The Quebec Community Groups Network says it has serious concerns about the far-reaching implications of Bill 96 after conducting a lengthy and detailed legal analysis of the bill.
“Most people don’t realize the real implications and consequences of this bill if it’s adopted,” QCGN head Marlene Jennings said of the newly proposed language law. “It’s worrisome. We could have literally hundreds of thousands of Quebecers who receive their public service in English at their request being denied that.”
The organization calls it the most sweeping overrides of human rights ever seen in Canada.
They have several major areas of concern, which include:
- Access to justice and the right to use English in the courts.
- A further decline in enrolment at English schools.
- The new rules will introduce complicated constraints on when an agency can communicate with the public in English.
- Many municipalities will lose their designated bilingual status if they don’t pass a resolution to maintain it.
- New laws mean all federal institutions may have to follow Quebec’s language laws, including federally regulated institutions that normally would be subject to the Official Languages Act.
- Language inspectors will have too much power, even having the right to inspect private phones and computers in businesses to make sure use of French is being followed.
- Use of the notwithstanding clause to recognize that “Quebecers form a nation” could be based on language.
- The bill will see a sweeping override of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter.
- Concerns it will create essentially a charter-free zone in Quebec.
At the court level:
- Litigants will need to attach French translations to pleadings drawn in English.
- English judgements will need to be accompanied by French versions.
- Judges will only need to speak French to get appointed to the bench.
Commerce and labour relations:
- Narrowing the use of non-French on signs.
- Strengthened role of francization committees in the workplace.
- New requirement that all consumers have the right to be served in French.
“Here is the question we need to ask over and over: why does protecting the French language require the blanket suspension of human rights?” Jennings said.
The bill has some Indigenous groups also raising red flags.
“This nation which wants to build its credibility on the world stage is going to do it on the backs of minorities, not just First Nations but minorities overall? It’s a bad way to start as a nation,” said Serge Simon, Kanesatake grand chief.
Constitutional experts worry about a major disregard for civil liberties.
“I think everyone should be worried,” said lawyer Julius Grey. “Nobody should be allowed to go in and invade the private life of individuals which may be on their phones for something as unimportant as how many people may have spoken French last week.”
Grey is also concerned that most politicians at the provincial and federal levels are not voicing any opposition to the bill.
“I am particularly saddened that all of the political parties are silent. Nobody is speaking,” he said.
For his part, Francois Legault says the law hasn’t passed yet.
“We think it’s a balanced bill, but we will be open in the next few months to consult the population,” he said.
The QCGN hopes the federal government will send the bill for a reference to the Supreme Court before it becomes law.