Quebec’s newly adopted law to protect and strengthen the French language will soon face a legal challenge from the province’s largest English-language school board.
The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) voted in favour of launching a court challenge on Thursday evening at an extraordinary session held to discuss the issue.
The decision comes only two days after the law, known as Bill 96, was passed by a vote of 78-29 at the Quebec legislature.
The controversial legislation proposes tougher language requirements, including in the education and business sectors. It also extends certain provisions of the existing language law to businesses of 25 or more employees and limits enrolment at Quebec’s English-language junior colleges, known as CEGEPs.
Bill 96 also invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to shield the legislation from Charter challenges.
Premier François Legault described legislation as “moderate” earlier this week, saying it was his responsibility to protect the French language. Critics, meanwhile, argue the scope of the bill goes too far and could limit access to health care and justice.
In a statement, the EMSB said it supports protecting the French language but “measures to protect the French language in Quebec cannot violate the constitutional rights of Quebecers.”
Despite being broadcast live on the EMSB website, much of the meeting was held in camera or behind closed doors, meaning members of the press and the public were not privy to the discussions.
Some of those in attendance at the meeting did voice concerns about the school board taking on its own legal challenge, citing costs and time.
In its statement, the EMSB said it has mandated a legal firm to “institute on its behalf the appropriate legal proceeding to contest the validity of Bill 96.”
“I wish to invite other anglophone institutions and any organization interested in basic human rights to join or support this legal proceeding,” EMSB chair Joe Ortona said.
Aside from the school board, other organizations and groups are mulling over what to do now that Bill 96 is law.
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake said it was looking at possible next steps, including either a constitutional or human rights challenge. It is also considering taking the matter up with the United Nations.
Earlier this week, Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said he’s concerned about the law’s impact on the rights of Indigenous people but said it is too soon to talk about federal involvement in a possible court challenge.
He said any federal participation in a court challenge would be related to matters of federal jurisdiction and would only come if a challenge starts in Quebec.
— with files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press