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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Documents on the Controversy Surrounding the Language of Commercial Signs in Quebec (Bill 178) December 1988

Bill 178, an Unacceptable ‘Deregulation’
Jean-Louis Bourque

[Note from C. Bélanger: Translated below is only part of the text by Bourque, that part that is most connected to Bill 178. A significant portion of the article concerned Bill 191 which proposed a variety of amendments to the Charter of the French Language.]

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"On December 15 last, the Supreme Court of Canada declared unconstitutional articles 58-59 of the Charter of the French Language. At the same time, it recognized that the provincial government could remove itself from the application of the judgment of the Court by adopting a notwithstanding clause, and thus partially limit individual freedoms so as to protect the collective interests of the francophone citizens of Quebec and safeguard public order.

Caught between its contradictory concerns, its electoral promises and its uncertain beliefs, the BOURASSA government attempted to play a juggling act: as if by magic, without debate, three days before Christmas, it pretends to fill the judicial vacuum by adopting a lightweight law, Bill 178 (11 articles), without regulations. After three years of linguistic neglect, it threw a bone to the anglophone community that finances him (13%), bilingualism ‘inside’ and a handful of illusions to the francophone majority: French ‘on the outside’. In fact, he opens the door to a sly form of bilingualism ‘inside’, according to chancy modalities (Leon Dion), that is to say uncertain and problematic.

For the time-being the balance-sheet of the behavior of this sorcerer’s apprentice is: general dissatisfaction, resignation of three anglophone ministers, demonstrations, calls for civil disobedience, agitation, violence, tensions and frustrations. All this agitation masks what is essential, and which can be contained in two sentences:

1. the French language and culture are in an imperiled position in North America;

2. the Government of Quebec is the only democratic government in North America, which by virtue of its own Constitution (article 45 of the Law of 1982), can prevent the insidious fate of Louisiana to happen in Quebec and to guarantee the existence of a true francophone State. [Note from C. Bélanger: s. 45 states that "Subject to section 41, the legislature of each province may exclusively make laws amending the constitution of the province"]

An imperative task: the defense of national interest.

Everywhere, throughout the world, nations defend their national interest. Everywhere, an equilibrium between individual and general interests is sought. But when there is danger, collective interests must stand ahead of individual interests. Quebec should abide by this rule. Quebecers are known to be tolerant and open, but patience, generosity and benevolence should not exclude lucidity. What should we think of a government oblivious to the erosion that threatens the language of the majority in more or less the long term? What should one think of a government that has done nothing to have the law respected, to reinforce the beneficial and reassuring effects that the Charter of the French Language has, when such a Charter is akin to a constitutional guarantee in the mind of Quebecers?

[Here is included a discussion of Bill 191, proposed by Claude Filion of the Parti Quebecois; the intent of this bill was to strengthen a number of provisions in Bill 101, particularly regarding computer programmes]

Bill 178, an unfinished draft

The proposed Bill 191 deserves to be better known by the population of Quebec. The aim of this bill was to promote the distinctiveness of the francophone society of Quebec. Bill 178 strengthens Bill C-72 (Official Languages’ Act) and C-93 (Multiculturalism) enacted by the Federal Government, which finances bilingualism in the only province with a francophone majority, to thwart the objectives of the Charter of the French Language.

Compared to Bill 191, Bill 178 looks like an unfinished draft. Mister BOURASSA knew about Bill 191. In a rush, without refection, evading his national responsibilities, he hoped to settle a major problem with an unacceptable compromise. He depends on weariness to lessen tensions. Mister BOURASSA, you know it, since 1985, French is retrenching on all fronts in Quebec. There is urgency. Instead of putting to sleep our consciences, consolidate Bill 101, and, as the vast majority of the population wishes it, make the law be respected.

Source: Jean-Louis BOURQUE, "La Loi 178, un ‘dérèglement’ inacceptable", in Action Nationale, Vol. 79, No. 3 (March 1989): pp. 212-215

© For the translation, 1999, Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College