Arts and Culture Community

A celebration of the English language in Montréal

The Quebec Writers Federation’s recent events have been a testament to the thriving anglophone literary community in Quebec.

The Read Quebec book fair, held between Nov. 3–4 in Concordia’s J.W. McConnell atrium, was a glorious demonstration of the anglophone literary community’s integral value to Montréal’s culture and economy. 

Entrance to the Read Quebec book fair’s opening cocktail. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

The space was shoulder-to-shoulder with lovers of literature who had gathered to highlight the work of English-language publishers in and around Montréal, including the Montréal Review of Books, Maisonneuve Magazine, Drawn & Quarterly publishers, Concordia University Press and more. Each organization brought along a selection of their recent publications to show the incredible range of anglophone literature being produced in Quebec. From art history to science fiction, every genre was represented. 

Representatives from Concordia University Press selling copies of their recent publications at the Read Quebec book fair’s opening cocktail. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

The event was collaboratively hosted by the Quebec Writers Federation (QWF), the Association of English-Language Publishers of Quebec (AELAQ) and Read Quebec with a shared mission to promote the brilliance and celebrate the continued presence of anglophone authors in Montréal.

Publisher from the Montreal Review of Books, Rebecca West, speaks at the Read Quebec book fair’s opening cocktail. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

As an American student studying art history at Concordia, the proposed tuition hikes for traditionally anglophone universities in Quebec was particularly personal. As a writer and researcher, what opportunities are left for me after graduation if I choose to stay here? Sometimes I can’t help but think it might be wiser to move back home. This would mean leaving behind my partner, my friends and the network I worked so hard to build here. But if the only thing standing in the way of my career is a language barrier, it almost seems like I would be doing myself a disservice by staying. 

As I navigate these difficult and emotional decisions, I realize I am not alone. Out-of-province and international students are equally concerned for their futures in Montréal—we’re experiencing the dim feeling of being unwelcome in the city we have come to know and love. However, we are more determined than ever to assert our value in the province. This jovial evening brought me and my fellow aspiring writers a great glimmer of hope and a strong sense of community.

Further strengthening the anglophone writing community’s sense of camaraderie and celebration, on Nov. 13, QWF hosted their 25-year anniversary gala at Cabaret Lion d’Or. This event honoured the brilliant work of both emerging and established writers with awards for a number of categories.

Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson giving their acceptance speech at the QWF award gala. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

Katherine Li’s Efflorescence won the QWF College Writers Award for students; H Felix Chau Bradley’s fiction work Three Disorientations won the Carte Blanche Award; the Janet Savage Blanchford Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature went to Edeet Ravel for her book A Boy is Not a Ghost; Erin Robinsong’s Wet Dream won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry; Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonald won the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction; and finally, Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson’s Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian Reserve, a White Town, and the Road to Reconciliation won both the Concordia University First Book Prize and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction. 

Many of the winners spoke to the urgency of writing as a means to bring about truth, justice and solidarity. The atmosphere of the event was one of gratitude to each other and our growing community, to those who came before us and mentored us, and to the art of writing in the English language as a tool of uninhibited expression.


Créatique: Connecting Creative Practices and Research

On Feb. 16, the English Department of Concordia University launched Créatique, an event featuring a discussion with PhD students about their creative writing and research practices

I attended this gathering held inside the Richler Library seminar room, located in the LB Building of Concordia University. The evening’s host, professor Jason Camlot, gave me more insight into the origins and the objectives of Créatique

Initially, he noticed that there were a high number of talented poets who were pursuing PhDs in the English and Humanities departments. In the Creative Writing program, students study literature, so they have to explore the connection between literary creation, literary criticism and reflection.

“We thought it could be useful and interesting to have a forum where they could talk about the relationship between their creative practice and their research practice,” said Camlot.

This is an opportunity for people who are not familiar with poetry to learn more about creative processes. At each event, two research artists are invited to read from their work, reflect on it critically and explain their process of incorporating themes and concepts into their writing.

Charlotte Wetton, an AHRC-funded (Arts in Health Research Collective) PhD candidate from the University of Manchester, and Professor Alexei Perry Cox of Concordia’s English Department were the two speakers last week.

Wetton’s poetry focuses on labour, more specifically the impact of gender roles and social class in society. Her creative work addresses concepts from eighteenth-century literature. Wetton’s passion for poetry began when she read novels as a child. The pleasure of reading sparked a curiosity about finding the proper words to express herself.

“When I started writing, it was just so satisfying to find the right words to express something, capture moments and experiences,” revealed Wetton in an interview after the event.

When she began her career, Wetton was unable to find many poems about labour. She decided to spark meaningful conversations about work that were lacking in literature in her opinion.

“Actually, I always feel very nervous before readings. Reading any kind of creative work puts you in a vulnerable place. But when I start, I feel very confident because these are the words that I’ve committed to paper and I enjoy sharing them,” she added.

Professor Cox’s creative work focuses on nationalism, immigration, liberation, and the search for identity, among other subjects. Cox’s curiosity about life and finding ways to escape reality with art fuels her passion. We spoke about her experience that evening and ambitions about poetry.

