The June Issue 2022 Radical & Independent Journalism

Radical & Independent Journalism
June 2022

Font Issue 8 focusses on another community of writers in Quebec: the radical and independent journalists who devote their time to writing about – and criticising – stories often marginalised by mainstream media institutions.

There is a wealth of independent journalism in Canada: Toula Drimonis highlights the work of Canadaland, Ricochet Media, and many more. If you’re looking for alternative places for your news, this is a great place to start. She also gives a well-deserved shout-out to Sandy & Nora Talk Politics, the nearly 200 episode- strong podcast series that began in 2017, with Sandy Hudson and Nora Loreto discussing politicians, events, and institutions—and holding them, right and left, to account.

The importance of Montreal-based radio station CKUT 90.3 FM as a hub for alternative, independent, queer, LGBTQ+, anti-racist, anti-capitalist voices is highlighted by both Stefan Christoff and Madeline Lines, while Tom Fennario of APTN reveals what’s really going on with Canada’s Freedom (or lack there) of Information Act. What these journalists have in common is a dedication to independent, critical thinking; to highlighting undertold stories and voices, and challenging us to think about what gets our attention—and why.

These stories also expose the reality on the ground, and so the last word goes to a recent CEGEP student, writing about the reality of Bill 96 in the corridors of her college. May Quebec’s independent media continue to flourish into the future, and to be heard.

Rachel McCrum

Rachel McCrum is the editor of Font.

In this issue

Going My Own Way

Years ago, in another lifetime, while working as a news director for a large media company, I remember taking part in a management brainstorming retreat in which the importance of quality editorial was repeatedly extolled. Only to return to the office on Monday to find a directive from the top brass telling us to slash in our newsrooms. Again.

I went freelance not too long afterwards. I decided I much preferred working with non-profit independent media outlets. While I spent a few rocky years trying to navigate a world where I no longer had a steady paycheck and a pension plan, I suddenly had the freedom to pursue only what mattered to me. I was poorer, but I slept a whole lot better. And I woke up far, far happier.

I still do.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of earning my living via opinion writing, news producing, TV and radio panels, writing for local and national publications, and occasionally beyond. Most importantly, with my column writing I’ve been able to focus attention on issues I consider primordial: violence against women, gender inequality, immigration, refugees, systemic racism, and minority rights. Issues that are often not covered sufficiently, or too often covered with the occasional deliberate or unconscious majority bias, conformism, or complacency.

From a punditry point of view, there’s an incredible amount of freedom that one gains with media independence. Freedom from corporate management—excessively prudent about possible legal consequences—has allowed me to immediately react to news or how it’s being reported. It means I can say “racist” instead of “controversial.” There’s no need to sanitize my words, use euphemisms or neutral language, which often ends up being neutered language. When a spade is called a spade in public, it often forces others to do the same, and moves the needle forward in the public conversation.

Despite many challenges revolving around their financial viability, independent media outlets are well positioned to monitor government policies and act as a watchdog of citizen rights. Mainstream media can often echo and mirror majority bias and is often blind to marginalized perspectives; independent media is usually good at pushing back against popular narratives.

Because of this, progressive independent media is often seen as too radical, too left, too “woke,” too militant, too “subjective.” Mainly because mainstream viewpoints are seen as impartial. Much of independent journalism is advocacy journalism, adopting a non-objective viewpoint, usually for social or political purposes. These journalists are deeply connected to the issues they cover, meaning they often have access to key players and social change-makers on the ground. While long-format journalism, and expensive and time-consuming investigative reporting can often appear less appealing to money-making media outlets owned by conglomerates, independent journalists often take on the challenge because they’re personally invested in changing the public conversation.

Ricochet Media, for which I wrote a weekly column for many years, is public-interest journalism and a good example of independent journalism doing important work. Ricochet’s on-the-ground coverage of Indigenous protests at Wet’suwet’en with Indigenous contributors like Brandi Morin, a Cree/Iroquois/French journalist, centred on Indigenous stories and voices. Independent media doesn’t necessarily “give a voice to the voiceless.” Everyone already has a voice. It just does a better job of passing the mic.

