'I decided to leave,' says one international CEGEP student as Bill 96 looms

Quebec students say they aren't buying the way Premier François Legault is describing the proposed strict language laws for CEGEPS.

"It's too bad to see that some people would like to see a bilingual Quebec," the premier said Thursday, "because in practice it would mean it would be a question of time before we lose the utilzation of French."

He was reacting to student protests held at many English CEGEPs on Thursday.

But the students say there's much more than just language at stake in the proposals in Bill 96, the law set to come to a vote soon in Quebec City.

Whether they are already fluent in French, as many English-speakers are, or not comfortable in the language, as is the case for many international students, the law is already making serious changes to their education, they said.

"The system now is really stressful for international students," said Avery Wong, who was protesting at John Abbott College.

"Me, myself, I actually decided to leave because I just don’t see myself learning French within two years."

The bill would require English-speaking CEGEP students to take three extra courses in French and, for those who don't hold English language rights, a French proficiency exam to graduate.

Others said the bill will limit access to education in a bigger sense.

"It limits the accessibility of higher education in English, whether you're coming from a French high school or an English high school," said Pratham Mehta of the Marianopolis Student Union.

"With the cap on enrolment, spots will significantly be lower, and competition will grow."

The bill caps enrolment at English CEGEPS at 2019 levels, permanently limiting their growth, even as the population grows.

At the Marionopolis protest, some put red Xs on their face masks to signify that they weren't consulted on the bill.

"At 16, 17, 18 years old, in my opinion, we should be allowed to decide what kind of education we want to have for ourselves," said student Emily Hong.

At Dawson College, students got out their phones on the spot and had a mass emailing session, writing to their MNAs to urge them to vote no on the bill.

One student said it isn't about resenting French, and that many students agree that protecting it is an important goal. But there are other crucial things at stake, too, they said.

"We are absolutely for the promotion and protection of the French language," said Arwen Low of the Dawson Student Union.

"But this just isn't the way to do it."

Students who are immigrants, or in Quebec on a student visa, said the bill will put them in a tough position, especially if they're already trying to master English.

"We already know there's enough statistics about how hard it is to get a job generally, especially sometimes for racialized people here in Quebec,"said Yves Gusslin Maniratanga.

"It's going to be even harder if you're not going to be able to have a good mastery of the English language."

Pratham Mehta of Marionopolis said that "it divides the population, it divides cultural groups in Quebec."

The vote on the bill is expected to be held by the end of the current legislative session in early June.

--With files from CTV's Angela Mackenzie and Iman Kassam


Breaking News alerts, info on contests, and special offers from partners