I have gotten a heap of comments from a variety of folks who I would consider members of the Anglophone nationalist community in Quebec. Perhaps that is not an entirely accurate label, but let's debate that in another post (or in the comments to this one).
Is it ever acceptable, Tony asks, to infringe rights? To be clear, my specialty in Political Science is not about rights--I have no expertise on the should questions and questions of rights. I am a specialist on the whys of International Relations--why countries intervene or not, why countries delegate or not to their soldiers on the ground, why institutions might or might not foster ethnic outbidding. So, I am an amateur on this kind of question. But that has never stopped me before. So, the answer is, um, yeah. A gun rights advocate from Texas would find living in Canada to be oppressive since one cannot buy semi-automatic handguns at the local Walmart here. Taxes can be seen as oppressive. What is a right is often hotly debated. Which is more important: individual rights vs rights of the community? I, as an American, focus much, much more on individual rights rather than collective ones, but that does not mean that collective rights are inherently undemocratic (I leave that to the political philosophers).
I know that I am a "victim" of Bill 101 (heaps of previous posts on this), but what differentiates me from the folks commenting on my recent threads is that I moved here in 2002--after Bill 101 and after two referenda. Sure, I engaged in wishful thinking (because I so much wanted to leave west Texas) and so I perhaps did not fully realize exactly what was going on in Quebec or that there always be another referendum. But I was fully aware that my kid would not be eligible for the English public school system. As an immigrant, I knew what I was getting into and could not expect the system to conform to my desires (I was being reasonable in not expecting radical accommodation of my cultural needs). So, I have had a very status quo mindset--I don't want to have my situation eroded with new rules applied to CEGEP or my daughter getting kicked out of her private school due to a revised Bill 103. I do understand why others who lived here before Bill 101 would have more frustration and desire a reversal.
Even though I have referred to the various rules of Canadian politics as fostering tyranny of the majority (notwithstanding clause, the weakness of the Supreme Court), I do not believe that Quebec is a tyranny. There are degrees of oppressiveness, and Quebec certainly does limit the freedoms of Anglophones and Francophones alike by restricting choices when it comes to education. But that pales by comparison to the problems of minorities elsewhere that I have studied. That does not make what Quebec does right, but it does mean that this is not the same kind of life or death issue that the Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians and others have been confronting.
So, this comes back to the question of whether one should seek reversal of Bill 101. As someone who wants to live in a Quebec that remains in Canada (indeed, when moving here, my thought process focused on moving to Canada and to Montreal, not about moving to Quebec), it is not just a question of Bill 101 or not Bill 101, but what happens as a result of a real challenge to Bill 101 and what happens if it were to disappear. I try to take seriously the tradeoffs of any policy change (I am far more conservative than one would think--in terms of avoiding change unless a case can be made that the new situation would better than the status quo). So, what would happen if Bill 101 would disappear? Would the PQ and other separatist parties just wave their hands and walk away? No, it would energize the soft sovereigntists and probably lead to another referendum, which would either lead to independence or just another period of economic decline and instability. I think the focus should be on softening the hard edges of Bill 101 rather than trying to get rid of it, although it does reek of discrimination and all the rest. But that is up to individuals. If the Anglophone nationalists want to protest Bill 101, that is their right. And they still have that right.
And, I do, quite clearly think that national unity is something worth compromising a bit on rights. Yes, it is a slippery slope, but we live on slippery slopes all the time. I think the Canadian brake is more than the courts, but rather the existence of a federalist opposition and of a federal system that provides incentives for moderation. Once independent, Quebec politicians would not have to worry much about the costs of alienating the rest of the country. And, yes, they do worry just a bit now. Perhaps not the PQ but the provincial Liberals (who sell out the Anglophones much but not all of the time).
Ok, lots of text to respond to the comments. Tony asks a much simpler question: if I opposed Bill 101 louder, would it affect my employment at McGill? No, not at all. I have tenure so I am mighty hard to fire. Promotion and merit increases depend far more on publications (numbers of them, where they are placed) and department politics, not provincial or national politics. I had a colleague who was a fan of North Korea (no kidding, really!) and opposed McGill administration all the time, and he was never at risk of being fired. He retired when it made sense for him and not before. And, if you ask my colleagues, they would certainly not consider me to be discreet. This blog is evidence of that. So, my stand here is purely my own and is not constrained by my institution, which is hardly a symbol of French nationalism, is it?