A NEW LOW FOR THE OQLF "SEGREGATION NOW, SEGREGATION FOREVER?"

By Beryl Wajsman on May 25, 2015

"Someone, somewhere in the bowels of the OQLF bureaucracy wants to impose a home-grown version of Alabama Gov. George Wallace's rallying cry in the 1960s of,"Segregation now, segregation forever!" No it is not a stretch to make this parallel. It is actually perhaps time to stop being politically correct about what is "normal" in Quebec. Segregation of people by color is not "normal." Segregation of ideas and words in the press by language is also not "normal." 

Lily Ryan is the publisher of the Pontiac Journal, a free weekly, home delivered to a bilingual community. It is an English newspaper. But in an effort to serve all members of her community,Ryan began publishing articles and ads in French some years ago. The only French community paper, Le Réveil, had closed in the 1980s.

Several years ago, the OQLF - our province's beloved language police - began sending letters to Ryan demanding that she segregate - that's right segregate - English and French content in her paper because it claimed that publishing ads in one language with editorial content in another violated the Charter of the French Language. Ryan refused.

Since 2012 the OQLF has picked on one thing or another against the Journal. Negotiations were constant. In September, 2013, the OQLF advised the Journal it could publish English ads on English pages only, and this towards the back of the paper, separated from the French content.  But this past mid-April the OQLF decided to ratchet things up and sent Ryan  a mise-en-demeure. That notice demands that if Ryan and the paper did not comply immediately with the segregation order, her file would be sent to Quebec's Director of Criminal Prosecutions.

We have fought many battles on language. We led the successful fight to junk the Payette Plan that would have seen state accreditation and oversight of journalists and would have forced all reporters - even those writing for English or ethnic periodicals - to pass language tests. We joined with CRITIQ and other civil rights groups and individuals in opposing Premier Marois' Bill 14 and succeeded in seeing the most egregious parts ofmthat legislation consigned to the dustbin. But through all the struggles since Bill 101 was passed so many years ago, we never thought we would see OQLF bureaucrats have the arrogance and temerity to actually demand segregation of word and thought. To demand the infamous "separate but equal" approach of the old segregated American south. Well, in Quebec one should never be surprised. New lows keep being set.

Ms. Ryan understands the heart of the matter quite thoroughly. “It is as if the OQLF wishes to erect barriers between Pontiac’s French and English speakers,” she said. “We are surprised that the new Liberal government agrees with such a retrograde and divisive position.” Retrograde and divisive indeed, and legally unsupportable.

As usual, the OQLF fonctionnaires make up law as they go along. The mise-en-demeure states that the Journal is in violation of section 59 of the Charter of the French Language. Yet that cannot possibly be so because section 59 is an exemptive clause to section 58. The latter article is the infamous language of signs provision. It states, "Public signs and posters and commercial advertising must be in French. They may also be both in French and in another language provided that French is markedly predominant."

Section 59 however is the exemption. It states that, "Section 58 does not apply to advertising carried in news media that publish in a language other than French."  And Quebec's own Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of the press. But someone, somewhere in the bowels of the OQLF bureaucracy wants to impose a home-grown version of Alabama Gov. George Wallace's rallying cry in the 1960s of,"Segregation now, segregation forever!"

No it is not a stretch to make this parallel. It is actually perhaps time to stop being politically correct about what is "normal" in Quebec. Segregation of people by color is not "normal." Segregation of ideas and words in the press by language is also not "normal." 

Former Pontiac Journal publisher Fred Ryan has said that, "This demand (by the OQLF) negates the Journal’s ability to reflect our community and our mandate to foster unity and pride in our bilingual community. Other publishers have advised we merely end our French language reporting in order to comply with the OQLF. Thus, the OQLF is directly damaging the Francophone community in the Pontiac. We do not intend to do this, but we cannot afford to fight the government of Québec either.”  Ryan says this issue cuts to the heart of the purpose of a newspaper, and, hence, is an assault on freedom of the press.

We agree with him. And if the Journal cannot afford to fight the government, it is  up to all of us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with it so that the OQLF demand of "segregation now" is answered with the clarion call that has inspired generations...."We shall overcome!"

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Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

Redacteur en chef et Editeur

Alan Hustak

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