TWO APPROACHES TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN CANADA

The Quebec Court of Appeal rendered judgement in March on an Act respecting the laicity of the State, commonly referred to as Bill 21. The complexity of the case before the Court cannot be overstated. Opponents of Bill 21 did a thorough job in challenging the legislation, but with one exception – the right of elected members of the National Assembly to wear religious symbols – none of the arguments succeeded.

The purpose of Bill 21 is reflected in the Act’s preamble, “to determine the principles according to which and manner in which relations between the State and religions are to be governed in Québec.”

This is an extraordinary statement by the National Assembly.  Constitutionalists will argue that these principles are enshrined in the fundamental freedoms enumerated in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the attending jurisprudence handed down over the years by the Supreme Court of Canada.  Others will argue, again in the words of the Act’s preamble, that “the Québec nation has its own characteristics, one of which is its civil law tradition, distinct social values and a specific history that have led it to develop a particular attachment to State laicity.”

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AN UPHILL BATTLE: HOMELESSNESS IN CANADA AND QUEBEC AND ITS LIKELY IMPACT ON THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING COMMUNITY OF QUEBEC

Homelessness and the housing crisis, two deeply interconnected social issues, are central concerns for contemporary Canadian policymakers. Housing affordability, defined by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Company as the ratio of average housing costs to after-tax income, continues to worsen.

In 2021, households buying average-priced homes in B.C. and Ontario spent 60 per cent of their income, and their counterparts in Quebec, 40 per cent of their income, with a national average of 4per cent. Structural conditions of low supply and cheap credit, coupled with high immigration, have exacerbated the crisis. To restore affordability, an additional 3.5 million affordable housing units are needed by 2030. Despite economic events like COVID-19 and rising interest rates, the housing bubble continues to grow. To tackle the crisis, the current Liberal government has launched initiatives like the Housing Accelerator Fund and removed the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on new rental constructions. However, increasing production costs and higher interest rates have compounded the difficulty of constructing new housing units. Policies have yet to make a significant impact on the crisis, rooted in cuts to social housing programs and a focus on building condos over affordable housing.

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PRODUCING REGULATIONS FOR PART VII OF THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT: ENGLISH-SPEAKING QUEBEC’S STAKE IN THE PROCESS

Part VII of Canada’s Official Languages Act ‘breathes life’ into Section 16(3) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that permits Parliament “to advance the equality of status or use of English and French”. It outlines the Government of Canada’s commitments to this aim and lays out the duties of institutions subject to the Act to ensure these commitments are implemented.

Part VII is critical legislative lifeline between the federal government and Canada’s English and French linguistic minority communities. It is also the principal Act through which federal resources are provided to the provinces and territories to fund services in the minority language. Among other things, these investments by the federal government help fund community sector organizations and support the Government of Quebec’s funding of our school system, and the provision of health and social services in English.

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CANADA, QUEBEC, AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL AGREEMENTS TO SUPPORT ENGLISH-SPEAKING QUEBECERS

How do different levels of government come together to provide support and assistance to Canada’s official language minorities?

Section 16(3) and 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Part VII of Canada’s Official Languages Act are the principal legal foundations through which the federal partner provides support to the country’s English and French linguistic minorities. The Act makes clear Canada must respect the jurisdictions and powers of the provinces and territories when so doing.

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A LANGUAGE RIGHTS REGIME FOR FEDERALLY REGULATED BUSINESSES?

Federal Bill C-13 has two main purposes. The first is to modernize Canada’s Official Languages Act. The second is to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act.

Many legal experts, including former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache, have expressed discomfort with the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act. The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) and many other voices from English-speaking Quebec are dead set against this.

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WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A COMMON AND OFFICIAL LANGUAGE?

At the House Committee on Official Languages’ meeting on Jan, 31, 2023, a Bloc Québécois motion to insert “French as the common language of Quebec” into Canada’s Official Languages Act (OLA) was defeated. A majority of MPs on the committee studying Bill C-13, which would amend the OLA were uncomfortable with the concept of a ‘common language’ being contained in Canadian legislation.

The QCGN does not support the use of the term “common language”, which was used in Bill 96 to unilaterally amend the Constitution Act, 1867.

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APPELLATE COURT HEARS CHALLENGES TO BILL 21

Over the past two weeks the Quebec Court of Appeal heard a series of arguments in defence and in contestation of Quebec’s secularism legislation: An Act respecting the laicity of the state (Bill 21). The bill, which passed into law in June 2019, was challenged before the Superior Court of Quebec in April 2021.

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MODERNIZING THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT: HOW THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT GOT IT WRONG WITH C-13

Bill C-13 is new legislation proposed by the Government of Canada to modernize the Official Languages Act (OLA). It also proposes to enact a new law – the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act.

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) opposes C-13 and is concerned about the new direction being proposed by the Government of Canada, in particular the long-term effects resulting from this change on the application of the OLA and on the language rights of English-speaking Quebecers.

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STAY GRANTED IN FIRST COURT CHALLENGE TO BILL 96

August 12, 2022 – Earlier today, Justice Chantal Corriveau of the Superior Court of Quebec handed down her judgment regarding a stay on the legal translation obligations of Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec.

In her decision, Justice Corriveau granted the stay – i.e. a legal ‘pause’ – on the application of sections 9 and 208.6 of the Charter of the French Language (modified by Bill 96), which were to come into effect on September 1. These two provisions require legal persons (such as corporations, non-profit organizations, and small businesses) to file certified French-language translations of all English-language documents submitted during court proceedings, at their own expense. This decision means that until the case is reviewed on its merits (likely later this autumn), sections 9 and 208.6 will not take effect.

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LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY AND USE OF ENGLISH AND FRENCH IN CANADA: 2021 CENSUS OF POPULATION

On Aug. 17, Statistics Canada is scheduled to release linguistic diversity and use of English and French in Canada data produced through the 2021 Census. This category of data release tends to generate intense media interest – especially in Quebec – and these Census results are being released at a particularly sensitive juncture, given that the Government of Canada’s C-13 An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts is making its way through Parliament.

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