Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (1999), 28, (1), 158–168.


158 Book Reviews Politics MACMILLAN, C. MICHAEL. The Practice of Language Rights in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Pp. 263. In his introduction, Macmillan reminds that in Canada, language rights remain "an essentially contested concept" (4). The "hodgepodge of competing princi­ ples regarding language policy at the federal and provincial levels" was prob­ ably inevitable in the absence of a shared vision of "linguistic justice" (3). Macmillan hopes to contribute to the belated development of such a consensus. Macmillan notes that since 1969 the concept of "linguistic duality" has dominated federal language policy. Unlike many English-speaking Canadians, Macmillan does not conceive of language rights from a strictly liberal perspec­ tive. He never explicitly distinguishes between the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission's vision of Canada and the "Trudeau vision" which came to predominate in federal language policy as it developed in the 1970s. Nevertheless, his understanding of "dualism" is grounded in an understanding of the emptiness of formal language rights in the absence of a well-developed linguistic community. Since language rights are "hybrid" (i.e., both individual and group) rights, two conclusions follow. First, "the various link (sic) between language rights and the individual ... render suspect any wholesale overriding of individual lan­ guage rights on behalf of group language rights" (32-33). Second, "(I)nsofar as a language is a vital component of a functioning language community, that com­ munity has a legitimate claim upon the larger community to recognize and sus­ tain that language" (33). Citing survey data from the B and B Commission to the present, Macmillan finds majority support in all regions of Canada for federal services, hospital care, and education in both official languages, but only where "these services do not constitute an imposition on the majority community" (46). The "practice of rights is therefore largely immune to expansion ..." (59). Accordingly, "(t)here is then an ongoing tension between what a theory of language rights as human rights would propose and what the prevailing practice of rights will tolerate" (59). Interestingly, the data lead Macmillan to conclude that while in English Canada support for language rights "extends no further than a right to sustain one's language," in Québec there is widespread support for the "right to live one's life in a language," "for both English and French minorities" (59). In gen­ eral, Macmillan notes that "Québécois are notably more generous toward minority language rights than Québec legislation itself would suggest" (6). In his chapters on the current status of language rights in the federal gov­ ernment and the governments of Québec and New Brunswick, Macmillan attempts to apply insights from his theory of language rights. (Of course, in focusing on Québec and New Brunswick he avoids an explicit consideration of the disjuncture between formal, pan-Canadian language rights and the absence of viable linguistic minorities in other parts of Canada.) Concerning Québec, Macmillan notes that Bill 101's "requirements assert a strong promotion approach to language rights for Québécois, in that Bill 101 was

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