Other examples are The Rover and Christopher Curtis’s work on Montreal’s unhoused community, or him assigning Hal Newman, a former paramedic, to report on the alarming state of ambulance services in Quebec. Unlike mainstream media, proximity to a subject matter isn’t seen as a liability, an element compromising the perceived objectivity of the report. Instead, it’s seen as a valuable addition lending a story context and insight.

Many crowdfunded or subscriber-based independent media outlets in Canada and beyond are doing essential work, and I’ve had the pleasure of contributing to many of them. Among them, the National Observer, The Tyee, The Conversationalist, and recently my weekly opinion column with Cult MTL.

The Sandy & Nora Talk Politics podcast, Canadaland, The Narwhal, The Breach, and French-language Pivot, in partnership with English-language media PressProgress are all working to bring often largely ignored stories or perspectives to the forefront—and are being recognized for it. The Narwhal just took home four awards for outstanding journalism at the Canadian Journalism Association Awards for its excellent investigative environmental journalism, often forcing Canadian newsrooms to up their game when it comes to climate reporting.

Freelance journalist Nora Loreto far surpassed most mainstream outlets with way more resources at their disposal, when she painstakingly compiled COVID deaths and outbreaks throughout Canada. Her relentless data-crunching pointed fingers at the failings of provincial and federal governments and mainstream media coverage.

In this and many other ways, independent media acts not only as a watchdog, but as a public good. By ensuring that a wider range of perspectives are amplified, it contributes to reshaping and forming public opinion. It not only changes the conversation, but often forces those with power and influence to have the conversations they probably didn’t want to have.

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Sandy & Nora Talk Politics

Nora Loreto & Sandy Hudson
Nora Loreto & Sandy Hudson

Sandy and Nora Talk Politics is a (mostly) weekly political podcast. Episode 1 aired on February 16, 2017; the latest, Episode 198: Cops don’t know their own law has just been published. It’s also an experiment. Can radical politics be explained in digestible, engaging pieces? Can good faith debate lead us to better solutions? Can a podcast change everything that is rotten about Canada: our society, our economy and our politics? Sandy Hudson and Nora Loreto think it can.

Support Sandy & Nora Talk Politics on Patreon!

Font: How did the podcast come about? What sparked it?
SH & NL: We worked together for many years in the student movement, and we always had the kind of discussions you hear on the podcast in our offices. We debated strategy a lot, and it was such a pleasure to argue with each other because we both clearly valued the potential of debate to be a revealing and clarifying practice. People would often accuse us of colluding because they never saw the closed-door discussions we had about what the best path forward on any issue might be.

Eventually, Nora moved to Quebec City and Sandy moved to Los Angeles, and Nora was looking for a reason to start a podcast. Sandy was the obvious choice. Our rapport and ease of conversation made the podcast immediately obvious to us. Even after a terrible pilot episode where we tried to interview someone, it was clear that there was a need for a kind of podcast like what Sandy & Nora has become. Though, we never tried to have a guest on ever again. We also just wanted to keep in touch, and this medium was a great way to continue to keep each other sharp and entertained, like we have for so many years.

Font: Who are you making it for?

SH & NL: The basic answer is that it’s for everyone. We are conscious to try and talk to people in such a way that they can receive what we’re saying no matter who they are. Of course, there are probably not a long list of right-wing people who listen to Sandy & Nora, but we are often surprised to hear who tells us that they are fans!

But we do know that there’s a particular audience for Sandy & Nora. The audience of people who know that something is “off” in their world, but can’t quite put their finger on exactly how and the mechanisms of why. This is the audience that gets the most from our show. We talk to people who want to hear more about the news. We help to demystify the political process and make connections between various forces that might help explain why a certain thing operates or exists in the way that it does.

