The behavior of Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux speaks volumes, and cannot in any way shape or form be dismissed by a simple apology. His displayed failure to speak the language of his constituents when it matters most is tantamount to betrayal.
From time immemorial Québec has had the language issue hanging over her head like the renowned sword of Damocles.
Recently there have been far too many gaffes and faux pas made by prominent individuals who arguably should know better.
Point in question refers to the behavior displayed on Monday, April 25, in the National Assembly by Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux, who refused to respond in English when asked a question in English regarding political financing in the Liberal party.
To seemingly add insult to injury, the Minister retorted that he was going to stick to tradition in the Assembly. Here again, his response showed how ill-informed he was, as Section 133 of the 1867 Constitution Act clearly states that in debates in the national assembly the French or English language may be used.
The Minister later apologized, saying that it was not his intention to offend anyone by responding to an English question in French. “I’m really sorry about what this produced. Perhaps my words were not well chosen. I didn’t want to offend anybody, and if I did offend somebody I’m really, really sorry,” said Coiteux.
He further went on to bolster his apology by saying that in the future if he were to be asked a question in English in the National Assembly, he would likely answer in English. Perhaps he needs to be directly told that his response did not affect just somebody but a whole army of bodies, and that first impression(s) are usually lasting ones.
This apology is one that clearly misses the mark, as his display of blatant insensitivity is a total affront not only to his Anglophone constituents but also by extension Anglophone Quebecers. Of ironic note is the fact that Minister Coiteux in the last provincial election won in the predominantly Anglophone West Island riding of Nelligan. Has he forgotten the linguistic background of those who helped parachute him to victory? Or could it be a case of his lips revealing what his heart has been concealing? Qui sait?
Notwithstanding, his behavior has put the longstanding concern of Quebecers into the spotlight.
This type of language gaffe, the second for the year by notable politicians is becoming far too popular in Quebec, and again it’s being done at the expense of English Quebecers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the most bilingual leader Canada has ever had, got engaged in a totally unnecessary language brouhaha in Sherbrooke, Quebec, by failing to answer a question in the official language in which it was asked. This led to an investigation by the office of the federal Commissioner of Official Languages.
Trudeau like Minister Coiteux had campaigned in Quebec in both languages. It is evident to any rational thinking representative of the Homo sapiens genre that the displayed behaviours show respect and defence of the French language, at the expense of succinct relegation of Anglophone Quebecers to second-class citizens.
It is apparent that Monsieur Coiteux like the Prime Minister has failed to fully grasp the importance of official bilingualism, which smacks of irony, as the Official Languages Act was one of the mainstays of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s government in 1969.
This current episode brings into the spotlight an issue that Quebec has thus far failed to accept—minority language rights, and the difference between institutional and personal bilingualism.
The Vice President of the Quebec Community Groups Network, Mr. Geoffrey Chambers said he was satisfied with Coiteux’s apology. “We got what we wanted,” he said.
To whom do we refer?
Sadly, this is one occasion where an apology is insufficient, as Minister Coiteux seemingly did not garner any knowledge or insight from the previous gaffe committed by Prime Minister Trudeau, and therein lies the possibility that such acts may soon become the accepted norm, expected to be forgiven by a mere apology.
The behavior has helped raise the latent hackles of the Anglophones, and for this the Minister needs to personally address the English Quebecers in a more tangible manner, beyond an apology. One that would serve as a clear signal and blatant reminder to our politicians that respect is the operative word superimposed on the reality that English speakers also form part of Quebec and Canada’s landscape.