Resilient and Resolute, the QCGN Stands Up for Our Minority Language Rights
Since my election in October 2020, I have been meeting with many QCGN members and community partners. I am pleased with the reception and especially gratified by the open and frank discussions about the QCGN, the state of our community, and where we should go from here. Everywhere I hear one main message: concern about language legislation and how it will erode the rights of Quebec’s English-speaking minority community.
As 2020 drew to a close, English-speaking Quebecers were witnessing the relative language peace we enjoyed for many years start to evaporate. Signals were starting to emerge of unprecedented changes to both federal and provincial language legislation.
Continue reading Marlene’s message
As 2021 began, federal Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly tabled a policy paper as the basis for protecting and promoting French not only outside of Quebec, but also within. In Quebec City, Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette was ramping up to table legislation that would enforce and reinforce the Charter of the French Language, more commonly known in our community as Bill 101.
For most of us, demoralizing and divisive debates over language policy are nothing new. I am truly disappointed that, after decades of relative language peace, we again find ourselves mired in yet another struggle as we stand up to build an inclusive Quebec. But stand up we must.
It is more critical than ever that our voices are both heard and heeded. Much still needs to be done to explain our concerns to our communities and our legislators, and to demand and achieve appropriate change. In the coming months, the QCGN will continue to highlight the contribution English-speaking Quebecers make to this province as we promote a more open, more inclusive Quebec. We are determined to serve as a crucial and constructive voice as we work our way through emotional and sometimes hostile debates. As language debates continue to boil over, I encourage all to take part in a respectful manner so we can work together to chart a more positive path forward.
While we have been battling to protect the language rights of English-speaking Quebecers, we have been carrying out, in the backdrop, our renewal initiative to update our governance and structures to ensure stronger advocacy for our community. We also want to ensure the QCGN is more representative of the community we serve. This will reinforce our legitimacy as the main voice for English-speaking Quebecers. That means reaching out to more and diverse voices all across Quebec. My fellow board member, Matt Harrington, has been leading this process.
I want, very sincerely, to thank my predecessor Geoffrey Chambers, who began this vital renewal process, as well as Matt and all my fellow board colleagues. Their participation has been unfailing throughout these busy and very demanding times. I also want to thank all the QCGN staff who have supported all this work with expertise and dedication.
DIRECTOR GENERAL’S MESSAGE
Charting the Way Through Turbulent Times
The start of our fiscal year in April 2020 coincided with the beginning of the most serious public health crisis in Canadian history. We soon learned how resilient our staff, community, and government partners were, as we rapidly adapted to new and virtual ways of getting things done.
The QCGN immediately understood how essential it was for members of our linguistic minority community to access quality information in our language. We went to the barricades leading multiple initiatives to assist our community while advocating with the provincial and federal governments for timely and equitable access to information in English. We insisted on a standard of service whereby the province systemically include English-language communications when addressing public health and other public emergencies. The health and safety of English-speaking Quebecers must never be treated as an afterthought.
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Throughout 2020-2021, the QCGN maintained contact with federal institutions and provincial agencies, ensuring English-speaking Quebec’s access to programs, and feeding back our COVID lessons learned to our government partners. But language policy and advocacy dominated our year as Ottawa and Quebec prepared and tabled new language legislation.
These legislative curveballs will have enduring impacts on our community. The QCGN responded by launching a major, multi-year awareness campaign to help English-speaking Quebecers understand our language rights. We hosted more than a dozen educational webinars. We conducted multiple briefings for federal, provincial, and civic leaders. Throughout, the QCGN maintained constant contact with members and community partners. We shared policy and legal analyses and gave voice to their concerns.
When the pandemic hit, our community was working together under the leadership of the QCGN to develop strategies for more effective mobilization and collective action. The public health crisis forced us to postpone key events as we pivoted to assist our member and partner organizations in navigating uncharted waters. In addition to providing much-needed resources, these activities strengthened the connective tissue that brings together our community.
Meanwhile the QCGN intervened to support strategic litigation challenging Bill 40, An Act to amend mainly the Education Act with regard to school organization and governance; and Bill 21, An Act respecting the laicity of the State.
We sincerely thank all our Network members and partners for helping the QCGN successfully navigate an unprecedented and enormously challenging year. We count on your continued participation, partnership, and support to capitalize on this momentum as we continue to build together.
