QCGN President Marlene Jennings discusses the implications of Bill 96 for Quebec’s English-speaking and minority communities with CJAD’s Elias Makos.
The Quebec Community Groups Network says Bill 96 is wide-ranging, complex and represents a significant overhaul of Quebec’s legal order.
QCGN head Marlene Jennings told reporters today the bill seeks to modify 24 provincial statutes as well as the Constitution Act of 1867.
Jennings says the government’s pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to shield the bill from certain constitutional challenges creates a “charter-free zone” involving a wide array of interactions between citizens and the province.
The adoption of Bill 96 on official languages can have an “unpredictable and far-reaching” judicial impact, says the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), an organization made up of several English-speaking groups.
“There seems to be a consensus among the population, particularity with French-speaking Quebecers, who say there is no need to worry about Bill 96. We do not agree,” says QCGN President Marlene Jennings.
Quebec anglophones were bracing for the worst when Quebec Premier François Legault tabled his long-awaited bill to beef up protection for the French language last month.
But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.
As Quebec anglophones know after 45 years of language wars: the devil is often in the details. And after an exhaustive analysis of Bill 96, the Quebec Community Groups Network has detected some potentially explosive landmines buried within the draft law that could have profound implications — not only for English-speaking Quebecers, but for other minority groups, fundamental rights and freedoms, and the very bedrock of Canadian democracy.
“Bill 96 also calls for the most sweeping use of human rights overrides in the history of Quebec and Canada, ousting the application of both the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says QCGN President Marlene Jennings.
Bill 96 is Quebec’s legislation which aims to make French the primary language of the province. Bill 96 would also declare Quebec ‘A Nation’—a move that would require opening up the Constitution. What could possibly go wrong?
Premier François Legault says the main reason for the need is the declining use of French in Quebec. Supporters of Bill 96 see it as essential because there is so much English in North America.
On the other side of the coin, is minority rights as anglophones in Quebec start to feel targeted. What has many concerned is Quebec’s plan to use the Notwithstanding clause to get what it wants. Constitutional law experts are at odds whether Quebec can unilaterally change the Constitution, which further muddies the water.
QCGN legal counsel Marion Sandilands discusses Bill 96’s impact on Canadian federalism and English language rights in Quebec with Warren Kinsella and Peter L. Biro.
Non-francophones hold widely diverging views from French-speaking Quebecers on Bill 96, which aims to reinforce the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101).
A majority of anglophones and allophones also believe the debate over the proposed legislation will strain relations between the majority and minority communities.
“There is a reason for optimism here in that common cause could be built around opposition to the use of the notwithstanding clause,” says Marlene Jennings, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network. “Quebecers take enormous pride in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the inclusive, open and tolerant society we have built together. When what the Quebec government is proposing becomes more widely understood, my belief is that opposition to the use of the notwithstanding clause will increase.”
“It is no longer a question of modernizing the Official Languages Act. We have returned to the negotiation of the partnership between French and English in Canada,” QCGN President Marlene Jennings says of Bill 96 before the Senate Committee of Official Languages.
Jennings comments that the Trudeau government is proposing to “territorialize language rights by crushing the vision of linguistic duality in our country.”
Francophones and non-francophones are at odds over the Quebec government’s desire to amend the Constitution Act of 1867 to recognize the Quebec “nation” whose “official” and “common” language is French.
As many as 79.5% of francophones – but only 25.2% of non-francophones – “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that Quebec should be defined as a nation in the Canadian Constitution, according to a Leger poll commissioned by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) and the Association for Canadian Studies.
Within hours of the Meech Lake Accord on April 30, 1987, an Angus Reid poll conducted for Maclean’s magazine showed that 51 per cent of Canadians from coast to coast were in favour, 27 per cent were opposed and 22 per cent were undecided.
Condemnation of Bill 96 and Quebec’s self-proclamation as a nation was immediate: while all political parties represented in the House of Commons have indicated their approval, 70% of Canadians outside Quebec are opposed, according to the Leger poll commissioned by the Quebec Community Groups Network and the Association for Canadian Studies.
Some 25 years after an independence bid by Quebec almost broke Canada apart, a new push by the province to strengthen its French-speaking identity poses an awkward challenge for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau months before an expected election.
The Quebec Community Groups Network, which seeks to defend anglophones, said Legault’s proposed measures “override fundamental human rights and will erode the vitality of our English-speaking minority community.”
1819 René-Lévesque W.
Montreal, Quebec H3H 2P5
Phone: 514-868 9044
Fax: 514-868 9049