OPENING NOTES

A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES

JOE CHIDLEY August 22 1994
OPENING NOTES

A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES

JOE CHIDLEY August 22 1994

A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES

Call it déjà vu. In February, French Culture Minister Jacques Toubon announced a bill aimed at eradicating what he called “a tool of domination”: foreign languages, most notably English. Designed to halt the flourishing use of Franglais— French hybridized by English— in public announcements, advertising, work contracts, and radio and TV programming, the law carried stiff penalties for using un cashflow, for instance, instead of une marge brute d’auto-financement: up to six months and a fine of as much as $12,000. But earlier this month, the Constitutional Council ordered that the law be revised, saying that it infringed on freedom of expression guaranteed in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Last week, the ruling drew an angry response from five Quebec nationalists who wrote to a French newspaper to voice their concern “about the future of French in France.” Among the signatories was Camille Laurin, author of the 1977 Quebec law limiting the public and business use of English. Like its French counterpart, that law has also been deemed a violation of individual rights—the Supreme Court of Canada declared it so in 1989. But the legislation remains, because the Quebec government invoked the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause. With apologies to Toubon and Laurin, non-francophone Quebecers might be forgiven for not vive-mg the différence.

Edited by JOE CHIDLEY