POLICY AND ADVOCACY
Looming Upheaval in Language Legislation Dominates Advocacy Activities
Upcoming changes to both federal and provincial language legislation will have significant and long-term negative impacts on English-speaking Quebec. These dominated this policy year. The Speech from the Throne in September and the Government of Canada’s subsequent discussion paper on modernization of the Official Languages Act signaled a significant shift in federal thinking on official languages. Legislative pursuit of the notion that French is in need of special protection in Quebec would imperil the rights of English-speaking Quebecers and could spell trouble for equitable access to federal programs for English-speaking Quebec. It also constitutes a threat to national unity, we argued in February before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages. Given the push to expand the scope of the Charter of the French-language (Bill 101) to cover the operations of federally regulated businesses in Quebec, we proposed a counterbalance: that English-language consumers and workers in Quebec communicate with these businesses in the official language of their choice.
With many of the same goals in view, the Government of Quebec was preparing to table legislation to enforce and reinforce its French-language legislation and regulations. The QCGN met with Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette and MNA Christopher Skeete, parliamentary secretary to the Premier for Relations with English-speaking Quebecers. Both reassured us that the rights of English-speaking Quebecers would not be negatively impacted by upcoming legislation.
The year was characterized by our various advocacy measures to minimize the multiple impacts of the public-health emergency on linguistic minorities including our own. We insisted that timely communication is critical for rapid risk reduction during public-health emergencies. This was exemplified by our response following delivery of a unilingual French-language COVID-19 Self-Care Guide to every Quebec household. Understanding the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on vulnerable populations including seniors and shut-ins, the QCGN and stakeholders successfully advocated for the government to mail out an English version to English-speaking Quebecers. The QCGN communicated the financial concerns of community sector groups during the pandemic and our community’s strong desire to be fully included in economic recovery efforts. We emphasized how the pandemic demonstrated the importance of government services in official and other languages.
In a year also marked by the Black Lives Matter movement, the QCGN in early May joined a coalition of community groups in the Côte-des-Neiges district of Montreal and the Center for Research on Race Relations (CRARR) to demand that provincial and municipal public health authorities devote more attention and resources to support vulnerable residents during the pandemic – especially racialized and English-speaking citizens.
Because access to services in our own language is particularly essential when receiving health care and social services, the QCGN has been working to increase understanding of these rights for English-speaking Quebecers. Our ongoing project financed by Quebec’s Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux has been producing a series of information tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of our right to receive health care and social services in our own language. Carried over into 2021-2022, our work will include development and implementation of an appropriate and effective promotion strategy.
Grassroots Input Links Advocacy to Community Needs and Priorities
The pandemic delayed but did not derail our community development process. Adapting to the public health crisis, we pivoted on-line to pursue our consultations for a community development plan for English-speaking Quebec.
Throughout the summer, we engaged a diverse group of opinion leaders to assess community priorities while developing a deeper understanding of the QCGN’s evolving role as an advocate and interlocutor for our community. This input helped lay the foundation to design and facilitate the creation of a Community Development Plan by and for Quebec’s English-speaking community.
We held our long-anticipated Working Together for a More Vital Community Forum – virtually, of course – in September 2020. Dozens of members and stakeholders reviewed the common priorities emerging from consultations the previous year. These priorities included needs for: additional funding for community groups; increased best-practice-sharing and capacity-building; and development of a more collaborative and evidence-based approach to community planning. This must be accomplished while recognizing the unique challenges and situations of organizations within our community.
Embracing the par et pour model of community development, our Forum enhanced our grasp of challenges facing English speakers and the community groups that serve us. Particular issues included: community identity; collective action; and strengthening advocacy. The message was loud and clear. Our community of communities must address common challenges by working better together.
We followed up with consultations and roundtable discussions in December, and through February and March to identify and discuss gaps in public policy that weaken the vitality of our community. We closed off the year in March with a Building a More Vital Community Together Forum focused on building capacity and structured networking. Using active listening and ongoing dialogue, our process ensured a more grassroots approach to advocacy, linking our policy work to community needs and priorities. As a result, we are well on our way to developing a Community Development Plan as a framework to achieve together what we cannot on our own.
Community Innovation Fund 2.0 Successfully Launches 10 Projects
Our 10 Community Innovation Fund (CIF) projects were successfully launched despite the obstacles and operating uncertainties imposed by COVID-19. These innovative grassroots projects equipped some of Quebec’s most marginalized English-speakers with a variety of skills and addressed key social gaps across diverse sectors and regions. The benefits include decreased isolation for English-speaking youth and seniors. This sometimes life-changing work also nurtures vitality for their particular communities. Simultaneously, our grant recipients established deep connections with one another. Working together, our funded partners created a Community of Practice to enhance organizational capacity and ensure a targeted approach to strengthening capabilities for front-line service providers in Quebec’s English-speaking community. Now in its second round, the Community Innovation Fund is financed by Employment and Social Development Canada through the Social Partnership Initiative in Official Language Minority Communities, a component of the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities.
