An Uncompromising Landscape

February 9, 2010

An Uncompromising Landscape: Quebec’s Language Debate Reopened
By Ruby Pratka
David Meffe remembers his mother telling him how hard it was for her to get to school.
The daughter of Italian immigrants in Montreal, she was not allowed to attend a French-language school across the street from her home, and had to go to an English one much farther away.
“In the ’60s, the system was the opposite of what it is now,” Meffe explains. “Back then, immigrants were actually not allowed to have a French education, as it was reserved more or less for the French only.”
Since then, however, Quebec’s education system has taken a U-turn. The Charter of the French Language, passed in 1977, made French the official language of Quebec in all domains including education, and those who wanted to attend public school in English had to present a “certificate of eligibility.”
Certificates were initially granted only to students whose parents had been educated in English in Quebec, explains Brent Tyler, a Montreal lawyer who handles many language rights cases affecting the anglophone community.
This was later extended to students who had received the “major part” of their education in English in Canada, or whose parents or siblings had done the same. Then, in 2002, Quebec tightened the rules, passing Law 104, declaring that time spent in private schools could not be counted in this “major part.”
The issue re-entered the public eye in October 2009, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the 2002 law unconstitutional, in a case that Tyler litigated.
The Court gave the Quebec government one year to seek a compromise.
This being Quebec, that process has been far easier said than done. Pierre Foucher, a University of Ottawa law professor specializing in language rights, says he believes a solution can be found to please all sides, but, as for how: “If I would know, I’d be rich.”
Marcus Tabachnick, head of Montreal’s English-language Lester B. Pearson School Board, told the CBC the bill was “patently unfair.”
“It doesn’t have to be fixed,” he said, “It has to be sent away.”
Voices within the opposition Parti Québécois, however, have called for Quebec to use the notwithstanding clause to require unsubsidized private schools to work in French. Additionally, the party’s youth committee unanimously approved a recommendation to restrict access by non-anglophone students to English-language CEGEPs, or colleges.
Meffe says many of his French-speaking friends have gone to English CEGEPs to improve their language skills, due to the low quality of English education in some French public schools—such as the one he attended.
Tyler says many parents acknowledge the low quality of English-language education in French-language schools.
“We have English-language schools where the teaching is 80 to 90 per cent in French, and I have francophone parents knocking on my door wanting to find out how to get their kids eligible for those schools, because they know how good the English and French are.”
PQ youth committee vice-president Gabrielle Lemieux admits that “students go to English CEGEPs to learn English.”
“We need to improve the quality of English courses in French CEGEPs, and French courses in English CEGEPs,” she says.
About 13,000 graduates of French high schools go to English CEGEPs, as do half of all allophones, says Pierre Curzi, the PQ National Assembly critic for language policy and education.
“That puts a lot of pressure on French as a working language in Quebec, and we’ve worked hard to make French the working language.”
Foucher says requiring 17- and 18-year-olds to attend certain CEGEPs would restrict freedom of choice. “At the college level, (students) are adults,” he says. “And they should be able to choose.”
However, Curzi says this language issue is larger than freedom of choice.
“There has to be a balance in society between personal choice and collective choice,” he says. “You can’t drink whatever you want wherever you want, for example.
“We respect completely the rights of the English minority,” he says.  “But Montreal is going very quickly into anglicization and the integration of immigrants is not going well.”
Immigrants do not qualify for certificates of eligibility under most circumstances, and Curzi argues that removing Law 104 gave some immigrant and francophone parents “a right to buy” an English education – which he calls unreasonable.
So, Law 104 was needed to “correct the loophole” which allowed students to enroll for very short periods in private schools and then become eligible for the public system, says PQ intergovernmental affairs critic Alexandre Cloutier.
Tyler acknowledges that there were private English “bridging schools,” with, for example, “four Grade 1 sections and one Grade 2 section” designed expressly to get students eligible for the English public system.
However, he says he believes his clients were within their rights to use them to get their kids into the English system.
“My concern is with the word ‘loophole,’ ” he says. “My clients never tried to get around anything; they were just exercising their constitutional rights.”
Curzi argues that “the state is not obliged to respect individual choice” with regard to language in Quebec.
Tyler as a Quebecker, he understands the province’s “linguistic insecurity,” but  in his view “the French language is not in danger and doesn’t justify coercive legislation.”
Curzi argues that French in Quebec is in a vulnerable position, surrounded by the “very seductive” influence of American culture.
“If we don’t do something,” he says, “our culture is going to disappear.”
Indeed, Quebec is not the only jurisdiction that operates in a national minority language, but perhaps the only one where the issue strikes such an emotional chord.
Eric Viladrich, a professor at the Université de Montréal, comes from Spain’s Catalonia region, around Barcelona.  The local official language there, Catalan, coexists with Spanish.
“There is no language debate,” he says of his home region. “Catalan is the language of education, although Catalan students take several of their subjects in Spanish, which is the language of teaching in the rest of the country.
“It’s possible to speak of a Spanish-speaking community there like our English community here,” he says. There are lots of Spanish-speaking families there, but they are assimilated.”
Xavier Vila, a specialist in language in education at the University of Barcelona, adds that the presence of Spanish speakers in Catalonia only dates back to the early 20th century – in marked contrast to the established English minority in Quebec, which has been present for centuries.
What’s more, Catalans don’t seem to share Quebecois fears about their language being on the road to extinction.
“There’s no apocalyptic discourse,” Viladrich says. “In the 1960s, when Catalan was forbidden by Franco’s dictatorship, we had many Spanish-speaking immigrants who came here, and they learned the language,” he says.
“Since 2000 we have had a huge wave of immigrants, 150,000 in a population of seven million, most of whom have some knowledge of Spanish, but they know that by knowing Catalan they can progress socially.”
Vila says there are no laws preventing Catalan-speaking students from pursuing education in Spanish.
“But why should they choose it?” he says. “Students in Catalan schools get fluency in both Catalan and Spanish.”
For the most part, Viladrich says, few people are dissatisfied with the language of education.
“Only a small political party, 10 per cent, say every person must choose the language, but that opens the door to separation. We should not separate people according to the language of their parents.”
In contrast, closer to home, in New Brunswick, students can choose their language of education without obstacles.
Nothing restricts francophone students from receiving an English education, or immigrants from studying in the language of their choice, says Catherine Stewart, policy and legislative affairs director for the New Brunswick ministry of education.
There also is no public debate on educational policy comparable to that in Quebec, she adds.
In Quebec, Tyler and others in the English minority consider attempts to make all education in one language “coercive. ”
The language of education, Meffe says, “should be no one’s decision but their own.”
However, francophone activists such as Curzi and Lemieux say they fear Quebec’s francophone heritage will disappear if English education is accessible to all.
Both are left to compromise, even though all sides believe, in Tyler’s words, that “in an ideal world there should be no compromise.”

