Bill 96: the EMSB files a legal challenge against the French law in Quebec

The province’s controversial French-language reform law already has its first legal challenge less than two weeks after it was passed in Quebec’s Legislative Assembly.

The English-Montreal School Board (EMSB), the largest English-language school board in Quebec with more than 44,000 students, filed a motion in Superior Court seeking a judicial review of Bill 96.

In his application, EMSB President Joe Ortona argues that the law violates the Canadian Constitution by infringing on the right to equal access to the law in both official languages ​​of Canada. He also argues that the provisions of Bill 96 violate the rights to “management and control of minority language education exercised by the English Montreal School Board” under section 23 of the Charter. rights and freedoms.

“Decisions relating to the use of the minority language and other languages ​​by and within a minority language school board go to the heart of the protection conferred by section 23 of the Charter”, argued Ortona in the document.

“Minority language school boards have the exclusive authority to make such decisions, including the right to create and maintain an environment in which staff, students, families and community members can interact and thrive. in the minority language.

Ortona’s legal challenge was filed June 1, the same day the bill received royal assent and became law. He said in his request that the sections challenged by the language reform law are not subject to the notwithstanding clause, a rare legal tool used by the ruling CAQ government to shield Bill 96 from Charter challenges. .

According to prominent Montreal constitutional lawyer Julius Grey, Quebec’s use of the notwithstanding clause is “an admission that they know it’s unconstitutional and they don’t care.”

Ortona argues that the bill’s provisions that require English school boards to use French or both official languages ​​in written communications “infringe the right to management and control of the language of communications within English school boards.” .

His request also calls into question the obligation for certain organizations to affix signs and posters in French, or in French and in another language, with the French text “predominant”. He also argues that the mandate of the province’s language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), to monitor the use of French in English-language school boards violates the Charter, as does the requirement to provide a French-language translation of court documents for a fee since “the law imposes additional charges on these litigants”.

In an interview with CTV News, he said he expects the legal battle to be a long one and could end up in the Supreme Court of Canada. The school board is turning to a surplus of 70 million dollars which will be used in part for the legal battle. Ortona said no class resources were used for the legal effort.

“We’re doing this because we’re confident we have a case and we’re confident we’re going to win on the merits,” he said on Monday, adding that “our record shows we don’t have not sue frivolously”. so far.”

“There are injustices here that hurt our board, hurt the community’s right to manage and control, and we’re going to want to rectify that.

Bill 96, an update of the original Quebec Charter of the French Language (Bill 101), was passed by the National Assembly on May 24. Its adoption codifies French as the official and common language of Quebec, bringing radical reforms to the use of French in Quebec. in many sectors of society, including the justice system, education, employment and others.

ANOTHER LEGAL CHALLENGE ON THE HORIZON

The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board confirmed last week that it opposes Bill 96 and that it will support the EMSB in its legal challenge, which will not be the last.

Gray is among a group of Montreal-area lawyers who intend to launch their own legal challenge in court, likely within the next week or two, he said Monday.

Central to the argument is the Quebec government’s preemptive use of the notwithstanding clause for Bill 96, just as the CAQ did for Bill 21, the law that prohibited the wearing of religious symbols, such as the hijab, by people in the public. sector while working.

“The idea that a government should use the notwithstanding clause in advance whenever a policy is important to it is the antithesis of the Charter,” Gray said.

“They didn’t use the notwithstanding clause when they got the orders for COVID. Ottawa didn’t use the notwithstanding clause when they got the [Emergencies Act]. It is only for the English language or other languages ​​— or for veils and turbans — that Quebec thinks it should use the clause. »

He, too, thinks the legal battle over Bill 96 will be a long one and said Indigeonus groups and immigrant advocates are joining the cause to argue that the province’s new language reform law is invalid.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language in Quebec, and Premier François Legault have previously said the bill is needed to prevent the decline of French in the province.


With files from CTV News Montreal’s Iman Kassam