We also make the show for everyone who feels like they’re alone. There’s too much isolation and loneliness in the world, and if we can help people feel not so alone, we have fulfilled one of our big goals. The world is a difficult place and our domination requires that we are atomized. Bringing people and creating community together is the only way that we will change anything in the world, and if Sandy & Nora can play a small part in that, we’re thrilled.

Font: What impact are you hoping for?

SH & NL: We want to change the world! We want to help people understand that things have to be torn apart if we hope that they will ever change for the better. We also want to arm people with arguments and new ways of seeing the world so that they can find their own ways to fight for change in their lives. We also want to help people develop a sort of critical literacy as a skill. We don’t want our audience to simply agree with us all the time. We want them to be able to hear a mainstream broadcast, read a politician’s words, or be told to adhere to a particular cultural norm—even in movement spaces—and think to themselves, (what’s behind this? Who does it help? Who does it hurt? Does it matter? Is it rhetorical? Material? What are the principles driving this? )We want them to feel confident in challenging things we are told are truisms because they deserve to be challenged, and to be driven by principles that they can define and articulate.

Font: What are your experiences working with mainstream media companies, and how does the podcast compare?

NL: Well, I’ve never really worked for a mainstream media company before. As a freelancer, whether it’s with CBC or Maclean’s, the Washington Post or whatever, the main issue for me doesn’t tend to be my freedom to say what I’d like. If they like what I’m selling, they’ll hire me to say what I said I’ll say. For example, when I appear on CBC, I have free range to say what I’d like about the topic of the day. But that’s where it gets tricky: it’s the topics that can be out of bounds rather than any limits on what I say. So if I can’t find a mainstream platform to talk about whatever issue, it just doesn’t get published or aired. That’s extremely frustrating, especially since I don’t have mainstream access to any platform to pick whatever it is I want to talk about.

SH: I have also never worked for a mainstream media company. I have placed opinion pieces and been interviewed on topics, and I’ve generally felt a sense of freedom for written pieces, and sidelined in television and radio pieces. There’s a way that Black people only get called upon to talk about race. So, yes, I may be an activist with Black Lives Matter, but I’m also a union activist, an education activist, someone who’s started a legal clinic, a lawyer, an artist—and, oh yeah, I am co-host of one of the most popular political podcasts in the country. Despite my diverse resume, I am still only ever called upon to discuss anti-Black racism in interviews, and that is very frustrating. There’s also a particular way the media wants to discuss racism, and in early summer 2020, that meant sidelining commentary from people who wanted to discuss abolitionist policy solutions to policing. That was infuriating, because it was exactly the kind of commentary more people in the mainstream were open to hearing than ever before.

On the podcast, I don’t have to contend with people who narrow my expertise, or use their power to control the parameters of conversations we are able to have. On Sandy & Nora, we have retained all the power to have whatever conversations we want, on all the topics we care to. That freedom is the magic dust of the show.

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O[paque] Canada!

Collage: Melanie Garcia,
Collage: Melanie Garcia,

I don’t usually wear ties. By my logic, ties are for weddings and funerals. I only own two, my “happy” tie and my “sad” tie. But earlier this year, I discovered a new reason to wear a tie: going to court. Even if “going to court” actually meant walking over to my desk, opening a laptop, and signing in to a video-conference hearing. Without much deliberation, I put on my “sad” tie before signing in.

I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow account of my hearing because this is not a Law & Order episode, but the subject is nonetheless important. This year, I took the Quebec Coroner’s Office to court over access-to-information. Spoiler alert – I lost. Which is not a surprise because Canadians have been losing when it comes to access-to-information over the last forty years. And it’s not just a Quebec problem.

First thing to know: in comparison to other countries with access to information laws, Canada lacks transparency. In the annual “Right to Information rating,” Canada ranks 51st out of 136 countries with access to information laws, behind countries like Mexico, El Salvador, and Ethiopia.

