By Mylène Kono
David Soto sat at his desk, quietly contemplating his life-long dream of becoming a translator. His right leg bounced up and down as he stared at his open laptop’s blank screen. All of his friends had already committed to a CEGEP but Soto had yet to receive an answer from Dawson. He picked at the Band-Aids wrapped around the tips of his fingers; he had a habit of biting his nails when he was anxious. Eventually, he mustered up the courage to start typing his login information onto the Dawson website. When the status of his admission popped up on the screen, his jaw dropped. In a mix of excitement and disbelief, he grabbed the computer and ran to the living room to share the big news with his family. Soto would be attending the Language program at Dawson in the coming year.
In recent news, it has been discovered that Soto may well be part of one of the few remaining cohorts to have the option of attending an anglophone CEGEP. On 18 April 2021, the Parti Québécois voted in overwhelming majority to support a new proposal that would affect the current Bill 101, also known as the Charter of the French Language. If this political party were brought to power at the next election, students who were denied an English education in secondary school would now also be forced to continue their collegiate studies in French.
Julie Deschamps, a Dawson student who is studying in English for the first time, was quite unhappy when she heard about the proposal: “I would have to sacrifice an education that felt perfect for me just because it was in English.” According to a survey conducted in 2011 by the Fédération des Cégeps, Deschamps is not the only student opposing the new proposal: 62% of young adults agree with her. But why is the Parti Québécois in support of this proposal despite this information? Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the current leader of the PQ, stated that they were looking to counteract the decline of French in Québec.
The fight to preserve French is not a new one and has been a topic of controversy in the past. During the Saint-Léonard crisis, French Canadians and Italians fought over the language in which their kids would acquire schooling. A few years later, in 1977, René Lévesque’s Péquiste government passed the 101 bill with heavy support from the francophone population. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, then Prime Minister, was critical of this change.
Paul Déon is also in disagreement with the bill and believes that Québec needs to adapt to the linguistic changes it’s facing. The Dawson student is convinced that “the 101 law is holding Québec back”.
Good or bad, the Charter of the French Language is here to stay. But would extending its effect onto collegiate studies in Québec benefit anyone? The Ministry of Education states that 6,4% of francophone students attended English CEGEPs between 2020 and 2021. In contrast, 11,4% of anglophone students and nearly 66% of allophone students made the switch to a French college. This means that non-francophone students are choosing to pursue their studies in French. They are making this decision by their own free will and without any governmental interference. Unfortunately, the Parti Québécois is still looking to control students’ futures in the name of protecting French.
If the proposal were put into effect, Soto would pursue his schooling in another province. After years of patiently waiting to graduate out of the French school system, students are ready to begin their education in the most widely spoken language around the world and Soto is convinced that “the 101 proposal would only drive people away.” At the age that students are entering CEGEP, there are possibilities for them to attend school in other provinces if they are unhappy with their options in Québec. Instead of encouraging post-secondary education in French, the PQ may be mistakenly forcing some students to pursue their anglophone education somewhere else.
The French language has been a point of contention in Québec for most of the province’s existence, and laws are consistently being implemented in hopes of helping the language regain popularity. Young and old Québécois alike are proud of their culture and rightly want to ensure its protection. However, students resent the possibility of losing their freedom to choose the language they pursue their collegiate studies in. “I deserve to study in the language of my choice” explains Soto. “This proposal is absurd” says Paul. “Once you’re 18, you should be allowed to study wherever you want” pleads Deschamps. The Parti Québécois must remember to protect the needs of the people before those of a language.
Image: "CEGEP Dawson College" by Michael Ignatieff is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0