Quebec English advocacy group calls for withdrawal of Bill 96

Bill 96 undermines the rights of English speakers and threatens social and linguistic peace, according to the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), which is calling for the bill to be withdrawn.

The English-language advocacy organization was participating Tuesday in the National Assembly consultation on Bill 96, a sweeping reform of Bill 101, or the Charter of the French Language, sponsored by the minister responsible for French, Simon Jolin-Barrette.

In a voluminous brief some 50 pages long, the QCGN ripped Bill 96 to shreds as a legislative document that it said is "politically motivated," undemocratic and a threat to the fundamental rights of the English-speaking community.

The group concluded that it is not "welcome" in Quebec in this context.

“Bill 96 is nothing less than the greatest upheaval in Quebec's legal system since the Quiet Revolution," said Marlene Jennings, a spokesperson for the organization.

As the government prepared to hold hearings into the bill, the QCGN recently conducted its own parallel consultation, receiving 26 briefs that it attached to its official submission.

Jennings's reading of Bill 96 leads her to believe that the Legault government is preparing to restrict access by English speakers to public services, she said, including health and municipal services, the justice system, and primary, secondary and CEGEP schooling in English.

The impending legislation is also likely to harm the business community, according to the group.

If the government refuses to withdraw its bill, the organization says it should at least abandon the use of the notwithstanding clause, because the future legislation will deny citizens "the right to seek redress through the courts when their fundamental freedoms and legal rights are threatened.”

The organization, which participated in the consultation by video conference, said it also believes that the government's desire to have the Quebec nation and its only official language explicitly recognized in the Canadian constitution should be tested by the courts through a reference to the Quebec Court of Appeal.

In her opening remarks, Jennings switched from French to English.

“The QCGN disagrees with the government's view that French is in sharp decline in Quebec and that it is therefore important to provide a better legislative framework for it. French is still in a good position in Quebec," she said.

Another spokesperson for the group, former Liberal cabinet minister Clifford Lincoln, called the government's approach "coercive, negative.”

SSJB: against CEGEP in English

At the other end of the political spectrum, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB) has come out to demand that Bill 101 also apply to CEGEP, and not only to elementary and secondary schools, as is currently the case.

English education is reserved for children with at least one parent who attended English school.

The SSJB is also asking the government to abandon its $100-million expansion of English Dawson College and its other project to expand McGill University.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 28, 2021.

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