“I love being in the thrill of it and feeling that exchange of energy with the folks who are present,” said Cox.

“As an academic and creative writer, you’re able to gather and bring ideas together. Those ideas can then become more expansive through activism and have impact daily on larger conversations, especially in terms of policy-making,” she said.


At 92 years old, Mary Xenos-Whiston is still learning

A profile of Concordia’s oldest student

Mary Xenos-Whiston has been a lot of things in her life: a teacher, a mother, and a guide at an art gallery. But the one thing she has always been is a student. At 92 years old, she is Concordia’s oldest student and is currently enrolled in Dr. Nicola Nixon’s American poetry class. 

According to Xenos-Whiston, lately she has been doing the usual: “Going crazy,” to which her daughter Barbara commented, “Being 92 is not for the faint of heart.” 

Despite going crazy, she is still enjoying her class on American Poetry . “I wouldn’t be taking them if I wasn’t really enjoying them,” she said.

“My life is too short for doing things that I don’t enjoy,  like house cleaning.”

Xenos-Whiston was born to Greek immigrants in Verdun, and she’s lived in Montreal her whole life and has watched the city and University change dramatically. Her father owned a restaurant in Verdun, where she recalls it being the first to get a soft-serve ice cream machine. In her early years, much of her life was based around the church. Her and about 50 other Greek families would gather at Holy Trinity for weddings, funerals and Saturday night dances before the church burned down in the 1980s. 

As a girl Xenos-Whiston had a love for learning; she frequently found herself in the top math and science classes while attending Verdun high school and she always had a book with her. 

This love for learning has kept Xenos-Whiston in school for most of her life. She’s taken courses for fun at Concordia since the ’90s. After originally enrolling in English courses, it wasn’t long until she discovered other interests. “I discovered the FFAR [interdisciplinary fine arts] courses, wow,” she exclaimed. “I took a course in Jazz, I took a course in this, I took a course in that, I was just interested in learning.” 

During this time she earned another bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Concordia and has taken many courses in women’s studies. But her history with Concordia goes back to before the school even went by that name.

Mary Xenos-Whiston’s graduate portrait, Sir.George Williams University 1954/ BARBARA WHISTON

Xenos-Whiston began attending Sir George Williams University in 1950, where she received her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history as one of the few women attending the school. “Girls did not go to university,” Xenos-Whiston said. She recalled a former teacher questioning her about her enrollment on campus one day. 

“What are you doing, going to Sir.George? You’re only going to get married and have children,” she recalled the teacher saying. “And I thought that’s what you think.” 

She did eventually marry and give birth to her daughter Barbara, but she found time for a great deal of academic success along the way. Xenos-Whiston completed a master’s degree in education at McGill in 1978, and a PhD from the University of Montreal in 1990.

After World War II she saw the city transform spectacularly. “The government allowed educated European immigrants to come here in the late ’40s and early ’50s and Montreal changed.” Xenos-Whinston watched as the city’s identity changed around her: what used to be diners became German, Italian and Chinese restaurants.

“Before you knew it, Montreal was a new place. It was great.” 

Concorida’s Iconic Hall building under construction in Crica 1965, 12 years after Xenos-Whiston had graduated from Sir. George Williams University. JACK BORDAN/Concordia Records Management and Archives

After finishing her first degree Xenos-Whiston began teaching in elementary school and spent her days going to the theater. In 1991 she retired. After a life served in education, some people may never want to look at a classroom again. But this was not the case for Xenos-Whiston who continued her education at Concordia.

“Look, some people go to movies. Some people play hockey. Some people spend hours training for things and then going and doing them. I love taking courses,” she said. 

Today, her family sees school as a part of her. 

“I can’t imagine her not being in school,” said her daughter. The only time Whiston could remember her mother not being in school was after she was born, when her mother left teaching for a few years. 

“After that, she’s constantly been a student; it’s part of her identity. I just can’t imagine her not doing it. It’s always been a surprise to hear about what courses she is taking and what papers she is writing, what ideas she is interested in and what she is discovering. It’s kind of fun.” 

Going to school has not always been easy for Xenos-Whiston, who is now legally blind and uses hearing aids. She has note-takers in class and through the Centre for Equitable Library Assistance (CELA) can get accessible copies of texts used in her class. It’s no easy feat, but she is still determined to be in class.

During the pandemic, her courses at Concordia were what kept her going. When her daughter asked if she could have made it through COVID without Concordia, her reply was simple. “No, I would have died.” 

Concordia does offer a senior non-credit program, which allows older people to audit classes. When auditing courses, students don’t have to write papers or exams like they would for credit. But Xenos-Whiston doesn’t have as much interest in this. 

“I did try it out,” she said, “But, to me, a course is not a course until I write the paper. So I decided that I wanted to write the papers.” 

92-year-old Concordia student Mary Xenos-Whinston has been taking courses for fun since the 1990s. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

It’s professors like Dr. Nicola Nixon who’ve inspired her to keep coming back. Nixon is an associate professor in Concordia’s English department and Xenos-Whiston’s professor this semester. 