Bowling Day

November 4, 2009

The seniors’ bowling league at the Centre Francophone de Vanier was kind enough to let me photograph and record them for this final project. Merci à tous! Patriculièrement Nathalie Proulx, la “fixer” pour tout le projet, et Lise, la présidente de la ligue, qui avait la bonté de me permettre à ennregistrer du son et prendre des photos. Désolé à tous qui m’avaient donné des interviews qui n’étaient pas utilisés.

Amusez-vous bien!

Bowling Day

Butterfly Man

October 21, 2009


‘I admire how they fly…they’re just this amazing creation.’

Lucas Attagutsiak has gone through many life-changing experiences. Some were difficult, like the time when he and his family were forced to leave their isolated Baffin Island community for the town of Arctic Bay, where people stared at him and wore clothes he’d never seen before.

There was the time when, on Halloween night 1991, a drunk driver plowed into him as he walked home from work, rupturing his bladder and dislocating bones in his lower body. He returned to work, but his injuries made working increasingly difficult until he needed to stop.

But there was also the time seven years ago when, in his room with nothing to do, he picked up a pencil.

“I’d started to get bored, not being able to do anything,” he said. “One day I grabbed a pencil and I had to do something, I thought, I’m going to make something but what?”

“And then a butterfly just came out. And it took me a month and a half to cover the whole wall with butterflies.”

“I call them freedom butterflies,” he says. “They do things that I can’t do anymore. Real butterflies can zig-zag and fly and not worry about where they go.”

It wasn’t easy for Attagutsiak to leave Nunavut’s “one week of summer” for Ottawa’s “heat”, but there was at least one advantage—real butterflies. “In Nunavut we only have little one-inch butterflies,” he remembers. “The first time I saw a monarch… I went nuts and started running all over the place trying to catch it.”

