The following is excerpted from Fragile Majorities and Education: Belgium, Catalonia, Northern Ireland, and Quebec by Marie McAndrew.
Since the creation of Canada in 1867, and even before, school structures and ethnicity have been closely associated in Quebec. The British North America Act (BNAA), which made education the exclusive prerogative of the provinces, provided protection not to linguistic groups but to religious minorities, such as Protestants in Quebec. The Act’s provisions attest to the preoccupations of the French Canadian group who wanted to make certain it controlled education, at least in the province where it was clearly the majority, and to the religious sensitivities of the time. Very quickly, however, the system structured itself on the basis of a dual cleavage that associated language and religion, since these two identity markers were largely congruent. Francophones attended French Catholic schools, almost exclusively, while anglophones attended English Protestant schools. The arrival of immigrants who fit into neither group made the situation more complex. When they were Catholic, they chose the English Catholic schools. Non-Catholic immigrants separated themselves almost evenly between the English Protestant schools and the private ethno-religious schools.
Beginning in the 1970s, the choice of English schools by immigrants and their descendants, formerly encouraged so as to preserve the “French Canadian” character of the French Catholic schools or simply tolerated as a natural phenomenon, became identified as a major social problem. A declining birth rate among francophones and the linguistic assimilation of immigrants by the anglophone community seemed to threaten the fragile francophone majority. By now this group saw itself not as a minority group in Canada but as a territorial majority in Quebec. It refused to accept that it did not represent the host community for the newcomers. In this context a package of linguistic laws, particularly the 1977 Charter of the French Language, known more popularly as Bill 101, was adopted by the Quebec government. These laws were principally aimed not at transforming the anglophone community’s linguistic attitudes and behaviours but at breaking its monopoly on the integration of immigrants, which was now to become the responsibility of the francophone community.
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