“It’s not so unusual to have certain older post-retirement people in your courses, auditing,” said Nixon.

“Of course, they don’t want to write essays or write exams or any of those things and her willingness to do so, I find it quite admirable, But for her, it’s part of, you know, kind of immersing herself in the course, as opposed to just having a passive relationship to it.”

Xenos-Whiston and Professor Nixon have known each other for about five years now. “At first it was basically a professor-student relationship,” said Nixon. “I did go to her birthday party this year […] I suppose we’re more friends now than the first few years she was taking courses.”

Nixon says Xenos-Whiston is a good student, she engages with the class and brings in a lot of her own lived experience. Even considering her age, getting good grades has never been something she has struggled with. 

“If I go home, I could write a paper, get it in tomorrow and get an A,” she said. “My transcript is all As.” This is all but one failure from the year when she took philosophy.

However, school has not been her only hobby over the past 92 years. Exercise has been important to her for much of her life and she was an avid swimmer and walker for some time. A love for contemporary art led her to guide tours at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts between 1995 and 2005. 

Also a passionate music fan, she would go to concerts every other week, frequently attending the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the opera occasionally. Her love for music led her to spend years attempting to learn to play piano, but she never quite got the hang of it. “My family struggled, suffered and listened to me for about ten years try to learn the piano,” she said.

“When I die and go to heaven, I’m going to tell her, she was unfair to give me such a love of music but not the skill to do it.”

Despite not being able to play piano, Mary Xenos-Whiston has accomplished much in her life. At 92 years old she holds four degrees, “Most of it out of sheer curiosity and for pleasure’s sake rather than anything else,” said her daughter. 

But Xenos-Whiston still plans on taking courses. Her only dilemma is deciding if she will leave English for a while and take some more FFAR courses. When asked if she had ever considered taking Hip Hop: Beats, Rhymes and Life, a popular FFAR course at Concordia, she said she hadn’t, but did add “maybe in another 10 years.”


A bilingual city-state? Mayoral candidate proposes major language changes in Montreal

Balarama Holness aims to recognize English as the city’s second official language

Mouvement Montréal party leader Balarama Holness will recognize the city as officially bilingual, if elected mayor in the municipal election on Nov. 6 and 7. This proposal has emerged as Quebec prepares for Bill 96 to strengthen the role of French across the province.

Holness’ plan would ensure that all services on the island of Montreal are provided in both French and English. This includes the city’s commercial and tourism sectors, as well as official documentation from the municipality.

“When people arrive in Montreal, whether they’re speaking English or French, we want them to feel comfortable and don’t want them to struggle,” said Matthew Kerr, Mouvement Montréal’s mayoral candidate for the CDN/NDG borough.

Kerr added that his borough would benefit economically from recognized bilingualism. He expects the locals to open more businesses as it would be more convenient to acquire permits and deal with paperwork, as well as cater to a community that is already bilingual.

Fifty-five per cent of Montreal’s population speaks both English and French according to the 2016 census, with nearly 850,000 residents knowing at least three languages. Despite the city’s linguistic diversity, however, French remains the most dominant language in the city with two-thirds of Montrealers calling it their mother tongue.

Still, many francophone and Quebec-oriented organizations perceive bilingualism as a threat to Montreal’s cultural identity, fearing that French may become vulnerable if English gains the same legal status.

“French is already lacking protection at the legislative level,” said Marie-Anne Alepin, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal (SSJB), in an interview with The Concordian. “We see the numbers, French is declining — and [Montrealers] can see this with their own eyes. When they shop downtown, half the time they will be served solely in English,” Alepin added.

To further solidify the role of French in the province, the Quebec National Assembly presented Bill 96 in May, which is set to affirm on a constitutional level that French is the only official language of the province.

Expected to become law by the end of 2021, Bill 96 will now require businesses with 25 to 49 employees to operate in French — a rule that only applies to companies with over 50 employees as of now. Government agencies will be required to use French exclusively in both oral and written communication, which also includes newly-arrived immigrants after the first six months of their stay in Quebec.

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) is expected to gain more power, which already enforces the language law in Montreal’s food service and retail sectors. Earlier this year, two Montreal businesses were fined $1,500 for the lack of French on their websites, while a restaurant in Mile End received the same penalty in 2020 for having an English-only outdoor sign.

“But even the best law in the world won’t get around the fact that English is an appealing language, especially for the younger generation. […] With all the TV series and digital platforms, the interest for English is immense,” said Alepin.

The SSJB president specified that, while American culture is beautiful, it does not represent the culture of Quebec. As a solution to the linguistic challenge, Alepin proposes a mass investment in awareness campaigns as well as in French-language cultural projects and entertainment, which would make the language of Molière more attractive and competitive.

When it comes to investments, Holness argues that Montreal needs to gain a special city-state status as the city does not fully benefit from the revenue it generates.

“That $200 billion GDP has to come back to actually invest here in Montreal, whether it’s [in] infrastructure, small businesses and any other area of public life,” the candidate said in September after filing his application for the mayoral race.

