The Coalition Avenir Quebec’s Bill 96 — aimed at protecting and bolstering the French language in Quebec — may have been passed into law earlier this week, but that has done little to quell the English-speaking community’s opposition to the legislation.
Quebecers Against Bill 96, a group created by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) , the English Parents’ Committee Association, the Quebec English School Board Association (QESBA), and the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations organized a rally Thursday afternoon in downtown Montreal inviting the community to voice its concerns.
Bill 96 was passed into law on Tuesday at the National assembly, by a vote of 78-29 with the governing CAQ and Quebec solidaire voting in favour and the Parti-Québécois and Liberals voting against.
While Quebec Premier François Legault touted the bill as moderate, Quebecers Against Bill 96 says the legislation is “far-reaching and discriminatory.”
QESBA executive director Russell Copeman spoke to Global News expressing his “sadness and frustration.”
“You know, we have long held that this bill is bad for English-speaking Quebecers, and bad for Quebec as a whole,” he said. “To see it adopted with very little change and, you know, very little improvement, is is disappointing.”
QESBA’s main concern is how the bill will affect education.
Prior to the adoption of the bill, foreign nationals temporarily in Quebec could send their children to English school for the duration of their stay in the province. That period has been shortened to three years.
The other issue of concern is that the bill could force internal communications among school boards to be conducted in French — even among English-speaking officials.
“That we may have to communicate in French only … doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Copeman said.
Indigenous leaders have also raised red flags, particularly when it comes to the requirement for students to take three additional French courses at the CEGEP, or junior college, level.
Kahnawà:ke Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, who attended the rally, fears students are being set up for failure. For most in the Mohawk community, French would be a third language after their traditional language and English.
“It’s already challenging and difficult for our young people to leave the community and go into the CEGEPs,” she said, adding the French-language requirement would be an additional burden.
Sky-Deer also pointed to a woman from the community who became a doctor but can’t practice in the province after failing on three occasions the French proficiency exam for professional orders.
“So what kind of message does that send to our young people who want to pursue higher education and work for our communities and even some of the northern communities that are English speaking?” she asked.
Indigenous communities had asked to be exempt from Bill 96, but in meetings with government officials, Sky-Deer claims they were told it would be the status quo for Indigenous Peoples.
“Well, then why not just provide the exemption?” she said. “I’m really interested to see what the government is going to come back with in terms of accommodation, our solution.”
In protest, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is freezing all formal talks with Quebec government officials until they get a get a high-level political commitment to find solutions.
“It’s not going to be nice the way we’re going to have to co-exist,” Sky-Deer said.
In the meantime, the council is looking at possible next steps including launching either a constitutional or human rights challenge or taking the matter up with the United Nations.
The list of objections to the 100-page bill’s 201 articles isn’t limited to those mentioned above.
Among them is that a judge does not need to have knowledge of another language other than French and that all communications between civil servants and immigrants who have been in Quebec longer than six months must be carried out in French.
The government fears French is under increasing threat in a province that is surrounded by an English-speaking population in North America, hence the need to protect it.
Critics, however, insist Bill 96 does more harm than good.
“I do not believe that the French language will be protected in any way by this bill,” said Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein. “All this law is doing is making anglophone and Allophone communities feel uncomfortable in this province.”
Legal challenges are already being planned to strike down the bill entirely or at least some of its provisions.