MONTREAL – Quebec is under the microscope at a legal hearing on a proposed amendment to its French-language charter, with participants expressing concern this week about the impact of the bill on English speakers and the independence of the judiciary.
Presented at the May Table, Bill Que is Quebec’s plan to upgrade Bill 101, the province’s French-language charter, first adopted by the Renেনে Levesque government in 1977.
The government of Premier Francois Legalt has described his proposed reform as a reasonable response to research by the French-language office in Quebec, which indicates that it is declining in the French provinces, especially in Montreal.
“It’s time to dump her and move on,” said Simon Jolin-Barrett, the minister in charge of the French language.
The bill is still going through the legal process but has attracted national attention during the English-language federal election debate. Moderator Shachi Kurl described Bill 96 as one of Quebec’s two “discriminatory” laws, the other as Bill 21, which prohibits some public sector workers from wearing religious symbols.
Bill 96 unilaterally changes the Constitution of Canada to ensure Quebec as a nation and French as the state language. It also includes 200 amendments aimed at strengthening the status of the French. These include calls for stricter sign laws, more language requirements for business and less access to English-language junior colleges.
The Legalt government has called for the bill to be protected from the charter challenge despite the Canadian constitution.
The Quebec Community Group Network, an umbrella organization representing English community organizations, has called on the Legalt government to withdraw the bill or at least remove the significant clause.
“Bill 96 proposes the most comprehensive reform of Quebec’s legal order since the quiet revolution,” said Marilyn Jennings, the network’s executive director. “This change requires serious discussion and debate within Quebec society.”
Jolene-Barrett said English-speaking institutions would be respected.
“I want to reassure the English-speaking population … that this bill is for inclusion, to include every Quebec in Quebec, that everyone is part of society,” he said. “We are not taking away any rights from anyone in that bill.”
The network agreed that it was important to protect the French language, but disagreed that it was declining in the French provinces. The party has called on the government to seek references from the Quebec Court of Appeals on the constitutionality and meaning of the constitutional amendment.
The Quebec Bar Association told the hearing that the bill undermines the independence of the judiciary because it eliminates the need for the province’s judges to be bilingual.
The association also questioned a section of the bill that said the French-language version of the law would take precedence over English-language translation, which it said could be a violation of the constitution. Article 133 of the Constitution states that both federal and Quebec law must be enacted in both languages and that this article does not fall under the article nonetheless.
For its part, Council de Patronat, which represents Quebec employers, has expressed concern about the impact of the bill on small businesses. The bill obliges 96 companies to work in French with 25 employees or more – less than 50 employees, creating more red tape for smaller companies.
And while part of the bill would limit the company’s ability for job applicants to speak a language other than French, the Employers’ Council said it did not consider the impact of companies doing business in the rest of Canada or internationally.
The responsibility rests with the businesses, which must show that they have adopted “all reasonable means” so that knowledge of any language other than French is not required.
The council said the move could have the perverse effect of limiting the recruitment of certain candidates, especially among marginalized populations. “In a global economy like ours, speaking multiple languages has added value and should not be punished.”
Another topic of controversy is the entry into English-speaking junior colleges, known as CEGEPS. Language extremists, such as the Society Saint-Jean-Baptiste, argue that admission to these schools should be strictly restricted and subject to certification, which currently prohibits most Francophones and immigrants from attending English-language primary and high schools.
The government has opted for a moderate approach, refusing to extend the certificate to junior colleges but has introduced caps on students who can attend.
Guy Rusher, an educator and sociologist and an architect of Bill 101, said that in 1977 the government made a mistake by not including junior colleges in the main language law. Rusher, now 97, suggested that the government at the time did not know how important the junior college system would become.
“Things have changed, the context has changed,” Rocher said. “If I’m here because I’m worried about the future of the French language. At my age, I have a right to worry about the future.”
The consultation will run until October 7.
Written by Siddhartha Banerjee
This News Originally From – The Epoch Times