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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)


Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, was in Sherbrooke last Tuesday, 17 January 2017. There was a town hall meeting and both French-speaking and English-speaking Quebecers were in attendance.



The Incident

  • Quebec is officially unilingual
  • Interculturalism vs Multiculturalism
  • Bill 22 and Bill 101: language laws

There was an incident. An English-speaking woman asked a question in English, but Trudeau answered in French. French is Quebec’s official language but outside Montreal, inhabited by citizens of the world, Quebecers’ everyday language is French. Prime Minister Trudeau was criticized for answering in French.

Justin Trudeau speaks only French at Sherbrooke town hall, despite English questions – Montreal – CBC News

Canada is an officially bilingual, bicultural and multicultural country, but Quebec is an officially French-language province promoting interculturalism. Interculturalism is a form of multiculturalism, but not altogether. It encourages interaction and a “cross-cultural dialogue.”  Interculturalism’s theoretician is philosopher Martha Nussbaum. Interculturalism recognizes a common bond between all human beings despite different cultural customs. (See Interculturalism, Wikipedia.)

Quebec is officially unilingual because the survival of the French language is threatened in North America. French-Canadians are a minority and most live in Quebec and in the Maritime Provinces. To protect itself, not only is Quebec unilingual, but it has language laws.

Quebec declared itself an officially unilingual province by virtue of its Official Language Act (Bill 22), passed in 1974. Two years later, in 1976, the province elected the Parti Québécois, a separatist party. On 26 August 1977, the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) was voted into law and granted Royal assent. Several English-speaking Canadians had started leaving Quebec after the October Crisis of 1970, quelled by Trudeau père. English-speaking Canadians left Quebec:



Quebec unilingualism and attendant language laws are reflected in its education system.

  • Children whose parents are English-Canadians may attend an English-language school.
  • It may be possible for a child born to French-speaking parents outside Quebec to be educated in English, but the child may have to attend a French-language school.
  • It is also possible for a child born to mixed parents, such as an English-speaking father born outside Quebec and a French-Canadian mother, born in Quebec, to be educated in English, but problems may arise. The child may have to attend a French-language school.

Language laws also apply in other areas. For instance, a driver is unlikely to see the word “stop,” a French word, on a Quebec stop sign. Moreover, overhead monitors providing traffic information are unilingual. That’s dangerous.

In other words, while they may ensure the survival of a French-language Quebec, the language laws are a hindrance. Out of the 10 Canadian provinces, only New Brunswick is officially bilingual. The only officially bilingual province of Canada is New Brunswick and the only officially unilingual province of Canada is Quebec. Its official language is French.

In the remaining 9 provinces, children may attend an English-language school, a French-language school or a French “immersion” school. Many English-speaking children learn French at an immersion school. To my knowledge, there is no such thing as an English immersion school.


Other Facts

Quebec has not signed the patriated constitution, or Constitution Act of 1982, which was signed by other provinces and the federal government on 17 April 1982. Quebec asked to be able to veto Amendments to the Constitution of Canada, which may explain its refusal to sign. (See Quebec Veto Reference, Wikipedia.) However, although Quebec did not sign the Constitution Act of 1982, Quebecers are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,  embedded in the Constitution Act of 1982.

Because Quebec has not signed the Constitution Act of 1982, its Health Insurance Card is not accepted outside Quebec, but hospitalization costs are covered. The Health Insurance Card of residents of other provinces are valid in Quebec. This problem will be solved when Quebec signs the Constitution Act of 1982, which Quebec Premier Dr Philippe Couillard intends to do.



Paying income tax to both the Quebec government and Canada may also be an irritant. But I should point out that Quebecers are eligible for services not covered in other provinces, such as daycare. The cost of daycare has now been increased, but minimally.

Trudeau père was a blessing to French-Canadians living outside Quebec. He fashioned an officially bilingual and bicultural Canada. Suddenly, one could watch Ici Radio-Canada, the French language counterpart of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC), from coast to coast. French immersion schools became fashionable. It was a brave new world. Trudeau père was also a blessing to immigrants. We are a multicultural country. No one is a foreigner.

Rights and Reality

Ironically, it is unlikely that in a province other than Quebec, a person could ask a question in French and expect the question to be answered in French. There are exceptions, but English is spoken in 9 of the 10 Canadian provinces, so French-speaking Canadians living outside Quebec may have the “right” to ask a question in French but, unless they are addressing Prime Minister Trudeau or a bilingual political leader, they may not be answered in French, particularly if most persons in at a gathering speak English. If the question is asked in French, both the question and the answer may have to be translated into English. Outside Quebec and Canada’s national capital, Ottawa, the majority of Canadian citizens speak English.


Theory and Practice

I would not dare say that French-speaking citizens living outside Quebec are victimized, but there can be no doubt that certain theories cannot be put into practice other than exceptionally. Many Canadians are bilingual but most communicate in English rather than French.

But it is possible for English-speaking residents of Quebec to spend their entire life in Quebec without ever needing to learn English.

The 17 January 2017 town hall meeting was held in an officially French-language province. As a Canadian, the lady whose question, asked in English, was answered in French had the “right” to expect being answered in English and could have asked the Prime Minister to do so. It was an informal venue. But the problem is elsewhere. Canada is bilingual, but the province of Quebec is unilingual. So what does one do?


The truth is that Trudeau is very respectful of English-speaking Canadians. His mother is an English-speaking Canadian and Trudeau is very fond of Queen Elizabeth II. It should also be noted that he speaks French and English very fluently. I prefer not to throw stones at him for supposedly letting down English-speaking Canadians living in Quebec. He has not betrayed his father who made this country bilingual, bicultural and multicultural. I would say that he got caught between a rock and a hard place. Had he spoken in English, he could also have been criticized.

All I fear is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be intimidated by President Trump.

Love to everyone





Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Yousuf Karsh)

© Micheline Walker
24 January 2017











Tchaikovsky‘s Old French Song