Bill 96 should be scrapped ‘in its entirety,’ says Quebec Community Groups Network

New language law ‘will change Quebec, and not for the better,’ QCGN claims in scathing brief

In a memorandum presented last week to the National Assembly committee working on the provincial government’s Bill 96 to strengthen Quebec’s language rules, the Quebec Community Groups Network said that even though the French language in Quebec “can and should be protected,” Bill 96 is not the way to go about it.

“Bill 96 is deeply problematic,” said QCGN president Marlene Jennings, reading from the conclusion of the English-language community lobby group’s statement.

‘Outdated and odious’

“Its measures are based on outdated and odious approaches to enforcing the use of the French language. It will create barriers and mistrust. It upsets a social and linguistic peace that has lasted for decades. And it sends a signal to speakers of other languages:

“No matter how integrated into Quebec society or how willing to speak French in the public space, speakers of other languages are not fully ‘members’ of Quebec society,” the statement continued. “Like Bill 21, it re-shapes Quebec law and society to create clear ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders. And at the same time, it withdraws fundamental human rights protection from everyone.”

Overriding human rights

More fundamentally, Jennings and the QCGN contend that Bill 96 is aimed at an entirely different objective – that being “the refashioning of the Quebec state, and the move away from liberal constitutional democracy.”

They said that the use of constitutional human rights overrides (notwithstanding clauses) effectively dismantles human rights protections that have been in place for 45 years.

The Quebec National Assembly’s Committee on Culture and Education heard from the Quebec Community Groups Network last week.

“It expands the power of the National Assembly – and the government in power – and removes the role of the judiciary in reviewing laws for compliance with the Constitution. It increases and centralizes executive power and control over both the public and private sectors.

“These changes are of serious and major concern for democratic governance in Quebec, and should be troubling to all Quebecers. Bill 96 will change Quebec, and not for the better.”

Should withdraw Bill 96

The QCGN’s number one recommendation is that Bill 96 be withdrawn “in its entirety.” If the bill is not withdrawn completely, they say it ought to be overhauled and include changes such as these:

  • Remove the human rights overrides;
  • A reference question on the constitutionality and meaning Bill 96 should be sent without delay to the Court of Appeal of Quebec;
  • The right to communication and services in English should never be based on eligibility for English instruction;
  • Remove provisions which have the most egregious impact on business, including francization requirements, justification of hiring practices, language of contracts, justice provisions and education permit restrictions.

The QCGN also emphasized in its brief that “Bill 96 should not in any way interfere with the right to receive health and social services in English as guaranteed in the Act respecting health services and social services. Bill 96 should include an explicit carve-out for this right.”

‘You accept Bill 101?’ Skeete asked

CAQ MNA for Sainte-Rose Christopher Skeete (who is Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers) asked Jennings whether the QCGN agrees with Bill 101, which was passed by the Parti Québécois government in 1977 and forms the basis for Quebec’s current language laws.

“Does the QCGN accept that this law was necessary for the survival of French in North America?” he asked. “The QCGN is a defender of the French language,” Jennings replied. Skeete interrupted, insisting he be given a yes or no answer, “because there are plenty of defenders of the French language, but they’re not all for Bill 101,” he said.

CAQ MNA for Sainte-Rose Christopher Skeete asked qcgn PRESIDENT mARLENE Jennings whether the QCGN agrees with Bill 101

Jennings responded, “Yes, the QCGN agrees with Bill 101, in the sense that we think it has had positive influences, and we think that it wasn’t used to one hundred per cent. So, we are asking the question why Bill 96, taking into account that there are plenty of things in Bill 101 that are never used.”

‘Why then not Bill 96?’

Skeete continued, “Why then, if the QCGN accepts the notions in Bill 101, would it want to allow, for example, the schooling of people coming from Great Britain, Australia and India in the public school system as Anglophones or receiving documents in English? Why does the QCGN, if it accepts Bill 101, not want the integration into French of newly-arriving people in Quebec?”

Replying, Jennings said she hadn’t understood the question. By the time Skeete rephrased it, Lise Thériault, chair of the Committee on Culture and Education, who was carefully keeping tabs on the time allotted to each participant, declared Skeete’s time had run out and Jennings was cut off before she could answer.