French, English groups fight, fuel language tensions

Quebec's often acrimonious language debate spilled out onto the floor of a Montreal hotel lobby Sunday as a scuffle broke out between the members of English and French rights groups.

Quebec's often acrimonious language debate spilled out onto the floor of a Montreal hotel lobby Sunday as a scuffle broke out between the members of English and French rights groups.

It's the latest indicator that language tensions in Quebec, always on the verge of exploding, have quietly moved to the forefront in recent months and are showing no signs of letting up.

Members of the Young Patriots of Quebec, a sovereigntist group, were on hand to protest a political meeting held by the ardently federalist Affiliation Quebec.

What drew the young sovereigntists' ire was the presence of Howard Galganov, an outspoken and controversial Anglo rights figure from a decade earlier who moved to Ontario.

Group spokesman François Gendron said they have no problem with Affiliation Quebec and actually wouldn't mind the fledgling party stealing votes from the governing Liberal party. But Galganov's presence was inexcusable.

"Howard Galganov, even after leaving Quebec, has said some unacceptable things,"  Gendron said. "We think it's unacceptable to allow him to speak here given his past."

A handful of Young Patriots picketed outside the hotel when a few decided to raid the hotel and the brief fight broke out. There were no arrests and no injuries, but police were called to keep watch.

Roving commission reveals deep divide

Language tensions promise to get even more heated when the Office québécois de la langue française, the province's language watchdog, releases a study on language trends in the province later this month.

A number of controversies have helped nudge along the activities of Quebec's fringe language groups.

Quebec's roving commission last year that studied the so-called reasonable accommodation of minorities and newcomers to the province revealed a deep divide about what the future holds for the French language.

That gave rise to other controversies, including questions about the language of instruction for tots in daycare and the use of English on the automated call-answering systems of Quebec government departments.

One Quebec author promised last week to burn all his works if something isn't done to stem a surge of bilingualism in the province.

Language issue ever-present in Quebec

Lawyer Brent Tyler says the language issue is always present although the media dictates when the issue becomes hot again.

But Tyler, a former head of Alliance Quebec, a defunct anglophone lobby group, says he's extremely optimistic about the future, where he says young francophones have no historical grievances and can't remember a time when they couldn't be served in their mother tongue.

And young Anglos are fluently bilingual and they don't have the same encounters with intolerant conduct their parents may have had.

"Young francophones don't buy into the old line that used to be so appealing," Tyler said. "I would say that amendments to the language law are going to be generated by the new generation."

Galganov, who is looking to a political future in Ontario, shrugged off the actions by the young sovereigntists.

"I don't think they represent the mainstream of Quebec society but the fact that Quebec society doesn't denounce them says a lot about the majority of the people in this province," Galganov said.

Allen Nutik, founder and leader of Affiliation Quebec — a federalist provincial party that was founded last year in an attempt to channel dissatisfaction with the governing Liberals, chalks up the scuffle in the lobby to intimidation.

"The nationalist movement are sent here to intimidate us, to frighten us," Nutik said. "They are threatening us, we don't threaten them."

But Nutik says he's not concerned, and his goal is to show that there is a vibrant group of minorities in Quebec that will stand up for their rights.

"Rights are rights are rights and they must never forget that," Nutik said.