With the annual municipal budget being just under $6.2 billion in 2021, Holness hopes to make use of taxation powers and create a more Montreal-oriented economy, following the example of Washington D.C. or Berlin.

In the municipal race, Holness currently stands in third place with 10 per cent of Montrealers supporting his candidacy, according to the most recent poll from Léger. The incumbent Valérie Plante of Projet Montréal is leading the race with 36 per cent of the vote, while Denis Coderre from Ensemble Montréal stays just one point behind.


Graphic by James Fay.

Actually, let’s not capitalize on the opportunity, let’s kvetch

From bagel to tuchus, the capitalist-English language has its sights on Yiddish

Did you know that the common term “oy” comes from the Yiddish expression “oy vey iz mir” which translates to “woe is me?” No? Didn’t think so.

Yiddish has always been the language of the lament, and gifting it to the west has been one of the Yiddish-Jews’ great contributions to North American society. Yinglish, the uniting of Yiddish and English forces, equips the speaker with a whole new vocabulary to express distinct thoughts and feelings that really only a Jewish mind could come up with.

For example, a schlemiel is a notoriously clumsy person and a schlimazel is a notoriously unlucky person. Leo Rosten helps distinguish the two in his work, “The Joys of Yiddish” as they’re often confused.

Rosten says, “A schlemiel is one who always spills his soup, a schlimazel is the one on whom it always lands.”

This is the kind of distinction I’m talking about. I bear no ill will to the English language, but honey, there’s nothing in English that illustrates a sad sack pathetico quite like a schlimazel.

Yinglish embellishes English with a distinct beauty. It opens the door for digression, vulgarity, and, dare I say, a bit of complaining. It is the language of good jokes and good times.

I remember a family friend telling me, under the cloak of woman-to-woman advice, “Ven der peckel steht, das sechel geit.” There are many ideations of the expression, but this one loosely translates to “When the pickle gets hard, the mind goes soft.”

With all of these gems in humour, lewdness, wisdom, and culture, I must ask the non-Jew who repeats our language to remember, you are a guest in someone else’s home, so please don’t start putting price tags on all the furniture — it’s bad manners.

You might be wondering what in the name of French bread am I talking about? English has long served a capitalist agenda, reminding those who use the language to continue counting their worth by their productivity and their utility, wearing burnout signs like a badge of honour. Catch yourself the next time you say something like “meet potential,” “land lord,” “invest time,” “capitalize on” — that’s capitalist-English for you.

English is the international language of business, and with that, a lot of English words serve to elaborate and establish ideas of ownership and loans, property and land, work and earn. Ultimately, capitalist-English is a sandwich with the crust cut off.

In contrast, Yiddish makes no place for talk of capitalist ideology. Yinglish is all crust. Yinglish has many terms for a pathetic person, distinguishing mood, degree, and context. This is important to us. Kapital? Not since Yiddish extinguished from practical use after the Second World War, and communism took hold of Eastern Europe for four decades afterwards. In this time capsule, Yiddish preserves, unimposed by capitalism.

Capitalist-English is a glue gun sticking price tags to everything, and Yiddish is not here for it.

So I ask that we leave “quota for the day” and “waste of time” for the capitalist-English talk, and save Yinglish for anything that is true to its roots in the shtetl: to mention with great energy that it’s schvitz central on a particularly warm day, or to call a brazen move out for its chutzpah.

I never want to hear chutzpah used to congratulate someone for “wowing the team at the board meeting.” Lament as resistance, not complaisance.

Thus is the extra-special element of Yinglish — it’s the free-form furniture in your house, that if you ever dared to try and get a quote for, you’d discover you can’t afford it. 


Graphic by Taylor Reddam.


Concordia researchers study bilingualism and language development in toddlers

“The earlier you’re exposed to a language, there are some parts of the language that are going to be easier to learn,” said Krista Byers-Heinlein, Concordia professor and Research Chair in Bilingualism. 

A joint study by Concordia and Princeton universities aims at understanding how bilingual toddlers learn two languages in the context of language switching.

“Some bilingual people might switch back and forth between their languages more often, while others don’t tend to do that and we don’t have any information as of right now [whether] that is going to matter or not for development,” said Krista Byers-Heinlein, the Concordia professor working on this study.

Byers-Heinlein, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Concordia University Research Chair in Bilingualism, and Casey Lew-Williams, associate professor in Princeton’s Department of Psychology are in charge of the research.

Byers-Heinlein said the research is important because in Canadian cities like Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, about 25 per cent of kids grow up in bilingual homes.

The study will be unique in several ways. They will be “following the kids longitudinally for three years to look at their development over time,” said Byers-Heinlein.

The toddlers will be wearing small digital recorders which will catch their home language environment. Through this, researchers can measure their language outcome. It will also contribute to an eye-tracking experiment that will be done periodically in their labs, which will observe word comprehension and language processing.

“With carefully designed stimuli, we can look at the earliest responses to language – [for example] how they look into different types of language sounds in each of their languages,” said Byers-Heinlein.

Byers-Heinlein said evidence shows children can only learn language on a deep level through interaction. Children must be able to interact with people in order to learn a new language, rather than just watching YouTube videos.

