Allan Singer’s cluttered Montreal store looks less like a stationery shop than a colonial outpost forgotten in the hinterland after Victoria Regina’s troops had finally lowered the flag. A huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth reigns over disordered piles of paper, and packets of stickers bearing the royal likeness cling to the walls. Upstairs, in the Freedom of Choice Party’s committee room, the 68-year-old army veteran has hung portraits of old steam locomotives, John F. Kennedy and— most imposing of all—himself: Allan Singer, champion of English-language rights in Quebec.
It is not a title that the Freedom Party’s vice-president wears without problems. Last week, he appeared in a Montreal court charged with violating Quebec’s Bill 101 language law. He was accused of placing unilingual English advertising signs in his shop windows and of refusing to remove his 27-year-old English-only business sign, which reads: ALLAN SINGER LIMITED PRINTERS AND STATIONERS. Whatever personal difficulties it caused, Singer’s sign battle provided the province’s anglophones with a welcome counterpoint to a series of recent reversals which they have suffered. For one thing, a public opinion poll showed that francophones now see
an exclusively French-speaking province as a vehicle for getting rich quicker. For another, a one-man, antiEnglish commission was appointed to find a solution to the problem of pupils illegally attending English rather than French schools. Then, any hope for equal status was all but lost when Liberal leader Claude Ryan, who many anglos see as their last hope in Quebec, reaffirmed his support of French-first policies in the province.
For his part, Singer is the first of those charged with breaking the language law who has opted for a court fight. (A realty firm paid two $50 fines earlier this year after admitting guilt in displaying English FOR SALE signs.) The accused linguistic delinquent lost no time in winning a delay in his trial—so that he may first pursue his separate challenge to the constitutionality of the language legislation before Quebec’s
Superior Court, due to hear the case in December. Donations from sympathizers will pay part of his legal fees, but Singer is asking the federal government to cover the rest, saying Ottawa was derelict in the first place by not using its power in 1977 to disallow Bill 101.
Singer’s credibility as an Englishrights defender is clouded by his sometimes supremacist views—he says French should have been banned from Quebec courts in 1867. His vocabulary, too, includes archaic and indelicate references to “Frenchmen” and “Jewish gentlemen.” He chose, also, to taunt francophones by placing a sign in his
store window announcing: ICI ON PARLE ANGLAIS. In April, Singer was provincial candidate in Westmount for the Freedom Party. Singer won 428 of the Westmount votes, compared to the Liberals’ 22,636 and the Parti Québécois’ 4,772.
Singer’s court battle comes at a particularly troubling time for Quebec’s anglophones. A published opinion poll shows that, among francophones, support for a hard line on imposing French rises in relation to education and income—an indication that Bill 101 is seen by French-speaking Quebeckers as a lever for their own economic advancement. In addition, to dispose of the problem of about 1,600 children of immigrant parents illegally attending English schools, the anglos’ bète noir, Education Minister Camille Laurin, appointed a one-man commission in the person of pioneer Péquiste François
Aquin, who once urged the PQ to abolish English schools. With conciliatory Immigration Minister Gerald Godin sweet-talking them on one hand and Laurin bullying them on the other, some anglos felt like dupes in a goodcop, bad-cop routine.
That was not all. Last week, the CBC renewed a request to transmit Englishlanguage television signals from the provincially owned Eastern Townships summit of Mount Orford, using a tower already relaying French-language CBC broadcasts. The request touched a sensitive issue. Though both sides have kept the issue private, two years ago the CBC was refused provincial permission to reach 30,000 township anglophones
now without direct access to EnglishCanadian television. But the unkindest cut of all came last week from a significant change in the political pitch of provincial Liberal leader Claude Ryan,who many anglophones considered to be the last line of defence against Frenchification. Though Ryan did not in fact say anything new, his commitments to maintain the inferior legal status of English and to put Quebec’s interests ahead of those of Canada were made in firmer terms than ever before. “Those who continue to hope for equal legal status of the two languages are dreaming,” he declared. Further, he affirmed, Quebec under a Ryan government would maintain current constitutional guarantees for English only if Ontario were forced to accept the same for French in a revised constitution. Added Ryan: “Article 133 [of the British North America Act], which guarantees the use of the two languages in the National Assembly and in court proceedings, is going to be retained—provided that it will also apply to the province of Ontario.”
Ryan is still visibly angered by what he considers to be Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s betrayal of trust by unilaterally imposing his package of constitutional modification. And he blamed his election loss on his party’s failure to convince French-speaking Quebeckers that the Liberals would “serve their interests and legitimate aspirations without any kind of compromise.” By implication, in his devotion to federalism, he classed himself with martyred missionary Jean de Brébeuf: “I’ve suffered enough for Canada. I do not think too many people have suffered half as much as I have in this province in defending the cause of Canada.”
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