An online petition created by Accent Montréal, which asks the City of Montreal to do more to protect the French language in the city, such as only publishing municipal documents in French, has been gaining traction recently.
The petition currently has over 10k signatures.
MTL Blog reached out to Sabrina Mercier-Ullhorn, spokesperson for Accent Montréal, to get the group's perspective on a long-standing and very sensitive discussion around French and English in Montreal.
Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Montreal is considered the largest bilingual French-English city in North America. Do you think this is dangerous? If so, why?
Montreal is the largest French city in North America and we want it to stay that way.
First of all, it is important to distinguish between individual bilingualism and institutional bilingualism. The inhabitants of our city are among the most bilingual and trilingual in the world, which is an undeniable asset.
However, in a context where two languages [coexist] on the same territory and one of them has a higher status than the other, notably because it is considered more useful, this can jeopardize the survival of the minority language.
It is therefore important to put measures in place to fight on a level playing field. French is a minority language in America, and the only way to ensure its survival is to make French the only official language in the territory.
As is often said, "to put both languages on the same footing is to put both feet on one." Institutional bilingualism will naturally favour the more powerful of the two languages.
Sociolinguists are clear on the issue: to ensure the survival of a minority language, its usefulness must be increased, particularly within institutions.
You mention in the petition that it has become increasingly difficult to receive services in French. Can you give some examples?
Most Francophones could give you personal anecdotes on this issue.
These are essentially about the difficulty of obtaining service in French in certain businesses, convenience stores and restaurants, not to mention unilingual English signage.
An example of a situation: I go to a café and I am greeted with a "Hi." Naturally, I want service in French, so I say "Bonjour," but the café employee continues in English anyway.
The French-speaking customer is faced with a difficult choice: either say nothing, continue in English and trample on their language rights, or face the café employee to demand service in French and leave without their coffee.
This situation should never happen in a province where the only official language is French. We believe that service in French should be offered by default in Montreal and that it is natural to greet customers in French.
French should be the common language as English is in the rest of Canada and the United States.
Since it is unthinkable not to be served in English in the rest of Canada or in the United States, it should be unthinkable not to be served in French in Quebec.
In your opinion, what would be the benefits for Montreal if everything was only communicated by the City of Montreal in French?
The City has a duty to set an example.
It also has an exemplary role to play in terms of language. For French to be the common language, it must become the language of institutions, thus showing that French is the cement that binds all the inhabitants of Quebec.
As I explained earlier, institutions have a role to play in improving the status of French as a minority language.
The most effective action they can take is to ensure that this language is useful in daily life.
Ensuring the survival of French in Montreal means ensuring that our city retains the unique character that fascinates tourists from around the world.
If we do not act to ensure the survival of French, we will destroy the plural character of Montréal and contribute to its homogenization with English.