“The earlier you’re exposed to a language, there are some parts of the language that are going to be easier to learn,” added Byers-Heinlein.

With the partnership between Concordia and Princeton, the researchers will be able to study two bilingual communities, which is rare in most bilingual studies.They will observe the French-English bilingualism in Montreal, and the English-Spanish bilingualism in New Jersey.

Byers-Heinlein explained this creates an interesting layer in their research because in the United States, Spanish is not an official language.

Unofficial languages are usually synonymous with heritage languages, which are spoken at home or by community members only. It’s been noted those languages are at a greater risk, like Spanish in the United States, since children are generally more inclined to gravitate toward the languages their friends are speaking, and the official language of the city. They become more reluctant toward their heritage tongue. However, Byers-Heinlein explained the same cannot be said about Montreal where English and French are commonly spoken in the city and taught at school.

“We’re interested to see how those differences, as well as cultural differences, impact what’s going on in the home, and ultimately how children grow up learning their languages,” said Byers-Heinlein.

Studying different communities will also give researchers an opportunity to explore the socio-economic aspect of bilingualism. In some areas like New Jersey, bilingualism is synonymous with immigration. Oftentimes, those families come from a lower socio-economic status, said Byers-Heinlein. In Montreal, bilingualism is more common, and is not segregated in immigrant communities.

“We know that kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds, their language development tends to be a little bit behind than other kids, probably just because they’re not having the same opportunities towards interaction with their parents that are often working multiple jobs,” said Byers-Heinlein.

The researchers are currently in the planning stages of the study. Over the next couple of months they will start looking for families who are interested in participating in the research. Those who are interested in the study can learn more about it here, or sign up on the website. The team plans to keep in touch with the families every two months, and will invite them to the lab every year.

“Children can learn certain languages at a certain rate,” said Byers-Heinelin. “If you’re dividing that learning between two languages, versus a kid who is concentrating on one language, you’re going to see some differences in [learning and development]. Sometimes we might observe differences between monolinguals and bilinguals and say ‘oh wow that bilingual kid is way behind.’ Well, she’s not behind, she’s learning twice as much.”


Feature graphic by Victoria Blair


Editorial: Concordia must be more clear

Concordia’s climate review of the English department has made headlines in every major Canadian news network since its release last week. Last week, one of our News Editors, Mia Anhoury wrote a piece outlining the lead-up to the review, its focus, some recommendations from the review, and comments from several people involved.

Some of the recommendations for professors include: making students more aware of the process for filing complaints, prohibiting classes in bars, clearer definitions and training about power dynamics in relationships, consent and conflicts of interest. Another recommendation is the requirement to disclose a conflict of interest in professors’ relationships with students, and clear consequences for failure to abide by it.

We at The Concordian encourage you to read the report for yourself. Many of the recommendations are focused on clarifying Concordia’s legislation around sexual misconduct and the process of voicing a complaint.

There are many takeaways from the report. Concordia has started many initiatives already, such as updating their sexual violence policy, and indeed they seem willing to comply with many of the recommendations.

One recurring goal was increased clarity; many students are unaware of the process of filing a complaint, and many don’t even know what situations qualify as a breach of university protocol. Clarity among the administration is also key, since many members claimed to be unaware of the toxic climate in the first place. Lisa Ostiguy, the head of Concordia’s standing committee on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, told The Concordian, “I’ve been actively involved in sexual violence and sexual misconduct files and processes, and I was not made aware [of fraternization between students and faculty].” Accountability between faculty members and accessibility to the complaint system will put more checks in place to prevent violent behaviour.

The report claimed “there is no place for any romantic or sexual relationship between an instructor and his or her student.” This is the kind of concrete, definitive language that we need surrounding this issue. Ostiguy acknowledged that “it’s very difficult to prohibit relationships between adults that are consenting.” We at The Concordian believe this is an issue that requires more clear, direct, and precise language. Being vague in the policy or when referring to it will only contribute to the difficulty of prohibiting toxic relationships.

Responses from the university thus far have not included an explicit apology to past or current students who were affected by abuses of power from several members of their institution. This includes Alan Shepherd’s recent response letter to the climate review, titled “Concordia welcomes the recommendations put forth in the Climate Review of the Department of English.”

In his response, Shepard mentions that the “unhealthy” climate that the report describes in the English department gives the university “cause [for] concern.” Immediately after, however, he mentions that many students have had a positive experience, that only a small percentage of faculty members were accused, and that most of the complaints came from alumni rather than current students. What are we supposed to make of these defences? It’s hard not to see this as an effort to save face.

Shepard’s letter goes on to highlight the ways Concordia has been investing in sexual assault resources, independently, he stresses, of the climate review. We do think that the letter is a useful way to discuss or promote resources for sexual assault. It is great that the university is working on developing new strategies, and it certainly needs to provide new resources to students as much as possible. But without the preface of an apology, it is easy to perceive the report in-part as an attempt to preserve the university’s reputation.

