Robert Libman: Double standards leave Quebec anglos stranded

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” is the well-known proclamation in George Orwell’s Animal Farm that we read in high school.

Unfortunately, that phrase keeps coming to mind recently, with the double standard that seems to exist in this country when it comes to the status of Quebec’s minorities.

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Let’s start with the hypocrisy of Arif Virani, Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general. Since September and until this week, he had pinned at the top of his X profile (formerly Twitter) a statement criticizing Saskatchewan’s government for invoking the notwithstanding clause to pass a law that prevents children under 16 from changing their names or pronouns at school without parental consent.

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He and others may feel strongly about the issue. But his harsh words about the Saskatchewan government “acting before a court has had the opportunity to review their proposed policy on its constitutionality” reeks of hypocrisy. That’s because we haven’t heard a peep from him about Quebec’s pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to pass recent laws that clearly contravene both Quebec’s and Canada’s charters of rights.

In a CBC interview with Rosemary Barton, Virani boldly claimed he was sworn to uphold the Canadian Constitution and the charter. The notwithstanding clause should be a last resort — “not the first word in the conversation,” he said. Some tough guy. He should be reminded that the justice minister’s role is to defend the Constitution and the charter zealously throughout the country and not only when it’s politically correct to do so. When Barton pressed him on Quebec’s use of the clause to pass Bill 96 on language, he looked like a deer in headlights and meandered off, avoiding the question.

Yet the erosion of minority language rights in Quebec continues since Bill 96 was adopted with bureaucrats consistently imposing their strictest interpretation of the law. Whether it’s with eligibility certificates for English CEGEPs or even the English Montreal School Board’s right to send internal communications in English, the screws keep tightening.

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The federal government has been walking on eggshells also with its tepid opposition to Quebec’s university tuition controversy. The decision by the Legault government to dramatically hike fees to deter non-francophones from other provinces from coming to Quebec is, among everything else, a blow to Canadian unity.

The robotic mantra of Pascale Déry, Quebec’s minister of higher education — that “it’s not up to Quebec taxpayers to finance the education of thousands of Canadian students from outside Quebec” — smacks of callous and divisive dog-whistle politics shamelessly aimed at generating support among francophones. Imagine if tuition at University of Toronto or UBC was increased for Quebecers amid claims that Ontario or B.C. taxpayers didn’t want to finance francophone students.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s silence on this issue seems like an extraordinary dereliction of leadership. Even numerous francophone institutions have criticized it.

Another example is Bill C-13, the Liberal government’s revamp of the Official Languages Act, which integrates Bill 96 and effectively condones the use of the notwithstanding clause against Quebec anglophones. The opposition in Ottawa criticizes the Trudeau government for everything — except, it seems, when Quebec minorities are thrown under the bus. Their efforts to curry favour with Quebec nationalists are clear. They even pushed the government to go further with C-13, which weakened protections for Quebec’s linguistic minority.

For minorities here, it feels like Quebec has separated already, as our federal leaders fail to stand up for them against Quebec nationalist orthodoxy.

When a country employs double standards in its approach to the treatment of minority communities, it is a perversion of democracy and not very far removed from Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Robert Libman is an architect and building planning consultant who has served as Equality Party leader and MNA, as mayor of Côte-St-Luc and as a member of the Montreal executive committee. He was a Conservative candidate in the 2015 federal election.

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