My girlfriend and I spent the past weekend in Montreal, Quebec. It is a nice city and we enjoyed ourselves and each other. However, until this little trip, I was ignorant of the vast cultural conflict between Quebecers and the rest of English-speaking Canada.
In 1977, Quebec passed the Charter of the French Language, charging the Quebec Board of the French Language with ensuring that French be the primary spoken and written language in both public administration and private sector business. Signs in places of public accommodation must be written in French, and any English translation must be less prominent than the French portion.
The relevant historical context is, very briefly, that Quebec (and indeed a vast portion of now-developed Canada and Midwestern United States) belonged to the French prior to Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War in 1763. While most of the French influence in the areas noted in parentheses has been overwhelmed by cultural and political forces over the centuries, in Quebec it has maintained a foothold. As such, many Quebecers see themselves as a conquered people and there is a significant degree of resentment of the majority English Canadian culture. This resentment has precipitated multiple secession movements.
This is very intriguing to me. By what means may a people preserve what they believe is their historic culture? What, if any, abridgments of individual rights are appropriate in achieving this end? Further, is natural cultural evolution (especially as a result of political and geographic realities which have gone largely unchanged for the past 250 years) to be resisted just as we resist radical cultural revolution?
As an American, my sense of things is that Quebec’s attempts to preserve its culture via executive fiat are misguided and their sweeping dismissal of individual rights is unacceptable. If the human forces at play are such that a single aspect of your culture is being eroded, not by government tyranny but by 250 years of history, it may be time to accept that said aspect is an anachronism.
I am, by no means, committed to the above-stated view. That is just my gut reaction based on my experience there over a period of 72 hours and about ten minutes of reading on Wikipedia. I’m open to, and invite, others’ perspectives on this matter.