We at The Concordian want to see the university take responsibility for its employees by explicitly apologizing to its students, and demonstrate their sincerity by clearly defining their policy around student-professor relationships, the definition of ‘conflicts of interest’ and consequences for when that is breached. The complaint-filing process needs to be clear and accessible, and the university needs to make an active effort to investigate claims and enforce consequences for perpetrators.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin


The French-English language debate… again

Opting out of “hi” is demeaning to the thousands of English-speakers in Quebec

On Nov. 30, 111 votes were submitted to the National Assembly endorsing the use of “bonjour” as a substitution for “bonjour, hi” among businesses and the retail industry in Quebec, reported the Montreal Gazette.

Soon after, the hashtag #bonjourhi flooded social media to support keeping the former greeting. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also made a former federal civil servant, William Floch, the new English-language community secretariat to “rebuild bridges with an estranged English-speaking minority,” reported the Montreal Gazette.

In my opinion, it is totally understandable to use Bill 101 and French immersion to promote French among the children of immigrants and Quebec citizens as a whole. However, asking merchants to omit the word “hi” from store greetings discriminates against anglophones and their right to speak their native language. According to the 2016 census, a total of 286,275 people only speak English in Montreal compared to the 1.4 million people who only speak French.

I believe it is offensive to these citizens because it risks alienating them and making them feel unaccepted when they arrive at a store and are not greeted in their spoken language.

While it is true that French is the official language in Quebec, it is also true that multiculturalism and diversity are celebrated within the province. Therefore, I believe that, in order to be true to our values and avoid hypocrisy, we ought to keep the “bonjour, hi” greeting to maintain an inclusive environment for both francophones and anglophones—not to mention allophones who might still be learning either language.

Giving customers the choice to speak either French or English is much more convenient than leaving them with only one option. Many people are not comfortable speaking French or they feel self-conscious about their fluency. Therefore, stripping away someone’s choice to speak a language is wrong because it goes against their freedom of expression and risks leaving them uncomfortable.

I believe there are other ways to encourage Quebecers to speak French that do not infringe on their freedom of expression. These alternatives can include playing more French radio stations in certain retail stores and businesses, and the promotion of French advertisements on public transit and in shopping malls.

We must allow the members of our society to decide which language they prefer to speak because it’s a personal decision. Choosing one language over another shouldn’t be forced on customers. We should allow the client to decide, especially in a customer service environment where their needs should be heard and met. It completely defeats the purpose of customer service when you are putting the customer in an uncomfortable position.

In addition, many anglophone customers are less likely to return to a store if they feel unwelcomed. Therefore, this change could negatively affect a business’ sales in the long-run. We need to remember that Quebec is a province within Canada—where the official languages are both English and French.

Lastly, Montreal is a very tourist-friendly city, and we must maintain our hospitality towards visitors by showing how bilingual and multicultural our city can be. I believe this push towards bonjour-only would discourage English-speaking tourists from travelling to Montreal.

This discrimination will only hurt the government in the long-run because many citizens who feel threatened by this rise of a French-speaking environment may choose to leave the province and make a new life for themselves elsewhere. According to CBC News, 10,175 anglophones left Quebec between 2011 and 2016. Although the economy was a large factor in that change, we can’t ignore the possibility that anglophones might feel uncomfortable living in a province that doesn’t respect their language preference.

Do we really want to foster an environment where anglophones, immigrants and tourists are not accepted in a city that strongly promotes diversity?

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Student Life

The bigger picture of “Bonjour, Hi”

Panelists discuss the importance of preserving French in Quebec and how to do it

“This is very Montreal, braving a snowstorm to come talk about language,” said the panel mediator, CBC web journalist Jonathan Montpetit to the crowd of attendees.

Indeed, Montrealers powered through the storm on the evening of Tuesday, Mar. 14 to attend the School of Community and Public Affairs (SCPA) panel on the changing landscape of language in Montreal.

The panel featured Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson of Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), Catherine Leclerc, McGill professor from the department of French language and literature, and Ariane Cayer, the former president of the Conseil National des jeunes du Parti Québécois.

The panelists discussed Montreal’s identity in terms of language, and ways the French language could be further protected in the province and across the country.

Nadeau-Dubois described Montreal as the “North American capital of the French.” He said, while the anglophone community has a historical and future role in contributing to the city’s culture and politics, Montreal’s culture is first and foremost francophone. Nadeau-Dubois was involved in the 2012 Maple Spring student protests, and is now entering politics, running for Québec Solidaire for the Gouin riding.

Leclerc, whose thesis focused on plurilingualism in literature in Canada, said while there are perceivable tensions between anglophones and francophones in Montreal, having coexisting languages “has a potential for incredible creation. Montreal is one of the rare places where you see reciprocity between these linguistic exchanges.” She views the two languages as complementary rather than battling each other.

Attendees braved the Tuesday storm to take part in a panel on language tensions in Montreal, and French preservation in the city and in Quebec. Photo by Alex Hutchins

Nadeau-Dubois argued that, at the individual level, speaking and mixing many languages is an advantage. Not only does it open more opportunities in the workplace, but it will also open up the individual to more cultures, he added. On the other hand, he said, at an institutional level, it is important to use one language to unify the institution for democratic reasons. Democracy is not simply about following the same laws—it also deals with the “sharing of a common public space and a common language,” said Nadeau-Dubois.

