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CAQ got your tongue?

April 1st,2024 | News

LE CHAT DANS LE CHAPEAU: Wakefield Coun. Claude Giroux’s cat’s name is Leo the Lover, but a new Bill 96 provision will force him to change the name to the French version, Léo l'amoureux. Trevor Greenway photo

“Come here, Léo l’Amoureux,” says Wakefield Coun. Claude Giroux, trying to entice his cat from its hiding spot in the closet. His real name is Leo the Lover, but Giroux is trying out the French version after the Quebec government announced a new provision of Bill 96 that will force pet owners across the province to name their furry friends in French. 

“He doesn’t like it,” says Giroux, placing his beret on Léo l’amoureux’s head, as the cat maneuvers uncomfortably. “My other cat who died would have been fine with it because his name was Henri.”

Quebec’s Minister of the French Language, Jean-François Roberge, tabled the provision in the National Assembly last week. He argued that, because Quebecers speak less French in their homes, as evidenced by the latest Canadian Census data, the province needs to “do everything it can to increase French at home, and pets should not be exempt from the law.”

“We can’t legislate dog language, but the problem is that anglophones aren’t even speaking to their dogs in a French accent, and that needs to change,” said Roberge, speaking to reporters in Quebec City. “It’s easy to do: ‘Rover’ is now ‘Vagabond’; ‘Bear’ becomes ‘Ours’; and for more traditional names like ‘William” we ask that you use “Guillaume.’”

According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Canadians who speak French predominantly at home fell to 19.2 per cent in 2021, from 20 per cent in 2016. All provinces and territories saw a drop other than Yukon, where the figure was up from 2.4 to 2.6 per cent.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government has been targeting the use of the English language with Bill 96, the province’s overhaul of the French language Charter, and advocacy groups are decrying the latest provision that targets pets. A new English rights group, Hello/Hi, says the latest move is another example of how anglophones are not welcome in the province.

“Now my dog, Scooby-Doo, has to be called Scoubi-dou?” asked Hello/Hi director-general Bob Walsh, adding that, because Quebec used the notwithstanding clause to push the bill through, lawyers won’t be able to challenge the law in court. 

“This is just another example of Quebec’s discrimination towards English Quebecers. It’s not enough that they are taking our education away – now they’re going after our pets,” he said.

In addition to restricting pet names, Quebec is also ordering municipalities to refuse the issuing of licences to future generations of dog breeders who raise dogs such as English Cocker Spaniels, English Bulldogs and English Springer Spaniels.

Wakefield dog trainer Faith Bigras, who specializes in dog behaviour, said that, while most may think there isn’t much to a name, she worries that Hills pets may experience identity crises. 

“Dogs are attached to their names; it’s how they communicate with their owners,” said Bigras. “A dog named ‘Buddy’ won’t answer to ‘Copain’ and ‘Hunter’ won’t answer to ‘Chasseur.’ These poor dogs and cats are going to be so confused.”

In response to the new bill, she’s offering therapy sessions for “Fido, who is now Fifi.” She said that name-change therapy sessions can be booked through poissondavril@gmail.com. 

For Giroux, he said he’s worried about confusing his cat with the mayor, as they now share the same last name, although there is no relation.

Pet owners will have until April 1, 2025, to officially change their pets’ names. After that, owners may be subject to fines from the Office Québécois de la Langue Française, although the language police have not said what those fines would be. 

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