The unilingual Anglophone witch-hunt

By Dan Delmar on December 16, 2011

Out of the clear blue sky, the manufactured chasm between the two solitudes reopened this week with a string of Quebec commentators fanning the flames of intolerance by, essentially, conducting a witch-hunt to find the ubiquitous unilingual Anglophone.

The most offensive campaign was conducted by l’Actualité’s Jean-François Lisée – a radical sovereignist penseur who masked his crusade as an intellectual exercise. He wrote: 

“Plus d’une centaine d’internautes ont contribué leurs anecdotes et répondu à ma demande de témoignages pour répondre à la question du billet Is l’unilingue anglais back ? Sommes nous en présence d’une tendance ? D’une nouvelle ethnie d’unilingues anglais venus à Montréal du reste du continent et qui prennent la décision de ne pas apprendre le français ?

La réponse courte: difficile à dire. Les internautes ont versé des dizaines de récits de contacts avec des unilingues. Certains (peu) venus d’ailleurs. Beaucoup, venant de Montréal. Et beaucoup, d’ailleurs et d’ici, qui font au contraire état des efforts d’anglos pour comprendre et parler le français.”

Over 100 people sent Lisée their thoughts on the issue and tens – tens, I tell you! – sent stories about having had “contact” with unilingual Anglophones. One wrote about the trauma of working in English (for the McGill University Health Centre, of all places), another about meeting exotic West Islanders in a Concordia class and one kept statistics on the amount of unilinguals who considered buying his home. It is unclear if Lisée directed his readers to the nearest linguistic rape crisis centre for treatment.

What originally got Lisée’s panties in a bunch was an interview with two unilingual Montreal Anglos that aired, ironically, on CBC Radio’s Daybreak with Mike Finnerty. It was a slice-of-life, fluff piece that was (hopefully) intended to be neither serious nor evidence of a trend. But that didn’t stop Lisée and other hysterical commentators from setting up the Anglo straw man and assembling the torch-bearing mob.

Tout le monde en parle host Guy A. Lepage veered away from his cue-cards, hinting he would be prepared to boycott the National Bank over one of their unilingual executives; La Presse reporters made an issue of a unilingual Ivanhoé Cambridge (subsidiary of the Caisse de depôt) manager who’s been skipping French classes and sending his secretary in his stead. Apparently, making vast amounts of money for Quebec by being able to communicate in the international language of business is far less important than satisfying the petty insecurities of the Francophone elite. 

98.5fm radio host Benoît Dutrizac piled on, mocking two veteran Anglo city councillors – puzzling since he frequently peppers his rants with “fuck” and “bullshit,” presumably to the disappointment of francophiles. He edited clips of Michael Applebaum and Marvin Rotrand to make them appear to be “bloke-ier” than they are in real life. 

“Le français de Michael Applebaum, comité exécutif de la ville de Montréal, est une insulte aux Montréalais francophones,” Dutrizac said. “Pour l'administration Tremblay, baragouiner le Français comme le font Applebaum et Marvin Rotrand est inacceptable.”

Having listened to Applebaum and Rotrand drone on in council chambers non-stop for literally hours on end, I can say with certainty that both communicate rather well in French, save for their West End accents and the odd anglicisme. I doubt their voters particularly care about the accents, especially after they’ve taken a dip in NDG’s new Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool. And their French is undoubtedly sharper than the English spoken by Louise Harel and Richard Bergeron – both of whom hope to become Mayor and represent this city across the World.

Regardless – this isn’t a bilingual pissing contest. It’s a call for responsible, intellectually honest critiques of public officials. None of the democratically-elected politicians targeted by the insecure media elite were found to have refused to speak Quebec’s official language or denigrated Francophones – that would have been reason for concern. 

The problem lies with this manufactured, pre-holiday controversy; hammering away at a staple issue to ensure that we will have a white Christmas, with nationalists foaming at the mouth. The story is that there is no story; that commentators like Lisée, Lepage and Dutrizac are being self-righteous, paranoid and helping to perpetuate a language crisis that exists mainly within their narrow cultural prisms.

There are unilingual Anglophones from the West Island who have no interest in the French language and are contemptuous of Francophones. Conversely, there are unilingual Francophones from the East End who have no interest in the English language and are contemptuous of Anglophones. Both of these groups of people are unfortunate, and they are the exceptions. It is lazy and downright irresponsible for commentators to highlight the fringes of society and extrapolate troubling trends where none exist.

Bilingualism is healthy. It can make us wealthier, financially and culturally. It should be encouraged, and it is the mission of The Métropolitain to do just that. In a perfect World, every Canadian would speak both official languages. Until then, we will have to settle for heavy accents, poor conjugation and a fair amount of good will.



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