Bill 101, hum… 101… The School Law
Québec’s language laws limit access to English schools for most citizens of the province. That is true.
Yet, if any other Canadian provinces or American state wanted to offer it’s linguistic minorities access to the kind of education network Québec finances for it’s Anglophone minority, every single one of them would have to increase dramatically the number of minority schools it finances.
For example, if American states were expected to give their Spanish-speaking minority the same education rights that Québec gives to it’s English-speaking minority, then New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Utah, Rhode Island, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Kansas – all states that have more Spanish-speakers than Québec has English-speakers – would have to create a second publicly funded Spanish-language schools system.
Although all Canadian provinces have some minority education rights and schools, no other provincial minority has the vast network of schools, colleges and universities that English-speakers in Montreal and Quebec have access to. There are in Québec about 367 English public schools, 3 English public colleges called CEGEPs and 3 English universities.
In fact, if you use that standard definition of a major university as one that has both a law school and a medical school – New Brunswick’s Université de Moncton, the only autonomous French-language university outside Québec, does not have the latter – then Québec is the only state or province to fund a complete education system for it’s linguistic minority.
That’s if you accept the premise that English-speaking North Americans can be considered a minority at all…
In the 1970’s Francophones in Montreal became increasingly alarmed to see the vast majority of new immigrants to Québec sending their children to English Schools. That situation, combined with the demographic decline of Francophones in Canada and the availability of an extensive and totally free network of English schools in Québec meant that within one generation French-speakers could become a minority in Montreal.
Québec’s Francophones, representing over 80% of the population of Québec but barely 5% of North Americans were put in the position were they had to assist their neighbors in anglicizing immigrants.
Not only were Francophones being assimilated, but they were paying for it.
In 1977 the Québec government adopted the French Language Charter, known as bill 101, which made French the mandatory language of primary and secondary education. From that moment on, all residents of Québec – except the Anglophone minority – had to send their children in French schools from 1st grade through the end of High School.
Many people in Québec’s Anglophone community and in the rest of Canada were angered by this apparent limit to their freedom to choose their children’s language of instruction. Few noted that Québec was the only place on the continent where an actual school network made that choice possible at all.
In any case, the right of English-speaking Quebecers to a “separate but equal” public English-language school network was constitutionally protected. Parents who have been to English schools anywhere in Canada have the privilege to send their children to either school network in Québec.
It is only Francophones and new immigrants – those who make the informed decision of living in the French-speaking part of Canada – who are limited to French Schools.
In 1972, before the adoption of the Charter, only 10% of immigrants to Québec sent their children to French schools. Since the adoption of bill 101 the situation has reversed. Parents who send their kids to private schools can still send them to English schools as long as the school does not receive government funding.
Freedom of choice remains total when it come to higher education and students can study in English at college-level CEGEPs or in one of Québec’s three English-language universities.
In the decades since the law was adopted, some wealthy families figured out they could send their eldest child to an unsubsidized school – one that usually cost over 10 000$ a year – and then switch all of their children to the English public system the next year.
The National Assembly of Québec unanimously adopted law 104 to put an end to the loophole. The Québec court of appeals struck down the law in 2007 and the matter is now headed for the Supreme Court.
Click here for information of the Charter of the French Language’s sign law.