“A French-speaking country!”
That is what hundreds of protesters shouted in the streets of Old Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
Montrealers gathered near city hall demanding action be taken against the decline of French in the Greater Montreal area.
“We’re about independence and the French language obviously is the cornerstone of our identity,” said Jacques Martin, protest organizer and Mouvement des Jeunes Souverainistes member.
Accent Montreal, a group that believes French is on the decline in Montreal, has launched a petition calling on the city to create a French-language council.
As of Saturday morning, the petition garnered nearly 18,000 signatures.
“The French language is losing ground in Montreal,” said Sabrina Mercier-Ullhorn, spokesperson for Accent Montreal. “Everyone needs to take part (in) that fight to ensure that the French language remains the common language in Montreal.”
“We want the City of Montreal to act by legislation to have a council of the French language that can make sure bill 101 is properly enforced in Montreal,” Martin added.
The Quebec French language office reported last year the percentage of Montrealers who have French as a mother tongue declined by six per cent between 1996 and 2016.
“We aren’t against people being bilingual; we’re against institutions being bilingual and that’s why we’re here today,” said Martin.
The recent uproar in the French language debate is sparked by a Journal de Montreal investigation claiming an undercover reporter had trouble being served in French in downtown Montreal.
“Everyone francophone can tell you that it’s hard sometimes to get served in French in some neighbourhoods, like especially the downtown area,” said Mercier-Ullhorn.
The administration insists French is Montreal’s strength, highlighting that it has appointed a person responsible for French language to the executive committee and proposed an action-plan to protect the language.
“Lip service is nice, and if there’s an opening from the administration, that’s nice, but we want to see concrete action being taken,” said Martin.
Parti Quebecois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon echoed those sentiments.
“We need to at some point agree on solutions that will keep the proportions between the English and the French language within the Montreal region,” he said.
The protest comes shortly after the Minister Responsible for French Language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, announced French language laws would be expanded by early 2021.
“What he needs to do of course is to ensure that the French language becomes the real language of work which has always been the issue with bill 101 it’s hard to ensure that but maybe strengthening it,” said Mercier-Ullhorn.