The real meaning of pur laine
I’ve read a lot about Quebec’s latest controversial laws, Bills 21 and 96, but I don’t think the explanation for their existence has been complete. But before I say what I believe is the cause of these attacks on minorities, let’s look at what’s happened in what all too many people outside Quebec call la belle province as if to show off their bilingualism.
In the past, Quebecers have talked about “pur laine” (pure wool) the term in French for those who are descended from the original settlers from New France. This group is seen as the ultimate Quebcois although others whose ancestors might not have arrived quite so long ago have been included over the years. Immigrants, called allophones, whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, have never had decent status.
When you look at the recent history of Quebec, government action has all to often consisted of making life miserable for minorities. Rene Levesque’s Bill 101 gave priority to those whose mother tongue was French. Anglophones fled the province by the thousands, a great achievement in Levesque’s mind. The current premier, Francois Legault, has followed Levesque by attacking minorities. Bill 21 prevents people such as teachers, police, lawyers and others from wearing religious symbols like hijabs, turbans, crosses and yarmulkes while practicing their professions. I think a Jewish teacher should be allowed to wear his kippah in the classroom.
Such marginalization was taken even further by Legault in Bill 96. Immigrants, for example, who’ve been in Quebec for more than six months, must speak French to access government services. Anyone working in small businesses with as few as five employees will have to learn French. Contracts must be written in French. And in a step that smacks of a classic autocratic regime, there’s a snitch line to report offenders.
There’s only one explanation: Quebec is at heart a racist society. A recent poll found that three-quarters of respondents who identified as members of minority groups agreed that there was systemic racism in Quebec. Federal politicians of all parties have been strangely quiet on this topic. With any luck, the Supreme Court will eventually throw out these two offensive laws. Canadians in recent years have been dragged into agreeing that Quebec is a distinct society. But racist? We shouldn’t have to live with that.