A Quebec language law designed to ease long-simmering tensions between the French- and English-speaking communities has ignited a wave of violence against the province's English-speaking minority.
Arsonists have gutted the offices of an English-rights group. Linguistic vigilantes hurled a Molotov cocktail at an English college in Quebec City and defaced shops bearing English signs in Montreal with spray paint and stickers.The incidents over the past three weeks reflect fears that the law, which bans English on signs outside stores while allowing bilingual ones inside, will weaken the ability of Quebec's 5 million French-speaking residents to protect their culture in an English North America.
Tensions have been on the rise since a high court last month struck down the French-only sign provisions of a 1977 language law because it contravened freedom-of-expression guarantees in Quebec's charter of rights.
That law, passed by the former separatist-minded Parti Quebecois (PQ) government, restricted the use of English at work, in schools and the courts.
After December's court ruling, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, fearing unrest by extreme nationalists ahead of a provincial election later this year, allowed French-only signs outside of stores. He allowed some English indoors.
The province's English minority feel betrayed by Bourassa's Liberal government, which was elected in 1985 on a platform that included allowing bilingual signs.
More than 1,000 of them attended a rally last Sunday aimed at planning civil disobedience to Quebec's new law.
"When it comes to rights there can be no compromise," said Stephen Nowell, an organizer of the meeting. "It's an immoral law and I don't follow immoral laws."
Nowell, whose Montreal bookstore was recently vandalized for posting English on its signs, suggested English-speaking Quebecers wear black armbands or post bilingual signs to resist the law.
The English-rights group, Alliance-Quebec, says it has received hundreds of threats since the court ruling.