Leclerc argued that a language dies when faced with two elements. The first element is when it is only spoken in private realms. The second element is when people refrain from using a language because they don’t believe it’s being used properly. Leclerc argued as long as public institutions function in the language that needs to be preserved, there is no real threat of losing that language.

Nadeau-Dubois said a common misconception about French Quebecers fighting to promote their language and culture is that they are the only ones fighting that battle. He said a large number of cultures around the world are facing the same battle, that are also “in a position of vulnerability vis-à-vis the American culture.”

The panelists also explored the tough labour market in Quebec for non-bilingual residents. Cayer and Nadeau-Dubois agreed when it comes to the international labour market, speaking English is easier. But, “in Montreal, the language between an employer and an employee is French,” said Cayer.

Nadeau-Dubois and Cayer said francization, the process of integrating newcomers into Quebec by teaching them French and about Quebec’s culture, should be more accessible and accommodating, as a means of integrating immigrants into Quebec’s labour market.

The panelists also discussed the controversial Bill 101, also known as the Charter of the French Language. The bill, whose goal is to promote French culture and language, made French Quebec’s official language 40 years ago. Students must attend elementary and secondary school in French, unless at least one parent completed their education in English. When it was first introduced, the bill was controversial. Leclerc argued “it’s still referred to as Bill 101, not law 101 … It shows that, if it was authoritarian in intention, it never succeeded at being authoritarian, and to me that is not a problem. It works probably better not being authoritarian, but being simply the rebalancing of powers.”

“In the context of cultural pluralism, the use of a common language is of essence. Globalization does not make the bill obsolete. In fact, I think it makes it more pertinent than ever,” said Nadeau-Dubois, commenting on the usefulness of the bill today.

Cayer said federal law should further protect the language rights of francophones because, while francophones are the majority in Quebec, they are a minority in the rest of Canada. She suggested making Bill 101 quasi-constitutional to give it more significance.

While Montreal has come a long way in accepting Bill 101 and protecting minority languages, the panelists agreed there is still a lot of work to be done. They said Bill 101, today, is a safeguard against a global culture and new platforms like social media. Fighting to protect a minority culture is not a weakness Leclerc concluded. Rather, it translates into a “specific way of life and solidarity.”


Ways to use your English degree

Panel shares experiences and tips on how to land that job upon graduation

Of the major degrees, English is the perennial butt of jokes for finding post-school success. We’ve all heard of English graduates, optimistic rather than practical, joining the swelling ranks of arts majors looking down the gullet of an unsure future and competitive academia the moment they descent the podium steps.

The possibilities aren’t that bleak if the search is widened and non-traditional careers are considered. “What To Do With Your English Degree”, an event sponsored by the Concordia Association of Students in English (CASE) and featuring four great panelists speaking from experience on their professional journeys through non-traditional careers.

Enter Kasper Hartman (Video game writing), Katia Grubisic (Freelance editing and translation), Chris Masson (TV Writing) and Jack Allen (Digital Marketing), the quadrumvirate putting everybody’s minds to ease.

The game path

Kasper Hartman graduated from Concordia back in 2008 and has always dabbled in creative writing and games before joining the two. He says gamers’ expectations have kept pace with improvements in technology—that is to say exponentially. A decade ago, games were first created and the finished product sent to the writers for words and actions. Now, the strategy is reversed, with storytelling skills and narrative development seen as an important resource foolish to skimp on. Developers have realized (as the Star Wars prequels have not) that technology and graphics can create a world, but made for a thin veneer when it comes to breathing it to life and offering the player a sense of meaning and motivation. Creatives are increasingly taking control and dictating the terms.

“As many years ago a writer may have been the very last person hired for a project, today they might be among the very first,” he said, adding,“There’s a lot that goes into the job that’s not just purely writing, and the more versatile you can be, the better you’ll adapt to the ups and downs.”

“Talent and craft and a little bit of courage”

The best advice editor and translator Katia Grubisic has is not to worry.

“The skills you have and that you didn’t know you had will prove themselves in the coming months and years,” she said.

Grubisic is a freelancer, that perilous and scary existence entirely dependant on you selling yourself without a middleman or corporate security, but with the advantages of being able to schedule and run it at your own pace.

She divides careers into three parts: the incredibly lucrative, the professionally unavoidable, and the enjoyable.

“It’s really strange what you wind up enjoying,” she said. “The smallest thing can steer you down a path,” she said, embodying the millennial experience of lesser job security and greater mobility. If you’re freelancing, the enjoyable may not pay as much as the status quo, but don’t close yourself to it. On the other hand the lucrative niche might be the one you devote more of your time to, but won’t necessarily be the most interesting one. “The more you do the work, the more people will be willing to believe you could do more work.” And that, she says, means being able to charge more.

Then there are the unavoidable, potentially painful and exhausting stepping stones. These are the opportunities, internships, and volunteerism that might not fit perfectly with your idealized career, but one that instinct tells you won’t come again. Seize them, do your best, and see what happens.

