‘Fear and frustration’: Protesters protest Quebec’s language law

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, May 14, 2022 14:00 EDT

Last updated on Saturday, May 14, 2022 8:13 PM EDT

MONTREAL – On a blazing Saturday, protesters flocked through downtown Montreal to protest Quebec’s controversial language law, demanding it be repealed to preserve the rights of Anglophones, allophones and Indigenous communities.

The protesters, who gathered at Dawson College before marching more than two kilometers to Prime Minister Francois Legault’s office, made an 11-hour plea against the legislation, which aims to strengthen the province’s French-speaking charter.

Bill 96 is expected to be passed this month and would impose stricter language requirements on workplaces and municipalities.

It also aims to restrict the use of English in the courts and public services, grant search and seizure powers to Quebec’s language regulator, and restrict enrollment in English junior colleges called CEGEPs, where students should take more French courses. follow. †

Several thousand protesters drove home the bilingual element of Quebec society on Saturday morning, shouting chants of “Mon CEGEP, mon choix” and carrying placards that read: “I am not a second-class citizen.”

Marlene Jennings, a former Liberal MP in Montreal, said Bill 96 “breaks the social contract” with Quebecers, while Robert Leckey, dean of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, feared it would “get out of hand” over constitutional restrictions. .

“Everyone is allowed to use English and French in the courts of this province. It’s ingrained in the constitution. And if you want to use English in a court in Quebec, you need a judge who understands the language,” he said, addressing the protesters in English and French, like most speakers.

Leckey referred to provisions in the bill that state judges no longer need to be bilingual and that a company’s pleadings in court must be in, or translated into, French.

Bill 96 also preemptively invokes the notwithstanding clause, setting aside fundamental equality rights enshrined in both the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms.

“You know you’re in trouble when you hear ‘Notwithstanding Clause,'” sang Bowser and Blue, a musical comedy duo whose first performance was at Dawson College in 1975.

Russell Copeman, executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association, said he supports efforts to protect the French language but described Bill 96 as “discriminatory”.

“I think what you’re seeing is a depth of fear and frustration that is quite remarkable in the English community,” he said in a telephone interview.

Indigenous communities also have concerns about the so-called law.

“We are being recolonized under Bill 96,” said Kenneth Deer, a Mohawk Nation indigenous rights activist in Kahnawake. “We don’t force you to learn our language; do not force us to learn yours.”

Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer of the Kahnawake Mohawk Council said requiring young people to master a third language — French — has colonial undertones and would make it harder for them to succeed.

“Trying to encourage young people to learn our native language is a challenge in itself,” she said on the phone.

“We always want to encourage our young people to reach for the stars. But if they want to become a doctor, a lawyer or a nurse, all those professional assignments will now require a very strict French skill.”

Protesters mainly flocked to Sainte-Catherine Street, which is home to many shops concerned about the impact of stricter language rules in the workplace.

The changes would subject companies with 25 employees or more to “francization” — government certification that the use of French in the workplace is widely practiced. The current threshold is 50 employees.

According to estimates from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a company with about 50 employees would end up paying between $9.5 million and $23.5 million under the bill. Costs range from fees for translations and legal services to administrative burdens, such as doing a workplace assessment to ensure French permeates all corners of the business.

More than a dozen provincial and federal liberal lawmakers attended Saturday, including Dominique Anglade, Quebec’s liberal leader.

A cluster of pro-Bill 96 student protesters awaited the protesters outside the Prime Minister’s office. They had guitars and tambourines and greeted the protesters with a blast of classic Québécois songs by Jean Leloup and Gilles Vigneault.

They shouted “Vive le Quebec” and “Vive le francais” in between the lyrics. Protesters on both sides were draped in Quebec flags and several brawls broke out during the 30°C heat, but the overall mood remained optimistic.

Steban Carrillo, 21, a student at CEGEP Saint-Laurent and one of about 15 counterprotesters, said French is under threat.

“As we know, the working language in Quebec is French, so higher studies should also be done in French, at least until university,” he said.

The bill’s requirement that CEGEP students must take either three core French courses or three additional French courses worries others, as does a two-tier education system where allophones and French speakers in English junior colleges would have to take French proficiency exams while Anglophones take an English one.

“The bill affects our fundamental rights to justice, health care and education,” said Celeste Trianon, a new law student at the Université de Montreal.

Eric Maldoff, a Montreal attorney and president of the Coalition for Quality Health and Social Services, stressed that without clear communication, good health care is threatened.

“People will get hurt. Literally,” he said, noting that Bill 96 only allowed health services in English to “historic Anglophones” and, for six months after arrival, immigrants. “There will be errors in diagnosis, there will be a problem of informed consent.”

The legislation also raises questions about patient confidentiality, given the extensive powers granted to the Office quebecois de la langue francaise to search and seize files without a warrant based on anonymous tips, Maldoff said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 14, 2022.

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