2023-2024 MILESTONES FOR ENGLISH-SPEAKING QUEBEC

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE

Navigating Turbulence: Advancing Community Rights Amid Challenges

There are times when I look back on the past year and – to paraphrase – marvel that so much effort was expended by so few on behalf of so many. I want to thank all of those who have been such a huge help to us as we navigated another year filled with turbulence and turmoil.

Success in the field of advocacy can be elusive, and it is important to always remember we are playing a long game as we seek to cement the rights and access our community expects and deserves and regain some equilibrium in the relationship between our minority community and the francophone majority in Quebec.

In the last 12 months, we have made the transition from thinking and talking about our renewal process to implementing it. We added more individual members and made it easier for more to join us. We are making operational changes to better address the challenges that continue to come our way – in daunting political climates in both Ottawa and Quebec City.

So even though we continue to live under the heavy thumb of a provincial government intent on using language and identity issues to bolster its sagging fortunes, we are making progress. And, as we approach the new era – we will celebrate during our 30th anniversary next year – we will be better prepared, better positioned, and better equipped.

Despite the turmoil, there was some good news for our community in the past year. The Federal Action Plan supporting Official Language Minority Communities invested $1.4 billion over five years to help meet the needs of minority-language communities and recognized the needs of the English-speaking community of Quebec. We objected when Quebec’s Minister for the French Language, Jean-François Roberge, complained that the funds should be redirected to francization programs and that none should support court challenges against provincial legislation. This demonstrated the Quebec government’s apparent view that we do not constitute an official-language minority.

Another burst of good news arrived in August, with the Superior Court’s determination that Bill 40, which abolished school boards, could not apply to the English-speaking community, which enjoys constitutional protection for the management of its schools. Our joy was muted when the Quebec government quickly decided to appeal that ruling, and we are joining the fight again.

It has not been the easiest of years for our community beginning with the struggle against federal Bill C-13, which incorporated Quebec’s Charter of the French Language into Official Languages legislation. Only Liberal MP Anthony Housefather had the courage to vote against it in Parliament. We went to the Senate to continue the fight, but in spite of some stalwart support mainly from Senator Judith Seidman and Tony Loffreda, we were ultimately unsuccessful. We are forever grateful to Housefather, Seidman and Loffreda for standing up for our community.

The QCGN’s primary and ongoing battle centres on debunking myths – particularly those surrounding what language hardliners describe as a drastic decline of the French language in Quebec. More nuance is needed! Despite evidence to the contrary, such as consistent growth in French language usage and education, misconceptions persist, fueling divisive narratives and policies. The QCGN tirelessly challenges these myths, advocating for evidence-based policies that promote linguistic harmony and respect the rights of English-speaking Quebecers and other linguistic minorities across Canada. By confronting falsehoods with facts and fostering constructive dialogue, the QCGN aims to dispel misconceptions and build bridges between linguistic communities, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and cohesive society in Quebec.

At the same time, we are emphasizing the need to find common cause with our francophone friends and neighbours. Where we are able to speak together on a broad range of issues, we diminish the government’s ability to establish and promote a divisive agenda. We may not always agree on language; we often do agree on inadequate health-care services, the state of our schools and roads, addressing a growing housing crisis and the pressing needs of those at the upper end of a rapidly aging population. Finding common cause opens the door to dialogue – and we need more of that, not less.

The waters continue to be turbulent and will likely be for the foreseeable future. Despite that, we have taken important steps over the last 12 months to better position our organization to represent the English-speaking community of Quebec and lead in the promotion of our rights and access to services. We will continue to anchor our community as a fully respected participant in the development of Quebec’s society – within Canada.

DIRECTOR GENERAL’S MESSAGE

Raising Our Voices: QCGN’s Advocacy for English-Speaking Quebecers

At the heart of the Quebec Community Groups Network’s mission is the unwavering advocacy for the needs, priorities, and rights of English-speaking Quebecers. The theme of this year’s Annual report “Raising Our Voices” encapsulates our commitment to amplifying the concerns and aspirations of our community.

Through strategic engagement with politicians and policymakers, collaborative efforts with members and stakeholders, and public campaigns, the QCGN aims to ensure that the voices of English-speaking Quebecers are not only heard but heeded. Working together we strive to dismantle barriers that impede our access to services in our own language (government services, education, health and social services, culture, heritage, and media, as well as justice) and to ensure the full participation of our community in Quebec society.

