After years of relative calm, Bill 96 is troubling and recent amendments are not reassuring. In 2022, the QCGN will continue to speak.

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In 2021, human rights and minority rights in Quebec took a turn for the worse.

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After years of relative calm, English-speaking Quebecers have been thrust into another language storm, centered on the Avenir Québec Coalition’s government reform of the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101).

Among its many flaws, Bill 96 would set aside basic rights by invoking the clause however to circumvent the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The courts would be powerless to review and remedy abuses of the fundamental rights of Quebecers.

This betrays the values ​​of Quebecers and Canadians. The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse is among the multitude of Québec voices raised against this abusive approach.

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In Ottawa, the federal government is poised to reintroduce legislation that would undermine protections for minority languages. Meanwhile, the treatment of Chelsea teacher Fatemeh Anvari demonstrates how using the clause nonetheless to eradicate minority rights can be detrimental.

When Bill 96 was introduced last spring, the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) conducted a comprehensive analysis of its impacts. We didn’t like what we saw: a fundamentally flawed bill that was described by former journalist and senator André Pratte as “Bill 101 on Steroids.”

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We have repeatedly urged the government to withdraw the bill and start over, this time with broad public consultations on how to protect and promote the French language, a goal supported by all Quebecers. If not, we made 14 recommendations in our report to the National Assembly to limit potential harm in the bill.

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Two amendments approved so far are not reassuring. The modification of the preamble by the Minister of Languages ​​Simon Jolin-Barrette adds the phrase “sur le territoire du Québec”. This, he explained, would allow Quebec to impose Bill 101 on companies regulated by the federal government here. Another, moved by the Parti Québécois MNA Pascal Bérubé, adds “only” to the sentence: “French is the only common language of the nation of Quebec.”

We are deeply concerned about the implications of Bill 96 for Quebecers who are not fluent in French, particularly vulnerable people such as the elderly, people with learning disabilities, the homeless and immigrants.

Concerns about adverse impacts on Quebec’s English-speaking minority multiplied exponentially in October when Prime Minister François Legault laid out his restrictive definition of “historical Anglophones.” It confirmed that under Bill 96, only people eligible to attend English school could receive services from the Quebec government in English.

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English-speaking Quebecers are not a folk “historical” group. We are an integral part of Quebec with full rights to participate in Quebec society and to receive government services in English. We are Quebecers in their own right and committed to building an inclusive Quebec where French is the common language, as indicated in an open letter to the Prime Minister signed by some 4,200 Quebecers.

It is essential to preserve the right to receive health and social services in English that is guaranteed in Quebec’s health law. Bill 96 should include an explicit exception to this right.

Finally, we are seriously concerned about the implications of a proposed unilateral amendment to the Constitutional Law of 1867 that would recognize that “Quebecers form a nation; that French will be the only official language of Quebec; and that French is the common language of the nation of Quebec. “We continue to urge the government to send a reference question on constitutionality and the meaning of this to the Quebec Court of Appeal.

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Amid the increasingly divisive debates, Quebec needs a calm and reasoned voice to continue to present evidence-based solutions. In 2022, the QCGN will continue to serve as an unwavering voice for our community as we work with others to help build a more inclusive Quebec.

Marlene Jennings is president of the Quebec Network of Community Groups.

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