When his nieces learned how much he loved butterflies, they brought him every butterfly they could find. “One time my niece brought me a half-dead butterfly, and I started warming it up, and it came back to life, and I let it go after that,” he remembers, voice rising with emotion. “I love the shape and the colours and all the things butterflies do that I cannot do. They’re just this amazing creation.”

In the last two years, Attagutsiak has been making his butterflies from caribou antler. He loves the way the bone transforms. “When you see a caribou antler, it’s just bone. When you slice them in half and you start to cut them and work them and then you see [it] turning into a real beautiful form, that’s what I like to see.”

He has sold every caribou-antler butterfly he has made. He wants to make more, but he has no more antlers, and the antlers only come from the Far North.

While he explains, his wife Joyce Halladay shows off photos of the carvings and reference letters from gallery owners throughout the National Capital Region.

They are an interesting contrast. Attagutsiak is self-effacing, hesitant to play his guitar for visitors and not readily talking about the praise his work has received.

Halladay is the one who talks about the exhibitions of her husband’s art. She is the one who puts on Ikayonga, the motivational Inuktitut-language pop album he made in 1994 with Baffin Island friends. She is the one who tells the couple’s story at farmers’ markets and craft fairs.   

The two met several years ago at an AA meeting in a Vanier church basement. They became friends and rapidly fell in love. Suddenly Halladay had a new family.

“It started with Lucas and then it just fanned out, with his sisters and his mother and everyone,” she says. “Even Inuit who would be considered strangers have welcomed me.”

All of Attagutsiak’s immediate family members have made the trip south to meet Halladay. The couple hope to return the favour and marry in Nunavut, with Attagutsiak’s elderly mother present. Halladay is learning Inuktitut to prepare for the trip.

Halladay deals with multiple mental health issues and has been rejected many times, she says, but never by her “Inuit family.”

“They have accepted me for who I am with open arms,” she says. “Everyone has a place in the Inuit community,” she says. “Everyone is valued, from the smallest child to the oldest person. I don’t see that here.”

“To the Inuit, just the fact that you’re alive is a blessing.”



(short excerpt from Ikayonga; Attagutsiak is playing his own acoustic guitar along with the recording)


(Joyce Halladay and Lucas Attagutsiak)

Grotte des Lourdes photo album

October 21, 2009


IMG_5522IMG_5523IMG_5524IMG_5529These were to accompany the Grotte des Lourdes vignette. But they kind of have a flow of their own…



audio file test

October 14, 2009

Somewhat irrelevant monologue of my prof discussing the software we use. Added just to test said software.

Vanier Vignette #3: Casse-croute Vanier

October 7, 2009

The poutine is good. In fact, it’s exceptional. The fries are crispy, it’s melty but not too melty (the curds are definitely still curds) and the gravy is hot and thick and actually has a taste. And at $5.25 for a medium, it costs half as much as Elgin Street Diner poutine.
The walls of the tiny, corrugated metal snack bar are plastered with pictures of Canadiana- a beaver, the Canadian Tire symbol, the Avro Arrow, Trudeau- and an enormous maple leaf flag flies out front. If it were two miles down the road, Casse-Croute Vanier would be a tourist attraction.
Owner Serge Morin knows this. And yet he’s perfectly happy to run his business on a quiet residential intersection in Vanier. “I was born in Vanier, I like Vanier,” says Morin. “My son wants me to go to the By[ward] Market but I’d end up like the guy who ran the Blooming Onion [chipwagon]; they made him move and he lost a lot of money…” he says, beginning a monologue about how the city hurts independent businesses.
Some independent fast-food sellers may get nervous when a much more visible Burger King stands between them and the Montreal Road crowds. Not Morin. “They don’t even grill the meat over there,” he says. “If I had my way, I’d have a McDonalds on one side of me and a Burger King on the other. I know I have the best food.”
Before opening the Casse-Croute two years ago, Morin ran a chipwagon, which he still uses on special occasions, like charity events and Movies in the Park. “You couldn’t do that in the By-Market.”).
Morin followed his father, uncle and brother into the burger-and-poutine business. I’m hesitant to ask him about the family recipe, but he’s suprisingly forthcoming.
“There’s no secret,” he says. “I make it fresh from scratch. It hasn’t been sitting in a drawer for an hour, that’s the thing. You can’t go wrong if you make it fresh.”

