Thousands of English-speaking Quebecers, but also Francophones and allophones, gathered in downtown Montreal on Saturday morning to signal their opposition to Bill 96 on the French language of the government of François Legault. Here are four of their demands.
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Once the draft overhaul of the Charter of the French language has been adopted, all CEGEP students in English-speaking CEGEPs will have to pass three additional French courses to obtain their diploma. Francophone and allophone CEGEP students must pass the uniform French test.
For Kevin Contant-Holowatyj, a graduate of Dawson College, this bill “contravenes the rights of future CEGEP students”. He was among the protesters who marched from his college to the Montreal office of Quebec Premier Francois Legault.
Kevin Contant-Holowatyj and Juliana Saroop
Juliana Saroop criticizes the government for putting obstacles in the way of French-speaking students who wish to study – and work – in English. “Instead of improving the conditions of Quebecers, we are limiting Francophones [dans l’accès à des postes d’entreprises internationales]says the Dawson College nursing student.
The director general of the Quebec English School Boards Association, Russell Copeman, for his part, deplores the fact that English school teachers were not consulted by the Quebec government in the drafting of the bill. In his opinion, preventing students from studying in the language of their choice is an infringement of “individual freedoms”.
The history professor at Dawson College Jérémy Tétrault-Farber, meanwhile, criticizes Quebec for “restricting access to education”, adding that the best way to protect French education would be to invest in schools that are “poorly run and underfunded”.
“Bill 96 violates our rights and will have an impact on our young people and our community, fears the head of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (CMK), Jessica Lazare. We are in the process of revitalizing our language and our culture and this bill is going to impact all of our efforts and set us back.”
Jessica Lazare (left)
In fact, on Tuesday, indigenous leaders called on the government to exempt their communities from the bill. The leader of the APNQ, Ghislain Picard, is particularly concerned that young Aboriginal people, “the first occupants of Quebec”, will leave the province for their post-secondary studies, a situation he considers ironic.
“I understand what it’s like to have your tongue pulled out and I strongly believe it’s not the right way to do it,” says Jessica Lazare. She wants Bill 96 to be dropped completely.
Some protesters fear a greater division between Anglophones and Francophones in Quebec if Bill 96 is passed by the government of François Legault.
“Dividing a population is never healthy for a society,” argues Russell Copeman, who criticizes Premier François Legault for wanting to present Anglophones as “bad Quebecers.”
“We are very aware of the importance of the French language, of protection and promotion, but we have to do it in an inclusive way, we have to do it for all Quebecers,” says the chef. of the Quebec Liberal Party, Dominique Anglade, who took part in the rally. She was accompanied by several of her deputies.
The Liberal leader says the bill “divides” and accuses François Legault of arrogance. “The best example of that is that yesterday, François Legault decided not to participate in the debate in English, when he had done so in 2018,” she laments.
Bill 96 provides that the Government of Quebec must use French “in an exemplary and exclusive manner when it offers services to the population, subject to certain exceptions”.
However, Anglophones are worried about not being able to receive health and social services in their language, if doctors and nurses had to communicate in French with their patients.
Rebecca Tittler worries about Anglophones who don’t speak French well enough to receive health services in Molière’s language, like her 95-year-old mother. According to her, it can be difficult to express oneself in a second language in situations of vulnerability.