The Coalition Avenir Québec’s Bill 96 – aimed at protecting and strengthening the French language in Quebec – may have been passed earlier this week, but that has done little to appease the opposition of the English-speaking community to legislation.
Quebecers against Bill 96, a group created by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), the Association of English Parents’ Committees, the Association of English School Boards of Quebec (ACSAQ) and the Quebec Federation of Home-School Associations organized a rally on Thursday afternoon in downtown Montreal inviting the community to voice their concerns.
Bill 96 was adopted Tuesday in the National Assembly, by a vote of 78 votes against 29, the CAQ in power and Quebec solidaire voting for and the Parti-Quebecois and the Liberals voting against.
While Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the bill moderate, Quebecers Against Bill 96 said the legislation was “wide-ranging and discriminatory.”
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QESBA executive director Russell Copeman spoke to Global News to express his “sadness and frustration.”
“You know, we’ve argued for a long time that this bill is bad for English-speaking Quebecers, and bad for all of Quebec,” he said. “To see it passed with very few changes and, you know, very few improvements, is disappointing.”
QESBA’s main concern is how the bill will affect education.
Before the bill was passed, foreign nationals temporarily in Quebec could send their children to English school for the duration of their stay in the province. This period has been reduced to three years.
The other area of concern is that the bill could require internal communications between school boards to take place in French, even between English-speaking public servants.
“That maybe we should communicate in French only… doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Copeman said.
Indigenous leaders have also raised red flags, particularly regarding the requirement for students to take three additional French courses at the CEGEP or undergraduate college level.
Grand Chief Kahnawà:ke Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, who attended the rally, fears the students will be defeated. For most Mohawks, French would be a third language after their traditional language and English.
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“It is already difficult for our young people to leave the community and go to CEGEPs,” she said, adding that the French language requirement would be an additional burden.
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Sky-Deer also pointed the finger at a woman from the community who became a doctor but who cannot practice in the province after failing the French proficiency exam for professional orders three times.
“So what kind of message does this send to our young people who want to pursue higher education and work for our communities and even some of the northern English-speaking communities? she asked.
Indigenous communities had asked to be exempted from Bill 96, but in meetings with government officials, Sky-Deer says they were told it would be the status quo for Indigenous peoples.
“Well, then why not just provide the exemption?” she says. “I’m really interested to see what the government will come back to in terms of accommodation, our solution.”
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In protest, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is freezing all official discussions with Quebec government officials until they get high-level political commitment to find solutions.
“It’s not going to be nice the way we’re going to have to coexist,” Sky-Deer said.
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In the meantime, the council is considering possible next steps, including initiating a constitutional or human rights challenge or referral to the United Nations.
The list of objections to the 201 articles of the 100-page bill is not limited to those mentioned above.
Among these, a judge does not need to know a language other than French and that all communications between civil servants and immigrants who have been in Quebec for more than six months must be in French.
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The government fears that French is increasingly threatened in a province surrounded by an English-speaking population in North America, hence the need to protect it.
Critics, however, insist that Bill 96 does more harm than good.
“I don’t believe the French language will be protected in any way by this bill,” said Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein. “All this law does is make Anglophone and allophone communities feel uncomfortable in this province.
Legal challenges are already planned to completely invalidate the bill or at least some of its provisions.
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