Why does this matter? Because important decisions (or the lack thereof) get made behind closed doors every day by elected officials and civil servants, and as Canadians we are supposed to have the right to know how they affect our lives. In the case of my request, it involved a follow-up article I wanted to do on the death of a young Inuk man in a jail cell and the lack of recommendations and mismanagement of his coroner report despite a multitude of red flags

“I think it is at the point now where [government] departments have given themselves such latitude to delay and obfuscate and exempt, that we are very, very near the point where anything newsworthy, anything sensitive, is going to get withheld,” said investigative journalist Justin Ling at a recent Canadian Association of Journalists panel entitled “40 Years Of False Starts: Is Building A Better FOI [Freedom Of Information] System Possible?”

“That’s assuming our access laws were ever good,” said longtime FOI advocate and journalist Ken Rubin. “It hasn’t fallen behind, it’s always been shitty.”

Rubin added that the 1983 Access to Information Act has in fact made getting information more difficult. He prefers to call it the “Privacy Act.”

“Before [pre-1983] it was less rule-driven with much freer access if you knew your way around certain records,” said Rubin at the panel.

On Twitter, the hashtag #cdnfoi has become a space for venting journalists to dump redacted documents. One infamous tweet by CBC journalist Jackie Hong consisted of an entirely redacted document save for a sentence at the end stating “I hope this will assist.”

“ … this is what I got after I filed an appeal … ” added Hong later on in the thread.

It’s not just journalists either. CBC recently reported an Ottawa consultant was told that his access to information request was going to take eighty years. Following his complaint, it was revised to sixty-five years.

The constant delays and liberal use of redactions has journalists such as Ling and organizations such as the Canadian Association of Journalists organizing to address FOI in Canada.

“We need to stop playing nice about [this],” said Ling. “The reality is that means we’re going to have to do something that we hate doing and become political actors in this space.”

“It’s a legitimate question whether or not FOI can be saved,” said Jimmy Thomson of Victoria’s Capital Daily. Thomson went on to describe how he was able to go to court to contest redacted information thanks to a donor paying thousands of dollars in legal fees.

“[It] gave me hope that the public cares about this, but more importantly it shouldn’t be necessary for a donor to come forward with a cheque because they happen to have seen your tweets,” said Thomson at the panel.

In 2015, the Trudeau government made a commitment to improve FOI in Canada. Last year, it held consultations and is expected to release a report called “What we heard” later this year.

“I’m deeply worried that this government is going to use the most recent round of consultations to finally give the coup de grâce to the system,” said Ling, who created the website to help others mobilize around the issue.

“Fix the damn act. I kind of like the idea of fix the damn act or get rid of it,” Ling concluded.

All told, it took twenty months to get a decision in my case. Aside from the unredacting of a couple of banal lines of an email, I did not win. The reason? Quebec’s Access to Information law protects the opinions of civil servants and limits police reports to very specific circumstances.

Meanwhile, since I published my stories on this case, two other Inuit have died in jail cells in the northern reaches of Quebec.

But we’ll likely never know what, if anything, was done to prevent the deaths. My lawyer has advised me that an appeal would likely be futile.

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Monday nights at CKUT

Ad for Dykes on Mykes radio show in Hour, Montreal. From the CKUT archives, with thanks to Spencer Gilley.
“CKUT tackles AIDS and ignorance,” Mike Boone, The Gazette, Montreal, Sunday, November 26, 1989. From the CKUT archives, with thanks to Spencer Gilley.
Archivist Janice Kerfoot, who is handling the Library and Archives Canada Digital Heritage Communities Project at CKUT. Photo: Spencer Gille
Ad for Dykes on Mykes radio show in Hour, Montreal. From the CKUT archives, with thanks to Spencer Gilley.
“CKUT tackles AIDS and ignorance,” Mike Boone, The Gazette, Montreal, Sunday, November 26, 1989. From the CKUT archives, with thanks to Spencer Gilley.
Archivist Janice Kerfoot, who is handling the Library and Archives Canada Digital Heritage Communities Project at CKUT. Photo: Spencer Gille
Ask Miss Chris queer advice show on ckut
0:00 0:00
Episode recorded on May 23, 2022.

