Monday, March 06, 2006

SUBJECTS YOU NEVER BREACH IN POLITE QUEBEC SOCIETY: RELIGION & POLITICS


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My seven year old daughter is going to church every Sunday morning - bright & early. I’m not sure but I think it’s a sin in the catholic religion to sleep in on Sunday. All this in order that she can prepare for her first communion. Suddenly, it’s become a long drawn out process. Used to be, that you got your daily dose of religion in a classroom from a “religious instructor”. Not any more! Now it’s a five year commitment or “stretch”. Three years for “communion” & another two for “confirmation”. And there’s no time off for good behavior. The warden is bug-eyed mean and the guards shoot anybody trying to sneak out the church door. When the collector passes the plate around, you had better chip in with your last sawbuck.

Funny thing about Catholicism is that I remember a time when eating meat on Friday was a venial sin. You had to eat fish. (This made the fish mongers very happy.) If memory serves eating flesh on Friday could land you in purgatory. Then you started hearing that it was okay to eat meat on Fridays. So that it was no longer a punishable offense. Make up your minds already! And I’m thinking what happened to all the people that spent centuries in purgatory because they had eaten meat and gruel and died before they were absolved of their sin. Talk about a “bum rap”!

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In Quebec a.k.a.: “La Belle Province”, once upon a time religion was part of the regular curriculum. There was a Catholic School Board & Protestant School Board here in the greater Montreal area. Now since the vast exodus of Anglophones in the seventies & eighties and the constant trickle of English speaking Quebecers leaving the province there just aren’t enough Anglophone schools to warrant a dual school board system. It’s been a language war of attrition for English schools.

Certainly it doesn’t help that the Quebec provincial government has made it impossible (via Bill 101) for citizens of this province and new immigrants to choose the language of their children’s education. The catch-22 of the situation is that if you or your spouse has not attended public school in the English language in the province of Quebec then your children are not eligible to attend an English school within the province. Imagine the surprise of the English couple that I met who had just arrived from Britain to the province believing that they could send their son or daughter to a public elementary of their choice, when I told them about Bill 101.

To add insult to injury - Bill 178, tabled in 1988, banned English on outdoor signs but permitted it indoors - provided that the French signs were twice as prominent or twice as numerous. This was met with ridicule and derision by anglophones and was summarily called the “two-for-1 rule”. This then gave way to the language police – civil service vigilantes who hunt down violators of the 2-for-1 rule. Mordecai Richler (author, English activist) and his Montreal drinking buddies formed the “Twice as Much Society” a call for French to be spoken twice as loud as English inside and outside.

Quebec is the province of angst! Its license plates read “Je me Souviens” - a reminder of the French’s defeat (on the plains of Abraham) in the colonial battle for Canada. In the immortal words of General DeGaulle, “Vive le Quebec Libre”. Freedom for whom? Don’t your freedoms end where mine begin?

2 comments:

shann said...

my best friend mary shea threw up a hotdog she'd eaten at my house when she realized it was a friday in lent and her mother would've killed her-

This was enlightening and brought up all sort of things from my past-

Nick said...

The question is with hotdogs you're not quite sure just how much of it is meat or what kind of meat it really is. I think that there might have been a special dispensation clause just for hotdogs.