Grade 6 student Maram Makhlouf moved from Germany to Quebec about three years ago and on Thursday she was in a Montreal park with her family to celebrate the province’s national holiday, or National Holiday.
She said the day is “really important to me even though I’m not from here”.
But she disagrees with Premier François Legault’s assertion earlier in the day that multiculturalism is a threat to the French language and that “we have to fight against multiculturalism, but not because we are against the others”.
Makhlouf is originally from Tunisia where she attended school in French and, she explained, she has mastered the language since being here in Quebec. It’s a fairly easy language for new immigrants to learn, she says.
“I think it’s really important to live with different languages. I speak English. I speak French and I think that helps me a lot in my life,” said.
Legault said Quebec is a small nation that speaks French and “we should be proud of that.”
Rather than multiculturalism, he says he prefers “interculturalism” because new immigrants are expected to integrate and adapt to Quebec culture. He said that the French language is the cornerstone of this integration.
“It’s important that we don’t put all cultures on the same level; that’s why we oppose multiculturalism,” Legault said.
Legault said Quebec’s position is at odds with the federal government‘s approach, which pushes for multiculturalism.
The comments came a day after his French language minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, addressed the prestigious French Academy in Paris.
He described Canadian multiculturalism as an obstacle to Quebec’s efforts to become a distinct nation.
Some Quebecers believe that Legault is stoking this debate in an election year in order to attract the separatist vote.
“Racking multiculturalism in French-speaking Quebec is a political winner, at least for Legault, especially when it focuses on French-speaking voters who live outside of Montreal,” said Daniel Béland, director of the Institute for McGill Canadian.
“For the most part, it’s not politically risky for him to do that.”
Legault’s comments follow his own rejection of systemic racism in Quebec and the controversial legislation his government has passed like Bill 21, which bans many public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like the hijab at home. work.
His rejection of multiculturalism in this context may cause even more concern and confusion in some groups, but for many Quebec separatists, multiculturalism is “a bit of a dirty word. They think it’s not compatible with their vision of the Quebec nation,” Béland said.
Béland said there was a long history of defiance of multiculturalism, which became federal policy in the early 1970s under Pierre Trudeau. Many separatists believed it was part of a plot to marginalize French speakers in Canada, he said.
Melissa Claisse, spokesperson for the Welcome Collective, a group that advocates for newcomers, said she was shocked to hear Legault’s comments.
She said Legault’s assertion that not all cultures are on the same level was “very offensive”, especially to those who come from all over the world and identify as Quebecers.
“I haven’t met any asylum seeker who doesn’t want to learn French,” she said. “I think the vast majority of them, of course, want to speak the language of where they’re going to settle.”