MONTREAL — Is a French woman who grew up speaking the language of Molière not French enough for Quebec?
That question was being debated in Canada this week after Émilie Dubois, a 31-year-old French citizen fluent in French, was unable to get a certificate she needed before she can settle permanently in Quebec.
Her transgression? Writing one chapter of her doctoral thesis in English rather than in French.
Ms. Dubois would seem like an ideal immigrant for Quebec, a French-speaking province determined to preserve its French language and identity. She completed a biology doctorate at Laval University in Quebec City, a French-language university. She also started a scientific graphic design company.
But despite being a Francophone from Burgundy in eastern France, she said the immigration minister had written to her that she had not demonstrated sufficient proficiency in French to receive a certificate that is a prerequisite to gaining permanent residency.
“It is beyond absurd, it is not logical, it is a joke,” she said in French by phone from Quebec City. “I am a French woman.”
Marc-André Gosselin, a spokesman for the Quebec immigration ministry, said the minister was aware of the case, had deemed that it “made no sense” and had asked that the ministry review the file. He said officials had also reached out to her on Friday.
But Ms. Dubois was still baffled.
“I started my own company,” she said. “I hired people, I am expanding Quebec scientific knowledge internationally. Quebec is shooting itself in the foot. Is a French woman not French enough for Quebec?”
The letter from the immigration ministry read: “You haven’t completed your program of study in Quebec entirely in French, including the dissertation or thesis.”
Ms. Dubois, who likes painting and hiking, said she was flabbergasted since her doctoral thesis on cellular and molecular biology was written in French, except for one of five chapters written in English because it was a scholarly article published in a scientific journal.
Even after she spent $200 to pass a French test recognized by the ministry, she said she was still turned down, leaving her feeling dejected in the province where she had first arrived seven years ago and had hoped to settle.
Issues of language run deep in Quebec, a majority French province surrounded by English-speaking North America, where French is the official language of government, commerce and the courts. On commercial advertising and public signs, the French must be at least twice as large as any other language.
Such are the concerns about French being threatened by the proliferation of English that the Quebec government two years ago unanimously passed a resolution calling for shopkeepers to stop saying “bonjour hi” — a popular greeting in bilingual Montreal — and to just say “bonjour” instead.
More recently, the government attracted criticism after it said Quebecers who wanted access to provincial government services like utility bills in English would need to prove they were part of the “historic English community.”
That, in turn, prompted some to ask whether English Quebecers seeking utility bills in the language of Shakespeare would need to prove that their ancestors fought against the French before Quebec was ceded to Britain in 1763 after France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War.