CKUT has always been more of a tornado than a radio station. The gusts of volunteers and programmers whiz past each other in tight hallways, one running to the mic just in time to start their show, another to catch the last cup of Santropol coffee and have a chat with the staff. Whether in the basement of McGill’s Shatner Building or our current digs on University Street, CKUT has long been a community gathering place. It’s where people have gone to grieve, celebrate, and just spend time when there is nowhere else to go.

Since hitting the FM dial in 1987, the station has been a revolving door of culture, music, and radical organizing and change in Montreal. In 1989, the station’s spirit truly took shape. CKUT was the only place on the dial to host open conversations about the ongoing AIDS crisis at the time. Dykes on Mykes took calls as the Polytechnique massacre unfolded. After the homophobic killing of Joe Rose, CKUT called a meeting and seventy-five people showed up. Gay Day, a full day of programming dedicated to issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, was born out of it. As much as our beloved campus-community radio station has always been a place where people report on happenings, it’s been a place where things happen.

Louise Burns, sales coordinator extraordinaire and heart of the station since anyone can remember, says the dizzying speed at which things happened made it hard to stop and notice history being made. For CKUT’s thirtieth birthday, she strung together bits of the station’s story for the first time into one big, beautiful zine called The Time Capsule. When the station closed its doors in March 2020, it ushered in another chance to look back and realize just how much there is to preserve. From digitizing cassettes of Native Solidarity News from the 90s, to scanning years of posters and program guides, we’ve begun the slow work of caring for precious and historic moments in the station’s bustling history. In recent years, though, academics and journalists have come knocking with interest in the history of one part of the grid in particular: Monday nights.

Since early days, Mondays at CKUT have been home to queer programming. From the now-retired but legendary Dykes on Mykes to the ever-expanding Queercorps, CKUT’s airwaves have been pulsing with the uninhibited joys, concerns, and news of queer circles across the island. Lesbo-sons (that began as Funky Gouines) has been running for twenty years and counting. If you were queer or questioning and surrounded by straight people, twisting your dial to 90.3 FM has long opened up a new world. In 2006, Marie-Claire MacPhee and Mél Hogan captured just how foundational shows like Dykes on Mykes in particular were in “The Importance of Community-Based Media for Building and Sustaining Lesbian Subcultures: The Role of Montréal’s Dykes on Mykes Radio Show.” Makers of the show themselves, their report was one of the early efforts to give the show its historical due.

While CKUT has long wanted to ramp up our archiving abilities, it’s often hard to find time, space or money. We recently received a grant that could change that. Through Library and Archives Canada’s Digital Heritage Communities Program, the station will be embarking on an archival project titled, “CKUT Time Capsule – Preserving 90s Counterculture: Historical Radio Archives from the Radical Margins of Montreal.” Continuing in the spirit of the Time Capsule zine and website, dedicated archival experts will work to gather, preserve, and organize the station’s history. The project is also about democratizing access to the station’s stories. Soon, we hope, anyone will be able to sift through them via an easy-to-access website. We firmly believe that our archives, our history, belong to the people who have made and are making it.

The station, which has been uncharacteristically sleepy for the past two years, has again begun to flutter its eyelids. It’s 8 A.M. on a Monday morning and a film crew is scurrying around in the belly of the basement. They’re here to interview former Dykes on Mykes makers Elana Wright and Deborah VanSlet for a documentary about early feminist media. Later that day, the live studio feels full for the first time in forever. Christopher Marlot and friends are on the mic for the latest edition of “Ask Miss Chris“ a special edition of Queercorps and an instant hit series. Every Monday night at 6 P.M., Miss Chris hosts a queer advice show that comforts and challenges callers. Tonight’s topic is age gaps in relationships. Someone calls in and asks, “Am I on air?” Miss Chris confirms, asking if they want to be. “Yeah sure … I just don’t know how this works,” the person says hesitantly. “You just tell me something good, and I’ll tell you something better,” Miss Chris quips. “Period,” the caller laughs. “Okay, let me get into this ….”