The QCGN’s advocacy efforts are multifaceted addressing both immediate challenges and long-term objectives. For instance, our vigorous opposition to legislative measures like Bill C-13, which incorporates elements of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language into federal law and Bill 15, which diminishes community involvement in health-care institutions and threatening access to services in English highlights our proactive stance in defending the linguistic rights of our community. By mobilizing thousands of Quebecers to sign petitions and open letters, we demonstrate the collective power of our voices in helping to shape public policy. These efforts are supplemented by our strategic use of communications tools and social media platforms that inform, persuade, and rally support for the cause and foster a sense of solidarity among English-speaking Quebecers.

The QCGN remains committed to advocating for balanced policies that protect minority language rights and promote linguistic duality in Canada. Last year, we actively monitored and advocated on various legislative and policy issues impacting English-speaking Quebecers. Key concerns included the passage of Bill C-13 at the federal level and Bill 15, which was rushed through the National Assembly before Christmas. Additionally, we opposed Bill 52, which uses the notwithstanding clause to shield Bill 21, Quebec’s state secularism law, from legal challenges. The QCGN also joined voices with universities and various stakeholders to oppose discriminatory Quebec policies targeting Canadian students registering to study at McGill, Concordia, or Bishop’s universities. Initially, the government planned to double tuition fees for out-of-province students. Despite adjustments to reduce the tuition hike, we emphasized the challenges presented by imposing a requirement for 80 per cent of out-of-province undergraduates to attain intermediate French proficiency by graduation.

In addition to legislative and policy advocacy, the QCGN places a strong emphasis on community engagement and empowerment. Through webinars, workshops, and town halls, we provide platforms for English-speaking Quebecers to share their experiences, exchange ideas, and collectively and individually advocate for their rights.

We are at the cusp of a new era for the QCGN. Consistent with what came out of the renewal process, we took a hard look at who we are, what we do and how we do it. Having made significant improvements to our membership structures and governance processes to increase member value and satisfaction, our renewal process is nearly complete. This has reinforced the QCGN’s leadership, making strong links between advocacy and community engagement. We also determined where strategic changes were required to our organizational structure. We are confident we will be able to exercise the talents of our teams in communications, membership and engagement, access to justice and policy and research to grow even stronger.

As we close off the year, I’d like to thank all the hardworking staff who continually dig deeper to keep us on track. They are innovative, energetic, and committed. We are also indebted to our volunteer Board members who give freely of their time, energy, and counsel for a cause they believe in. Thanks also to our many members and supporters who share our vision and support our mission. We simply would not be where we are today without the valuable contributions of our staff, board, members, and supporters.

By continuing to raise our voices, together we not only safeguard the interests of our community but also work to build a more inclusive and equitable Quebec for all. The QCGN remains steadfast in its mission, ensuring that the voices of English-speaking Quebecers are raised, heard, and respected.

2023-2024 QCGN BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Front row: Katherine Korakakis (Vice-President); Eva Ludvig (President), and Eleni Bakopanos. Back row:  Alix Adrien, Chelsea Craig, Eric Maldoff, Joan Fraser, Maria Kyres, and Peter Starr. Missing from photo: Matt Aronson, Jordan Black, Chad Bean, Grant Myers, and Marlene Jennings.

QCGN Pays Special Tribute to Retiring Board members Marlene Jennings and Joan Fraser

Former President Marlene Jennings has made enormous contributions to the Quebec Community Groups Network, helping guide the process of important reforms since she became president in 2020. An unflinching advocate of the English-speaking community, she continues to add her bold voice in support of our causes on a regular basis through her tireless activity on social media and in mainstream media interviews. Marlene broadened our outlook and expanded our outreach. She led us through a difficult time. I have relied on her experience not only as a former Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2011, but as a remarkable community leader. I want to add that her courage extends beyond her political life to her own circumstances. She has new challenges to face, and we will all cheer her on as she tackles this new adversity with vigour and determination.

The Honourable Joan Fraser, a former Senator and past editor-in-chief and editorial page editor of The Montreal Gazette, has been a pillar of strength in helping us craft powerful, coherent messages; as a participant in panels; and in accompanying me and other QCGN representatives to parliamentary committee hearings and briefings in Ottawa. The depth of her knowledge, her acute sense of the possible, and the respect she has earned in her various roles has rubbed off on us and helped us convey our messages to the right people in the right places at the right times. We will miss her wise counsel at the Board table – although not, I sincerely hope, informally. We thank her profusely for the time and energy she has devoted to the QCGN since she joined the Board in 2020.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND COLLECTIVE ACTION

Strengthening Partnerships to Foster and Promote Collective Action

Over the past year, the Quebec Community Groups Network galvanized its role as a backbone organization supporting the English-speaking community in Quebec. To help achieve a more vital community, we strengthened partnerships with a range of stakeholder groups and facilitated coordination among them. The QCGN supports the alignment of activities carried out by different community players and guides the vision for a more vital, visible, and influential English-speaking community. Together we advocated forcefully for a process of community development that is by and for the English-speaking community, creating opportunities for organizations, institutions, and individual members to work together to achieve what we cannot accomplish on our own.

