Editorial: There are many reasons to oppose Bill 96

New language legislation will hurt not only many English-speaking Quebecers, but the province as a whole.

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As the clock ticks down toward passage of Bill 96, nobody seriously expects Saturday’s protest march to prompt a governmental charge of heart. Still, there is value in a cry of indignation and pain about a law that will hurt not only many English-speaking Quebecers, but the province as a whole.

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While it would be unrealistic to think that this highly problematic overhaul of Quebec’s language legislation will be shelved, maybe, just maybe, at the eleventh hour, a groundswell of protest could bring at least a few improvements.

Among the most problematic elements of the law is how it redefines Anglos. The rules governing eligibility for English schooling are, essentially, to be applied more broadly with respect to the right to receive other government services in English, which, according to the Quebec Community Groups Network, will leave out 300,000 to 500,000 English-speaking Quebecers. New arrivals are to receive a six-month grace period, but that’s it.

And then there is the practical problem of how a service-provider is supposed to figure out whom it’s ok to serve in English. Application of this law will be unwieldy and chaotic. Another example of that can be found in the way in which the provisions affecting CEGEPs will create administrative nightmares for the colleges, along with reduced opportunities for many.

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In the health and social services sector, there will inevitably be a negative impact on the availability of care in English, particularly, but not only, for those who are not rights-holding “historic Anglos.” Measures to discourage making bilingualism a hiring qualification will have a predictable practical result, even where theoretical rights may exist. Given that effective communication is a prerequisite for effective care, it is essential that the government explicitly exempt this sector from the bill.

Indigenous people should also be exempted from the bill’s requirements. Indigenous leaders especially have objected to the requirement to take additional CEGEP courses in what for some is their third language.

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For businesspeople of all backgrounds, there will be more red tape as francization requirements will apply to companies with 25 or more employees (instead of 50 or more) and as those wanting to make bilingualism a condition of hiring will potentially have to justify that to the authorities. More paperwork and more constraints — just what businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic need! And whether companies are compliant or not, they could be visited by language inspectors newly armed with warrantless search-and-seizure powers. The bill’s use of the notwithstanding clause — largely shielding this and the rest of the bill’s provisions from legal challenges — is further evidence of its abusive nature, and should alarm all Quebecers.

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Access to the courts in English also will be constrained, practically, by new rules affecting the naming of judges and requiring certain court documents to be in French.

Further, the bill’s provisions purport to amend the Canadian Constitution by writing in Quebec nationhood and a declaration that French is Quebec’s only official language. The legality and practical impact remain to be seen.

This is not 1977. Today’s English-speaking Quebecers are the ones who did not take the 401, or have since come here by choice. Most of us speak French and want to see the language flourish.

Quebec is our home, too, and that should be better acknowledged. We are not a threat, we are an asset. It’s high time our government started treating us as such.

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