Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quebec town rejects language 'Taliban'

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MONTREAL -- From coast to coast in Canada, there has been a wave of positive reaction to the Huntingdon, Que., municipal council's unanimous decision to stand up to the Office de la langue francaise, which is asking us to stop any bilingual written communication with our residents.

But here in Quebec, it's a different story. Last week, all political parties at the provincial legislature condemned our decision, which is against Bill 101 (the Charter of the French language). In Quebec, the most hysterical have vowed to come to Huntingdon and raise 1,000 complaints against our community. Systematic harassment by the language Taliban of Montreal has become a daily routine in Huntingdon. Others have already started vandalism operations targeting private property. As well, threats of physical attacks have begun on social networks.

Huntingdon will never yield to such intimidation. Quite the contrary. For us, it's an added incentive to fight for what is just and equitable.

The people of Huntingdon have a remarkable history. Our ancestors pushed back against U.S. invasions in 1812 and in the 1870s. The two major language groups have lived in harmony for nearly two centuries and made outstanding contributions during the great historical conflicts of the 20th century. With us, there is no difference between the French and English. We are all in the heart of the Haut-St-Laurent, which remains a beautiful region, with hamlets dotted along the U.S. border.

Huntingdon is not Montreal, where uncertainty and linguistic insecurity seem to be part of everyday life. And it's in considering our past and our common values that we are unable to accept the ruling of the ridiculous Bill 101 and the office. When a community has 44 per cent of its population speaking English, how can we ignore it? Although most anglophones in Huntingdon speak and understand French, our values teach us that we do not promote a language and culture by crushing the other. This linguistic cleansing will not happen here in our territory. Ever.

What does Quebec have to fear? The anglophone population of Quebec's regions is shrinking. Schools and English-speaking churches are closing across the province. The population is aging. We are about to lose a valuable and important cultural heritage. People should worry about preserving this great culture that has shaped our common history.

Some prefer negative references to the British conquest and the supposed oppression of the English against French Canadians. Nothing is farther from the truth. Every day, Quebec makes considerable efforts to accommodate the new arrivals from the outside world, but spits in the face of the anglophone brother with whom it has shared centuries of existence. This is pure nonsense!

The cultural inferiority complex of the French continues to undermine the development of modern Quebec. While we are afraid of others, Ontario and the western provinces are developing at high speed. Why would our youth, and my own children, want to live their lives in a province that is afraid? To paraphrase Honore Mercier, we had better cease our fratricidal fighting and instead look ahead with confidence.

It was through discussion with a citizen named Robert Parkinson, of Montcalm in Quebec City, that an idea came to me, one based on wisdom: Why fight Bill 101 and engage the town of Huntingdon in a debate that eventually will divide Quebec unnecessarily? Let's be smarter than this anachronistic law! Thus, over the next few days, the town council will be setting up an independent newspaper with a not-for-profit mission that will provide bilingual information from the town to its residents. The corporation, led by a group of committed residents, will ensure the dissemination of relevant information to the community for and on behalf of the town and various community organizations in our region.

Because Bill 101 does not apply to such an organization, we will circumvent its application on our territory and continue to serve our people as they should be served -- in both official languages. Debate at the council meetings will continue to be in both languages, and our citizens will still be served in the language of their choice at the reception desk and through our different departments. And the council will be able to get back to the business of focusing peacefully on the development of our town.

Stephane Gendron is mayor of Huntingdon, Que.

-- Montreal Gazette

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2012 A10

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