Martin C. Barry
The Nova Scotia-born founder of a new Montreal-based group for Anglophones who support the idea of Quebec becoming a sovereign nation maintains that the current rights of English-speaking citizens would be guaranteed in an independent Quebec based on a statement former PQ Premier Jacques Parizeau was going to make on the night in 1995 when sovereignists lost the last independence referendum.
“In a separate Quebec I see all those rights being protected,” said Jennifer Drouin, a Montreal-based professor of English who started the group Anglophones for Quebec Independence which now claims to have up to 50 members.
A ‘non-issue,’ she says
“I see it really as a non-issue that Anglophones shouldn’t be worried about,” she said. “I understand that they are, but they shouldn’t because those rights have always been there and they will always be there. And sovereignist governments are constantly restating that and reaffirming that they will protect Anglophone linguistic rights.”
Drouin maintained that in 1995, when then PQ Premier Parizeau pre-recorded a victory speech for the Yes side in the referendum had they won, he explicitly stated that he was committed to protecting the historical rights of the English community in a sovereign Quebec.
More notoriously, though, it was on that same evening, when the Yes side failed to muster enough support and narrowly lost the referendum, that Parizeau made his infamous comments about “money and ethnic votes” having cheated the Yes side out of a win.
‘Unfortunate’ Parizeau comments
“That was unfortunate,” said Drouin, dismissing the incident. “I think we all know that was a speech made in the heat of the moment, and none of his councillors at the time agreed and we’ve been compensating for that one moment of emotion ever since.” Still she maintained that when Parizeau recorded his alternate statement for a victory, “there was a very strong commitment to historical Anglophone linguistic rights.”
To further bolster her case, Drouin noted that in 2007, when former PQ MNA Daniel Turp tabled a proposed constitution in the National Assembly for an independent Quebec, “he very explicitly referenced in the opening preamble the historical rights of the English community,” she said. “And we also have to remember that after a Yes vote, sovereignty doesn’t just happen like that: there’s a negotiation that will happen between Quebec and Ottawa.”
Measures not ‘anti-English’
Since 1976 when they first started being elected, PQ governments have enacted the strictest legislation Quebec has ever known to protect the French language and culture. This has included Bill 101, which restricted the use of languages other than French in public advertising and led to the creation of an outspoken lobby of anglo rights activists. Drouin said she doesn’t understand what all the fuss was about in this last respect.
“We [AQI] don’t feel that measures to protect the French language are anti-English,” she said. “Because, I mean, if you look around, living in Quebec as an anglophone, it’s so easy I find. I honestly have trouble understanding the argument of oppression because I’ve had nothing but fantastic treatment as an Anglophone living here for 15 years.”
She maintained that the services for anglophones in Quebec, which include many longstanding institutions such as McGill University, Bishop’s University, as well as hospitals like the MUHC, are exemplary compared to what’s available for French-speaking minorities in other parts of Canada, such as the Acadians in Nova Scotia where the availability of services for them is lamentable.
Wants to build bridges
Drouin said the purpose of Anglophones for Quebec Independence “is to give anglophone sovereignists space to come together to have a collective voice so that people know that we exist and to build bridges between the two solitudes – to have the anglophone and francophone communities in dialogue.”
Drouin, who was born into an English-speaking family and adopted her francophone name after marrying a French-Canadian, said she became acutely aware of the endangered state of the French language in most of Canada outside Quebec after attending university in the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada where she said French is constantly under threat.
“One of the things you notice very frequently is the difficulty of trying to get services in French,” she said. “Trying to get health care services in French in Nova Scotia is extremely difficult.” She said that while in Nova Scotia she found herself cast in the role of “constantly playing translator” for her French-speaking spouse who was originally from Trois-Rivières in Quebec.