Grubisic’s bonus tip for polyglot translators: There’s a rush happening to standardize texts and contracts as countries become better integrated and join larger political and economic unions. For example, with each European country entering the EU, there’s a very real demand for translators to step in ease the transition. This means fluent third- or fourth- language speakers stand to gain.
Practicing the art of ‘showing up’

Chris Masson’s background was in creative writing and theatre and he’s always believed it’s about putting the work before the ego. Many jobs are collaborative. “If at any point you’re pushing back or resisting change or feedback or criticism, that’s going to reflect badly on you,” he said. Making yourself a pleasure to work with will greatly improve chances of an encore, as reciprocity is a universal rule.

This means networking, networking, networking. Spend time around like minded people, share ideas and absorb tips.

Grubisic points out, though, that explicitly wishing to network can come off as inauthentic. Don’t be a business card distributing machine: people will see through you. Rather, take a genuine interest in people. You’re interesting if you’re interested.

Grades and French are important…up to a point

Jack Allen is currently an online marketer and an anglophone, he says a lack of French won’t hold back a skilled and ambitious individual from breaking out in Montreal. Grades matter if you’re aiming for postgraduate studies and beyond, but skillsets are learned outside the classrooms and it’s more a matter of leveraging your effort and personality towards a desired goal.

“For most job applications, you wouldn’t put your GPA,” he said.

All four share broadly similar paths: an eagerness to take on work, no shyness for approaching people and offering their services, and versatility. The particulars are centered around English students but the advice is universal: market yourself, try for that rung just above your immediate reach, and remember that skills can be learned on the job and you’re more likely to be hired based on your perceived enthusiasm and attitude.

Engage and you’ll find success.


You’re not welcome aboard

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

Amanda Lenko was scared to walk far unaccompanied in the middle of the night.

Lenko, a third-year graphic design student at Dawson College, says she was refused service by a bus driver for the Société de transport de Montréal when she spoke English to him.

The STM provides a service for women who travel alone at night on buses in Montreal called ‘Between Stops.’ The service is offered on all bus lines, including all-night buses, to allow women who travel alone to ask to be let off in between certain stops. From Aug. 30 to April 30 the service starts from 7:30 p.m. and from May 1 to Aug. 29 beginning at 9:00 p.m..

In May, Lenko was on the 376 bus travelling alone at 1 a.m. when she asked in English to be let off in between stops. According to Lenko, the bus driver replied in French “No madame, here we speak French,” and refused to listen to her.

“Every time I talk to employees I always speak French,” said Lenko. “But it was this one time I spoke English and he didn’t listen to me.”

The bus driver dismissed Lenko’s request, letting her off instead at a designated bus stop that was out of her way.
Lenko says she was too shocked and afraid to argue with the employee.

She went on to say that every time she did speak French, she didn’t encounter problems with STM employees and while she didn’t file a complaint to the STM because she felt “it wasn’t a big deal at the time,” she now admits that she regrets not doing so.

The STM has been under fire recently for a slew of language-related incidents, including one from 23-year-old Mina Barak, who claims she was attacked by an employee at De La Savane Métro station. The incident began when an Opus machine accepted Barak’s money but did not issue her transit tickets in return.

In an interview with Global News, Barak said she was told to “go back to your country” and “in Quebec we only speak French” by the employee she approached for help.

Afterwards, Barak called the STM on her phone to file a complaint. When she spoke with the teller again, Barak claims that the STM worker gave her the middle finger. After Barak told the worker she was going to ensure her dismissal, the employee allegedly left the booth and forced Barak into a headlock.

In early October, a poster taped to the ticket booth at Villa Maria métro station garnered city-wide attention for its slogan that read: “In Quebec, we do things in French.”

In accordance with the Office de la langue française, the agency that administers the provisions of the provincial language law, customers or clients may ask in English for a service but under Bill 101, companies are not allowed to require employees to know a language other than French. While there are exceptions to this law, Montreal’s public transit authority is not required to offer bilingual services.

However due to the violent nature of Barak’s encounter with an employee, the STM Vice-chair Marvin Rotrand told Global News that “the issue will be discussed at the STM’s board meeting next month.”

For some, unilingual services create an unnecessary divide for residents of Montreal.

Léonard Leprince, a first-year political sciences student at Concordia University, said that it was disappointing that “jobs in the field of customer service aren’t encouraged to have bilingual employees.”

Emma Ronai, a first-year International development and African studies student at McGill University, said that she chooses to speak French because “she didn’t want to hear the STM’s drama” and due to the fact she knows English friends who have been harassed.

Furthermore, Ronai emphasized that the Agence métropolitaine de transport also possess language barriers. One line in particular, the Deux-Montagnes train line announces important messages on their intercoms solely in French. Many commuters have complained that they don’t understand what is being said, similar to when the STM announcements are solely issued in French.

“If you’re paying for the service, you should know what is going on. We’re not talking about learning Chinese, Spanish or Swahili to please a tiny percent of users, we’re talking about an official language, which has been recognized by law,” Ronai said.

With files from Kalina Laframboise

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