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Physical Space in a Digital World

Stefan Christoff in the on-air studio at CKUT 90.3 FM. Photo: Deanna Radford
Stefan Christoff in the on-air studio at CKUT 90.3 FM. Photo: Deanna Radford

Community radio is a space on the airwaves and also a physical space in the city.

Twenty years of involvement at CKUT 90.3 FM clearly illustrates the essential role that community radio can play in facilitating community activism and popular education. It is important to consider the role that brick and mortar community media spaces play in building grassroots power in this historical instant of smartphones and social media dominance.

Reflecting on moments of community organizing that I have participated in at CKUT over two decades, my eyes are filled with tears and my heart with hope.

The station’s physical location on University Street stands as a place for media activists to develop tools and capacities, to create media projects that can respond to realities that have often not been thoroughly addressed in the major corporate and state-run media.

The first radio documentary that I produced for CKUT focused on the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Centre that had been established by land defenders from the Secwépemc nation. In 2003, I was invited to visit Secwépemc territory by members of the Native Youth Movement, to both document and support the frontline Indigenous protest camps established to reject the expansion of the Sunpeak ski resort onto traditional Indigenous lands.

Taking the time to visit, exchange, and interview members of the Secwépemc Nation was an immense learning opportunity and a life-changing experience. The fact that I arrived in Indigenous territory through community activist connections, after meeting members of the Native Youth Movement during a speaking tour event in Tio’tiá:ke / Montreal, meant that there was a certain level of trust and openness to start.

Returning to CKUT studios a couple months later with hours of recorded material—interviews with Indigenous elders, including the late Wolverine and Arthur Manuel—equalled an opportunity to create a rich and moving radio documentary about the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Centre.

Another collaboration that grew out of an ongoing presence and collaboration with community radio is the Fighting FTAs project, a collaboration I worked on with the late activist scholar Aziz Choudry.

In 2004, after a wave of protests took place globally to challenge the neoliberal economic policies that were represented most strongly by institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO), there was a shift on the part of economic and political power away from multilateral trade policy. At CKUT radio I worked intensely on a series of interviews aiming to decode the hard realities that were involved in this shift in policy toward bilateral trade agreements.

Beyond names like the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, or the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, or the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreements, these accords, and the deepening of political and economic focus on such agreements, represented a major shift in policy that had tangible negative impacts on the environment, labour conditions, land rights and public institutions for communities across the world.

This major global shift in power balance in economic trade policy was not being thoroughly addressed in the mainstream media. I worked through the Fighting FTAs project to fill that gap in the context of community radio, to lift up voices that could speak to the fact that the balance of economic forces internationally was much more deeply set against nations and most importantly communities in the Global South in the critical negotiations around global trade policy.

Critically, the Fighting FTAs series was an extensive set of interviews with social movement activists, including farmers, Indigenous land defenders, workers, and activists in countries literally around the world. The interview series was distributed through the project, while also broadcast on CKUT 90.3 FM and other campus community radio stations globally.

Often I reflect on the fact that community radio spaces like CKUT 90.3 FM were always politically way ahead. I recall making broadcasts from the first Missing Justice protests, the sounds of the Buffalo Hat Singers, the collective call to action on the reality of missing and murdered Indigenous women, way before mainstream political leaders were working the mainstream media to attempt to claim that action was being taken on this issue. Likewise, the broadcasts on migrant justice and the rights of frontline essential non-status workers going back twenty years. These special broadcasts done in collaboration with the Immigrant Workers Centre and activist networks like Solidarity Across Borders.

I feel deeply that the physical radio station, the space where community media activists could gather and physically coordinate, learn skills and place alternative media coverage, has had a decisive role in reorienting the political conversation around some of the major issues of our time.

For years, and particularly during the pandemic, it has felt like the major media has been playing catch-up with the analysis, guests, and ideas that have been broadcast on community radio for decades. It is critical to cherish the alternative space that community stations like CKUT hold within society to develop analysis and lift up voices outside of the mainstream boundaries of political discourse and action.

