Our Soldiers' Children

By Colin Standish on March 11, 2013

When I think of Bill 14, I think of Sandra. Sandra goes to the English-language Dollard-des- Ormeaux (D.D.O.) school just off Valcartier military base near Quebec City. When I met her, she emotionally asked why she would have to change schools and lose her friends. Her father serves in the military and was wounded in Afghanistan. She lives with her mother, her parents separated partly due to the strain of post-traumatic stress after her father returned from combat. Now, one of the few constants in her life, her elementary school and close friends, could be taken away by Bill 14.

There are 600 Sandras in Quebec City and Bagotville, who come from military families who would lose the right to attend school in the language of their choice because of Bill 14. Almost 20% of the children in English-language educational institutions in the local school board would be removed from their schools.

Bill 14’s attack on the children of war veterans and members our armed forces lays bare the glaring contradiction, and indeed cruelty, of nationalistic governance in Quebec since the Quiet revolution; where a political movement predicated on preserving a minority-language, French, systematically seeks to victimize, weaken and marginalize its own English minority-language group. 

The Quebec government’s proposals to revoke the exclusion from application granted to the children of members of the armed forces temporarily assigned to the province of Quebec will serve to further marginalize and isolate military families and hinder equal access to government services for linguistic minority communities across the province.

These children often endure painful and stressful separation from family members serving overseas, and are relocated around the country frequently. They are forced to adapt to a new school and social situations. Bilingualism is a necessity for military children. 

Restricting the rights of parents to choose the language of instruction for their children would compound the issues confronting the children of military families. This would potentially diminish military children’s education and socialization at a critical time in their development by forcefully mandating the linguistic environment in which they are educated.

Teachers and administrative staff in schools near military bases are often equipped with the adequate tools to help children effectively manage and deal with the reality of separation anxiety. Removing children from these schools would not only reduce their capacity to successfully complete their education, but their overall mental and physical well-being.[1]

This is not to mention Shannon and surrounding communities in Quebec City, which still retain their Irish and English-speaking character from their original European settlers (including Brian Mulroney’s ancestors) which depend on the D.D.O. school for their children’s education.

The proposed changes would also continue to diminish the enrolment in English schools in the province of Quebec, and call into question the viability of numerous smaller schools and school boards. Enrolment in English schools across the province plummeted from 248,000 in 1971 to only 108,000 in 2007.

As the Supreme Court of Canada reasoned in the landmark education and language Mahe v. Alberta case,

“Any broad guarantee of language rights, especially in the context of education, cannot be separated from a concern for the culture associated with the language. Language is more than a mere means of communication, it is part and parcel of the identity and culture of the people speaking it. It is the means by which individuals understand themselves and the world around them.”

Mahe recognizes that schools provide important institutions for the entire community. This is the case in the Quebec City region, where schools help to anchor the English community. As Mahe notes,

“minority schools themselves provide community centres where the promotion and preservation of minority language culture can occur; they provide needed locations where the minority community can meet and facilities which they can use to express their culture.”

All Canadian soldiers risk their lives to preserve our basic freedoms at home. Military families are separated for months, and live with the constant anxiety and fear that their father, mother, or husband and wife, will not return to them alive. What they ask for in return is dignity and respect from their country and community.

In this province, we can speak with one clear voice that victimizing the children of military families is one step too far.

Quebec has recently been mocked around the world for the pettiness of language laws when applied to the mundane, namely restaurant menus. I can hardly imagine what the reaction will be when Quebecers, Canadians, and the world learn of the pettiness of our language laws when applied to the seemingly untouchable; the sons and daughters of war heroes.

 

Colin Sandish is Editor-in-Chief of Université Laval`s Law Reveiew

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