforms and funny hats could be posted arround Montreal and Québec, tourists would line up to be photographed with them and a paraphenelia deal could be struck with Disney Corporation.
In all fairness, I’m the first to admit the CBC’s ‘revelations’ about a Facebook account with pictures of recent garduates from the Canada Customs training school drinking in uniform and posting about ‘Frogs’ and ‘French Bastards’ is not actually newsworthy. But I must say, as someone who frequently has to deal with these fine officers of government, I’m quite happy that someone will be taking a closer look at what’s going on in the offices of the protectors of the longest pretend border on earth.
My job takes me to the United States weekly. I usually cross over at the 1000 Islands or at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. Coming back to Canada I always make it a point to cross at one of the booths with the friendly Français/English sign.
Here’s how bilingualism really works, Tim Horton: 9 times out of 10 the customs officer does not speak a word of French. 6 times out of 10 we have to do it Montreal-style, with me speaking French and him or her English. 2 times out of 10 the officer looks at me like I’m retarded and asks if I’m sure I don’t speak english. Only about 1 in ten times do they actually respect my right to communicate with my government in the language of my choice by getting the token french guy on duty.
As a matter of fact, in the last year, only three customs officers outside Québec have been able to speak to me in french, and one of them was an American Homeland Security officer.
It seems that Canadians have got the impression that because the federal government and some provincial governments put up bilingual signs, bilingualism thriving in this country. As far as they’re concerned the French are doing great: there’s French on road signs in Ontario, cereal boxes and TV. Bilingualism: done. Remember, these are the people who will buy anything red with the word CANADA on it: beer, sweatshirts and corrupt political parties. Perfect consumers who just want the brand and really don’t want to know it’s made in Honduras and that the profits go back to Chicago. With bilingual signs Canada looks bilingual, that’s what it said on the label and that’s all that counts.
Try to imagine how proudly Canadian you would feel if coming back from a business trip the customs officer of your own country would greet you with “Ch’parle pas anglais! Parle donc français!”