Vanier Vignette #2: Montfort Hospital

October 7, 2009

It may be a stretch, but Montfort Hospital reminds me of Independence Square in Kiev.
Both places witnessed historic protest, witnessed the controlled, massed fury of a people who felt that their identities were threatened by oblivious authorities. From both places, that anger crossed great distances, until decision-makers began to sympathize with the sign-wavers.
And both places, the battle won, are today largely quietly going about their business.
In Kiev, the main reminder of the 2004 Orange Revolution is the crowd of vendors selling various Orange memorabilia.
At Montfort, the colour is green, the green of the Franco-Ontarian flag. And the reminder is much more subtle: a sign over the entranceway, naming it avenue de 22 mars.
March 22, 1997, was the day of the grand rassemblement, or “great gathering”, when, at the urging of Vanier mayor Gisele Lalonde, 10,000 Franco-Ontarians converged on Montfort to stop its proposed closure by Queen’s Park.
Once closure was averted, the Mike Harris government proposed turning Montfort into an emergency clinic, but no one in Vanier wanted to compromise. How could Montfort, the only francophone teaching hospital west of Quebec, continue to fulfil its mandate if it was “reduced to doing booboo-ology,” as one doctor fumed in L’Actualité ?
In 1998, Montfort sued the province to keep its facilities– and won. The visitor there today sees, first and foremost, the bulldozers, putting the finishing touches on a construction project that will have nearly tripled the size of the emergency room, doubled the size of the psychiatric ward and made Montfort one of the foremost “humanitarian hospitals” (as its banner proudly proclaims) in North America.

Bulldozers. An Orange Revolution, after all.

(A lot of my information came from two articles published in the Quebec newsmagazine L’Actualité in February 2008.
“Montfort le miraculé” (= “Montfort the Miraculous”)

and the source of the statistics in the last paragraph, “Le Nouveau Montfort, ce sera…” (= “The new Montfort will be…”)

Vanier Vignette #1: La Grotte des Lourdes

October 5, 2009

It’s Sunday morning in Vanier, and a few dozen worshippers are dispersed among the rows of pews, lost in meditation. Devotional candles flicker, and votive tablets line a wall like a timeline- favours obtained, 1943; miraculous healing, 1969; Chantal, 1996. The layout, like a French Catholic church, is a stained-glass window laid flat, and the eye pops immediately to the focal point- a flower-bedecked stone altar inside a sort of cave. An almost-life-size statue of Mary gazes down from a chink in the rocks.
Suddenly, the sound of a motorcycle engine breaks the silence. A breeze scatters orange fall leaves around the pews. A black squirrel scurries under a pew with a nut.
No one is much bothered– because this is no ordinary church. This is La Grotte Notre-Dame des Lourdes á Vanier, an outdoorCatholic shrine that has been a gathering place for local Catholics and pilgrims for a century,
Frédéric, a gregarious, smiling African who gave only his first name, is one such pilgrim. “Far, far away in Kanata,” he says in French when asked where he lives. “But I come here all the time to pray. Benoit comes here all the time to pray too, don’t you?” He grins at his son, who’s about seven or eight. The boy hands me an English-language tract he couldn’t possibly have read. I’m touched by his belief that the words will comfort me. It’s this kind of faith that has sustained Vanier’s Catholic community since 1910, when Grotte founder Père Henri Richard built the first altar from blocks of snow.
For Vanier resident Mike Tardif and his neighbour Danielle, the journey is much shorter. They come here together “sometime between once a week and once a month,” they agree.
“i get my inner peace here,” says Danielle. “This place has been here for a hundred years.”

At noon, the traffic noise is drowned out by the peal of church bells.

NOTE TO JEFF AND ELYSE: I took some amazing pictures here, but due to technology issues I don’t think I will be able to put them up until tomorrow during or after class. They’ll be there though.

Vanier Farmers Market

September 30, 2009

The above link should take you to a photo montage I did on the Vanier Farmers Market. The colours are definitely worth a look.

Vanier in Cyberspace

September 22, 2009

Facebook group “I live in Ottawa-Vanier”
Facebook group “You know you live in Vanier When…”
Rather cynical. I actually haven’t seen any of the disturbing sights these people say they’ve seen, although maybe I just didn’t look hard enough?

Vanier forum, focusing mainly on Vanier in the news.