Canada learns a new language of protest

English-speakers in Quebec are taking on the separatists at their own game. Hugh Winsor reports

Quebec's long-smouldering language and separatism conflict has burst into flame once more, fanned by an advertising executive turned English-rights activist who plans next week to hit the Parti Quebecois government where it really hurts: on Wall Street.

For Howard Galganov, the campaign is a return to his militant past. The grandson of a Russian Jew who fled to Canada to avoid communism, Mr Galganov used to throw coffins on to the lawn of the Soviet embassy in Ottawa in protest at the treatment of Jewish "refuseniks" in the 1960s, when he was a teenage member of the Jewish Defence League. After that he concentrated on his career, but the aftermath of last autumn's referendum on parting company with Canada, which the federalists won by a hair's breadth, has brought him back on the streets.

Mr Galganov and his recently formed Quebec Political Action Group (QPAG) began their revolution on an unlikely battlefield, the grocery stores and shopping malls of a mainly English-speaking enclave in the west of Montreal. Quebec law demands that shop signs should be predominantly in French, though it does not rule out the use of English, as long as it is less prominent. Most stores, however, simply removed all English signs, provoking Mr Galganov and his colleagues to hold demonstrations to demand their return.

The group's activities last week caused an angry confrontation at parliament hearings in Quebec City, and its latest tactic promises to have even more impact. At an exclusive club in New York's financial district, Mr Galganov and a couple of busloads of supporters will reveal their version of developments in Quebec to an audience of American investors, bond traders and journalists.

This poses a real threat to Lucien Bouchard's government, which is already having trouble attracting investment, and must pay a premium to sell its bonds on Wall Street. But if the US financial community comes away with the impression that Quebec is set for yet more turmoil, that will not bother Mr Galganov.

"Mr Bouchard convinced a large group of separatist voters that there would be absolutely no price to pay for separation," says the QPAG leader. "He said Canada would be negotiating on its knees, and the Americans would be flocking to involve Quebec in Nafta [the North American Free Trade Agreement]. I want the people who voted Yes because they didn't understand the consequences to have a very clear understanding of what those consequences will be."

His group will tell the Americans that French-speakers, English-speakers and other groups get along well enough with one another to build "one of the best societies in the world". But, he adds, "we are also going to discuss the fact that there is a racist, bigoted, xenophobic government that is doing everything it can to separate the cultures and to diminish one culture for the benefit of the other".

The rise of Mr Galganov demonstrates that last October's referendum solved nothing. The razor-thin result - the federalists got 50.6 per cent of the vote, the separatists 49.4 per cent - jolted federalists in both language groups, who felt that the federal side had been too soft during the campaign. But it also gave separatist militants the energy for one more push. With separatism off the agenda for the time being, they have turned their attention to the language issue.

Many Anglophones have decided to look for opportunities in Toronto or western Canada. Mr Galganov, however, resolved to stay and fight the separatists from within. The QPAG's first activities were aimed merely at asserting English rights. But after its initial successes, he put up over C$100,000 (pounds 47,000) of his own money and began organising out of the offices of his advertising agency. As his group took off (it organised a pro-Canada rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa that drew 10,000 supporters) contributions began to roll in from across the country. "The mail brings in new cheques every day. They range from $5 to $500, and I've even had some for $1,000."

Many fear, however, that he is playing into the hands of separatist hardliners. Even though the position of French has been strengthened in Quebec in recent years, fear of assimilation is still a hot issue for the pur laine (pure wool) Francophone majority. It is not only that they are an island of six million French-speakers in a North American sea of almost 250 million English-speakers. New immigrants to Canada, who will soon be in the majority in the old city of Montreal, have tended to ally themselves with the English community, even though they are forced to educate their children in French.

The Galganov movement has produced a strong counter-reaction. When some of the stores, banks and other commercial establishments began putting up a few signs in English, Parti Quebecois militants claimed this would threaten the French language and turn Montreal into a bilingual city - which in reality it is.

At hearings into possible changes to Quebec's restrictive language laws, the government signalled it would yield to its own hardliners and bring in new restrictions on the use of English or any other language except French on public signs. It is not a path the relatively moderate Mr Bouchard would have preferred, but his hand is being forced by the reaction within his own party to QPAG's campaign.

Mr Galganov is unrepentant. He has said he would welcome a French-only law, because the new confrontation would reveal the real nature of Quebec society. "I think this dog should have been woken up 20 years ago. We are fighting the fight that should have been waged last year during the referendum campaign."

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

News
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday

Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Sivero in Goodfellas; Simpsons' wise guy Louie

The sound of Goodfellas mafioso Frankie Carbone demanding $250m in “damages” would be chilling enough on film, let alone in real life.

News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front end web developer - URGENT CONTRACT

£250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...

Year 3 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 Teachers - Chelm...

ABAP Developer

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ampersand Consulting LLP: SAP ABAP Developer - Rugb...

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?