For the past two years, the 2022-2027 Community Development Plan for English-speaking Quebec has served as a framework for collective action undertaken by the community sector to ensure the continued vitality of English-speaking Quebec. Much of this work is accomplished in cooperation with the Community Vitality Roundtables. These bring together dozens of dynamic community stakeholders to establish shared priorities and a common agenda for community development. When speaking with government partners, we all emphasize the importance of government resource allocations aligning with the Community Development Plan which is shared and endorsed by QCGN members, both organizational and individual, as well as by multiple community stakeholders across Quebec. We continue to collaborate with the Roundtables to leverage new funding emerging from the Action Plan and to ensure our partners within the Department of Canadian Heritage and other departments funded under the Action Plan better understand our community’s evolving needs and priorities.

With support from members and partners, the QCGN has advocated for sustained federal investments resulting in increased core funding for community sector organizations and new project funding in the Action Plan for Official Languages 2023-2028: Protection-Promotion-Collaboration. Launched on April 26, 2023, the plan allocated $2.7 billion in funding for Official Language Minority Community (OLMCs). Early in 2024, groups currently funded by Canadian Heritage, including the QCGN and many of its organizational members, received an automatic 12.5 per cent boost to increase the capacity of organizations eroded by inflation in recent years. A further 12.5 per cent top-up will be available to groups in the coming year to meet community priorities and emerging needs. An additional $17.5 million has been set aside for community media internships, a new youth initiatives fund, and $2.5 million in programs to develop Quebec’s English-speaking communities through Arts, Heritage, and Citizen Participation. The plan also includes new funding for projects like the Social Partnership Initiative which funds the Community Innovation Fund.

Community Vitality Roundtables

After two years, the Community Vitality Roundtables celebrated successes such as collaborative reports on funding challenges and the creation of a shared online database to enhance organizational capacity.

An initiative of the Roundtables, the QCGN last year partnered with the Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation (CEDEC) and YES Employment + Entrepreneurship to study and explore the crucial connection between economic development and community well-being. The resulting report, titled Economic Development and Community Vitality: A Report on the Federal Funding Streams Available to the English-Speaking Community of Quebec, highlights the insufficient funding allocated to Quebec’s Official Language Minority Community (OLMC) through major federal economic-development programs. The report issues six recommendations to address these disparities in funding and to empower English-speaking Quebecers and their organizations to thrive economically and culturally. The QCGN also collaborated with the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) to implement a public polling initiative to support community development. The results will assist the Roundtables in tracking the evolution of the Community Development Plan and inform the development of a ‘community vitality report card’ that will monitor progress toward achieving collective goals outlined in the Plan.

Community Empowered Literacy Initiative

Developed and led in strategic partnership with Literacy Quebec, the Community Empowered Literacy Initiative (CELI) enjoys a unique position straddling two important sectors: literacy and employment and employability. Along with direct capacity-building support to groups through grants and professional development, CELI’s strategic goal is to cultivate intersectoral partnerships between organizations with an eye to long-term sustainability.

CELI is supporting seven pilot projects that assist vulnerable and marginalized English speakers to develop literacy and other essential skills to help them succeed. Empowered with $3 million from Employment and Social Development Canada, these initiatives have benefitted 212 English-speaking Quebecers while strengthening the English-speaking community and organizations in the literacy and employment and employability sectors. In addition, 94 individuals participated in professional development opportunities for both funded partners and members of Literacy Quebec.

Launched in 2021, this five-year project established a community grants funding stream; commissions and distributes timely research; and offers professional development for practitioners working in English language literacy and essential skills, and employment and employability.

As the fiduciary for the CELI project, the QCGN is tasked with managing the funding agreement with ESDC. This includes overseeing project expenditures, contracts, financial and activity reports, and cash flow forecasting. Along with Literacy Quebec and the QCGN, CELI’s Project Advisory Committee includes the Provincial Employment Roundtable (PERT), the Regional Development Network (RDN), and the Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation (CEDEC).