Community radio spaces like CKUT have worked to deepen and reorient the mainstream political conversation in profound ways, slowly shifting the focus toward voices calling for transformative social change and justice. This community work within stations like CKUT is essential to expanding popular understandings of power dynamics and creating a space for critical voices to rise without the restrictive frameworks of politics that are often maintained in corporate and state-run media.

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Closing Doors

Image: Charlotte Morris
Image: Charlotte Morris

As a literature student, I was aware of Bill 96 long before my parents had even heard of it. I remember the day it became a conscious issue in my mind, when I started to notice the posters plastered all over the walls of my CEGEP. While waiting for one of my classes to start, I was able to examine one of the posters, with its giant font spelling out all the possible consequences of this Bill being passed. A new mandatory five-hour French exam, classes reserved only for “Anglo students” and barriers for any students who struggled with French. The list went on and on. As my classmates began to join me outside the-still locked door of our class, the discussion turned to the Bill. The mood quickly became one of morbid curiosity tinged with disbelief. We kept asking one another the same questions over and over. How could this Bill have come into existence? Who could be happy with this? What could possibly justify the horrible consequences this Bill was threatening?

As it turns out, apparently nothing. There is no benefit to Bill 96. Whether you’re a francophone or an anglophone, a student or a professor, all are equal in their terror of this Bill. My teachers feared for the loss of their jobs, for as English literature teachers they’d be the first to go, and my classmates dreaded the added pile of tests to go through. On the day I discovered the poster, almost all my classes ended up bringing up the Bill; grim-faced professors walking us through what it would entail. One teacher was convinced it would never be popular enough to pass, another grimaced when I asked. In one class, my francophone and anglophone classmates took turns speaking up, complaining about what the Bill demanded from them, and how much it went against everything they actually wanted. Classmates who’d spent years struggling to get into an English CEGEP, to learn French, to master two languages, now getting their efforts thrown away by a Bill designed to segregate students .

When she visited, my Québécoise grandmother asked me worriedly whether this would affect my future, as well as the careers of both of my parents. As an older woman who grew up in a francophone family, surely this law was intended to please her. And yet, she was nothing but concerned for her loved ones. Would my father’s clients be skewed by this change in priorities? Would my mother’s books sell if they weren’t in French? Would my upcoming university life be changed by all these added tests and restrictions? The answer she got was that my brothers were the ones to worry about, now with only a few years left before it would be their turn to brave a post-Bill 96 CEGEP.

As a young bilingual student, I have never understood the fear of losing touch with the French language and culture. My relatives are French, my friends are French, my neighbours are French. I would’ve lost my job if I couldn’t speak French. It’s impossible to walk the halls of my CEGEP without hearing at least one French conversation. French is a fascinating language, but one that’s hellish to be forced upon you. I’ve spent over a decade memorizing verbs and watching out for small mistakes in my French essays. While I’m thrilled to be bilingual, I shudder to think of being shoved back into a classroom to study more semantics. And I’m not the only one. My English classmates want to speak French, and my French classmates want to speak English. People want to be bilingual! People want to communicate! People want to open doors! Still, doors are being closed in their faces.

While my curiosity has long since faded, I’m still stuck in disbelief. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief, but keep looping back to denial. This sounds like a Bill I’d hear about in history class, one whose date I’d painstakingly memorize for a test. Instead, here we are in 2022, wondering how many doors this Bill is going to close. The guilty sprint to pass this law before anyone was the wiser speaks to the fact that even its creators know it will not please people. Then, I might ask, why pass it at all? For the same reason that Brexit came to pass in the United Kingdom: xenophobia prioritized over well-being. Bill 96 is fueled by racism and a baseless fear of losing a culture that’s flourishing. There is no method to its madness, no benefits to its existence. All I can think now is if the government is willing to close these doors despite its people’s cries against it—what’s next?

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