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Quebec municipalities concerned over potential loss of bilingual status

A bilingual street sign in Côte Saint-Luc, QC. The municipality is one of few which hold bilingual status in the province. Monday May 10, 2021. David Sedell / Global News

Some municipalities say they will fight back if Quebec withdraws their bilingual status.

“We’ll mobilize with all municipalities and boroughs with bilingual status to prevent any attempt by the Quebec government to interfere in the way we communicate with our residents,” said Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein in a statement.

“We know our residents best and understand their needs.”

Brownstein’s statement comes after comments made by the minister responsible for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, at Quebec’s National Assembly on May 6.

Jolin-Barrette was responding to questions from the opposition regarding the government’s annual budget.

Read more: ‘Good chance’ new Quebec language bill will include notwithstanding clause: Legault

It was Parti Québécois MNA for Matane-Matapédia Pascal Bérubé who pointed out that municipalities like Dollard-Des Ormeaux, Kirkland and Côte Saint-Luc might no longer merit bilingual status.

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“Do you find it normal in 2021 that municipalities that have 20 per cent Anglophones keep their bilingual status?” asked Bérubé.

“It merits reflection. There are few municipalities that have asked to have their bilingual status revoked,” Jolin-Barrette said, referring to municipalities that no longer have the requirements to hold such status.

“It is something I will reflect on,” he said.

Currently, Quebec’s Charter of the French Language — also known as Bill 101 — gives municipalities the right to claim bilingual status if 50 per cent or more of their residents speak a language other than French.

It means that they can have things such as street signs in English and French and people can get their tax bills or other communications in English if they prefer.

Read more: Quebec mulls banning ‘Bonjour-Hi’ greeting for stores, government services

Brownstein says it’s important for his city to be able to offer its services in English.

“The vast majority of our population receives their services in English, whether their mother tongue is English or not. There’s many immigrants living in Côte Saint-Luc as well or children of immigrants and that’s a beautiful community. But they work, live, went to English schools and they operate as English speakers,” Brownstein said.

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“If we weren’t able to provide them with English services it would be confusing, sometimes unfair and very difficult for them to understand a lot of the important information that we provide.”

Brownstein says the municipality is not asking the province to change the law, just to leave it as is.

“We don’t even really know what the government is intending because they actually have to put out the regulation, they have to make their deposit,” said Beny Masella, president of the Association of Suburban Municipalities (ASM).

Masella said that from discussions with Jolin-Barrette’s office, the reform would only apply to ‘personnes morales,’ not residents. “So that’s companies, institutions, things along those lines,” Masella explained.

Read more: Quebec plans to expand French language law to federally regulated businesses

Jolin-Barrette is currently working on a language reform.

“As you know, we will deposit a draft bill aiming to ensure the protection, enhancement and influence of the French language,” wrote Elisabeth Gosselin, Jolin-Barrette’s spokesperson, to Global News.

“The minister was clear, the bill we will present will preserve and protect the rights of the Anglophone community in Quebec.”

The bill is set to be introduced in June at the National Assembly. As the minister works on his reform, Masella has a message.

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“I met with Simon Jolin-Barrette almost two years ago and I told him very clearly: I said, ‘You want to promote the use of French, I completely understand that. You can’t do it by trampling the rights of another community,'” Masella said.

“Promote is one thing. Hindering the rights of another community is completely different.”

Read more: What is Bill 14?

The ASM is planning to meet this week to talk about the issue. However, Masella said that if legislation revoking the bilingual status of municipalities goes through, they will likely fight back just like they did in 2013 when the Parti Québécois tried to take similar actions with its own language reform proposal known as Bill 14.

The bill did not become law.

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Politics, language and judicial independence in Quebec – Mar 10, 2021

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