Project Equips Community for Improved Access to Justice in English
In 2020-2021, the QCGN’s Access to Justice in English in Quebec Project renewed its community-based governance and volunteer support structures. We recruited a more diverse range of lawyers and academics as well as volunteers, service providers, community members, and other key experts more directly linked to access to justice issues in our identified target areas.
With funding from Justice Canada, the project is focussed on three areas where members of our community must deal with many obstacles and hindrances that stem from our minority language status – Youth and Family; Seniors; and Administrative Justice. The ultimate goal is to ensure public authorities fully assume their obligations to respect and respond to the rights and needs of Quebec’s English-speaking community and its members.
This year, work concentrated on the equitable delivery of English-language services across all programs in federal correctional facilities where needs proved particularly compelling because of an ongoing and serious lack of resources for incarcerated and post-incarcerated individuals.
The project has also been accelerating the development of its online platform to help expand public awareness about access to justice in English. This is a foundational component of ensuring the rights of English-speaking Quebecers and responding effectively to community needs. Going online in 2021-2022, the platform aims to provide broad access, in English, to information; professional and community resources and service providers; and tools to navigate the justice system. The platform also aims to continuously engage and mobilize stakeholders in developing and supporting research, policy positions, and strategic interventions to improve access to justice for English-speaking Quebecers. Operationally, the goal is to ensure our online platform is simple as well as intuitive and that it facilitates greater analysis of justice issues and needs for English-speaking Quebecers. This will help identify future areas for additional targeted interventions.
Statistical Literacy Project Broadens Capacity of Community Organizations
With its inaugural session during the summer, our Statistical Literacy Project trained 11 interns and staff from community organizations to improve statistical literacy. We fostered youth engagement at the same time, to lay groundwork for succession and organizational renewal. Despite pandemic challenges, five students and six community members in our training bootcamp acquired skills and hands-on confidence required to: seek out data; properly understand and assess different kinds of statistics available; and effectively communicate the results. We then put them to work within community organizations to assist with data and statistical needs. Statistics Canada provided valued assistance in developing the project’s curriculum approach. Funding to finance internships was furnished by Employment and Social Development Canada. Our student interns received steady support, coaching, and feedback from QCGN’s project manager, a position funded by Canadian Heritage. After the initial training, our English-speaking participants worked in their home regions, including the Lower North Shore and the Gaspésie. The project proved a resounding success. It can be adapted as a model for other sectors and regions to similarly assist and empower other official language minority communities.
Pandemic Pivot Amplifies our Performance and Presence Across All Media Platforms
We all became Zoomers in 2020-2021. Due to the pandemic, the QCGN and our member organizations pivoted online to deliver events and content in new and innovative ways.
Fully grasping the need for English-speaking Quebecers and the organizations that support and serve us to access quality information in our language, our communications and policy teams quickly created and maintained a Coronavirus information hub providing an extensive inventory of federal, provincial, and municipal government assistance programs and measures as well as hundreds of community resources and online tools – all in English.
Faced with upcoming language legislation, we also created a new Language Rights section on our website providing and linking to timely information, proposed legislation, and policy briefs. It also features an informative new Policy Matters blog. These initiatives helped broaden public understanding of the QCGN’s policy positions and advocacy actions centred on our minority community’s perspectives and rights. It further entrenched the QCGN as the go-to organization for credible information that expresses and explains the concerns and priorities of English-speaking Quebec.
For the QCGN, an earlier decision to create a greater presence on YouTube was greatly enriched by the creation of video content from multiple webinars, town halls, and other online events. This multiplied our presence, following, and impact across social media platforms as we delivered and archived essential news and information. We have also been much more active on Twitter and Facebook. Along with an uptick in our Twitter following, in we hit a milestone 2,000 Facebook likes in October 2020.
Thanks to proactive media relations outreach for traditional media, the QCGN solidified our significant presence in newspapers, on television and radio outlets, and on the web. We issued 15 news releases; wrote, translated, and submitted more than a half dozen commentaries and opinion pieces; and conducted dozens of media interviews. From proper access to COVID-19 information in English to the seismic shift in federal and provincial language legislation, we widely disseminated our community’s concerns and QCGN’s perspectives.
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We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada and the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities through the departments of Canadian Heritage, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Justice Canada; as well as the support of the Government of Quebec through the Secretariat for Relations with English-speaking Quebecers and the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux.