On Thursday, the eyeroll news of the day in Canada was the Quebec language police’s decision that a Montreal restaurant could not have the word “pasta” on their menu. It’s a new twist on an old story; Quebec’s noxious Bill 101 has been oppressing businesses and private individuals for decades, famously leading to the removal of the apostrophe from iconic Canadian department store Eaton’s.
It seems like a quirky story, and the government’s response is that the enforcement was overzealous. We could leave it at that, except that as much as the enforcement may be called overzealous, it was 100% correct according to the law. Bill 101 dictates the languages that can be on business signs. It dictates the size of those languages. It dictates what language your child can be educated in. In the recent provincial election, the Parti Quebecois toyed with the idea of amending it so that speaking french would be a prerequisite to running for provincial office. After this suggestion, they gained support in opinion polls.
We can laugh about Pastagate. We can dismiss is at just another silly tale coming from La Belle Provence, but it is indicative of something far deeper and uglier. Their is a strain of xenophobia that runs through Quebec society, and the province’s unwillingness to confront its dark side becomes more repugnant which each silly tale.