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English school board officials square off with Quebec French language minister at Bill 96 hearings

Click to play video: 'English school boards take stand at Bill 96 hearings' English school boards take stand at Bill 96 hearings
WATCH: Quebec's English school board representatives squared off with Quebec's minister responsible for the French language at hearings on Bill 96 today. The proposed law is the government's ambitious attempt to update Bill 101 and the minister says the new bill will not negatively affect English institutions. But as Global’s Dan Spector reports, those institutions beg to differ – Sep 23, 2021

At the public hearings on Bill 96 on Thursday, the heads of the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) went head to head with Quebec’s French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

The proposed law is the government’s ambitious attempt to update Bill 101. The minister says the new bill will not negatively affect English institutions but those institutions beg to differ.

“There is nothing in Bill 96 that affects the rights of the English-speaking community here in Quebec, or the institutions. I want to reassure that,” Jolin-Barrette told Russell Copeman and Dan Lamoureux, the executive director and president of QESBA, during the hearing.

Copeman disagrees, saying the CAQ government’s new initiative to make French language laws stricter will affect anglophones.

Read more: Task force says Bill 96 hearings need more English representation

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“I don’t know how you can say that there’s nothing in the bill that affects the institutions of the community. I mean, that’s patently not correct,” Copeman told reporters.

Copeman and Lamoureux got into some tense exchanges with the minister during the hearing.

Click to play video: 'Backlash in Quebec over Bill 96 French language law overhaul' Backlash in Quebec over Bill 96 French language law overhaul
Backlash in Quebec over Bill 96 French language law overhaul – Sep 23, 2021

“English schools are perfectly capable of preparing young people to integrate into Quebec society, and to speak French,” Copeman told Jolin-Barrette.

In response, Barrette read a quote from Bernard Tremblay, president of the Quebec CEGEP Federation.

“And I quote,” said Jolin-Barette, citing Tremblay. “‘I have heard from directors of English CEGEPs that the French of anglophones who went to English school boards is awful, and they don’t speak French, or pretty much don’t speak French.'”

The Bill 96 hearings began Tuesday at the national assembly and will see nine total days of testimony about the proposed law from concerned groups and individuals.

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“We have serious preoccupations,” Copeman said.

Read more: Official languages commissioner concerned by Quebec’s plan to expand Bill 101 to federal businesses

One of his worries is the bill’s plan to limit how long foreign nationals can have their children study at English schools, possibly hurting already declining enrolment.

“Any measure that reduces that number is going to have a negative effect on the quality of education that we can provide,” he said, explaining that the parents of U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris were able to enrol her at Westmount High School under the current rules.

The association is expressing concern the bill could limit its ability to communicate in English with other organizations, and worries if the government uses the bill to declare French the province’s only official language, contradicting the Canadian constitution, unilingual judges can be hired.

“Is it not possible that that’s going to reduce access to justice in English? These are questions that I think need to be clarified,” said Copeman.

The hearings will continue until Oct. 7.

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