Community Innovation Fund

The lives and prospects of some 1,500 vulnerable young people and seniors across English-speaking Quebec were greatly improved with the completion of a second round of projects supported by the Community Innovation Fund (CIF) that wrapped up in June. This was marked with the launch of a series of documentary videos and a promotional booklet celebrating the success of the 10 projects which benefitted from $1.1 million in funding to lead innovative projects to support vulnerable English-speaking youth and seniors.

Each of the funded groups tailored an approach to community needs that addressed significant obstacles in accessing employment and services – in an environment where community vitality is also often rendered more challenging by needs for improved French-language and computer skills. The projects helped individual participants find jobs, fight isolation, or learn new skills through employability programs, internships, and job training.

While tackling critical needs and gaps in services across Quebec’s sectors and regions, each of the projects reached new audiences and clientele. The one-time pilot funding, distributed through the QCGN, also fostered the growth of several non-profit organizations. The measures, for instance, allowed some to access core funding and others to launch new strategic plans. As well, some of these organizations were able to strengthen their governance practices and increase awareness of the challenges faced by their communities.

Early in 2024, we were invited to apply to ESDC’s Social Partnership Initiative, part of the 2023-2028 Action Plan for Official Languages. If successful, this funding will allow QCGN and its partners to continue to grow CIF. Stay tuned!

MEMBERSHIP AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH

Membership and Governance Structures Enhanced to Better Serve English-speaking Quebecers

With valuable contributions from our members and close stakeholders, the QCGN has been empowered to implement substantial improvements to our membership structures and governance processes. These changes now ensure that our Network includes a broad and more representative body of English-speaking Quebecers. As a result of formal consultations and insightful conversations over the past year, and substantive reflection, we are confident that as we continue to implement improvements to the overall member experience, we will generate improved value and satisfaction for our members.

With our renewal process now in the final stages, the proverbial finish line is finally in view. We are confident that the results have solidified and reinforced our credibility as a community advocate and both the ability and effectiveness of our network to work collectively on behalf of English-speaking Quebecers. We are pleased to observe how the broadening of our Network and the inclusion of individual members reinforces the essential link between advocacy and community development.

Education constitutes one of the cornerstones of our membership strategy. In 2023-2024, members and stakeholders attended more than a dozen QCGN professional development and capacity-building workshops and webinars. Topics included the impact of Bill 96, which dramatically extended the scope and power of Quebec’s Charter of French Language – creating new obligations and imposing fresh restrictions on community groups. Another looked at the potential and anticipated impacts of Bill 15, which pushed through an over-centralization of Quebec’s health and social services system in a way most likely to impair the community’s governance of its health care institutions and simultaneously threatened to restrict access to health care in English and jeopardize the status of bilingual institutions. We also hold regular consultations and town hall meetings with members and close community stakeholders. These discussions included an introductory pre-consultation on Part VII of the Official Languages Act and the creation of the new regulations expected to help strengthen and support Canada’s linguistic minority communities. The QCGN will continue to host webinars, workshops, forums, town halls, and similar events to inform and engage the community on critical issues. By equipping our community with knowledge and tools, we empower our constituents to become more successful and audacious advocates for the full exercise of their rights, and more active participants in shaping their future and that of successive generations.

In addition to the collaborative work carried out with our members and stakeholders throughout the past year, the QCGN also hosted our first members open house since implementing individual membership and enjoyed the revival of our annual holiday breakfast at QCGN headquarters. Along with our Annual Meeting of the Members in June 2023, these activities provided rich and rewarding networking opportunities allowing and encouraging our members to learn more about each other and the many activities in which our Network engages to promote the vitality and long-term viability of Quebec’s English-speaking community.

ADVOCACY AND GOVERNMENT RELATIONS

In a Turbulent Year, Legislative and Policy Challenges Proved Particularly Daunting

The QCGN served an active and vocal advocacy role during the past year on a host of legislative and policy issues of concern to English-speaking Quebecers. Particularly worrisome was the ultimate passage of Bill C-13 introduced by the federal government to modernize the Official Languages Act. The QCGN’s primary apprehension, expressed in a multitude of ways, was the incorporation of elements of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, as amended by Bill 96, into federal legislation. We warned repeatedly that this invited a diminishment of the federal commitment to the English Official Language Minority Community (OLMC) of Quebec. We argued such a measure could lead to a reduction in federal support and resources for our English-speaking communities and disproportionately favour the French language in Quebec at the expense of English-speaking Quebecers – and ultimately undermine the rights and services available to Quebec’s English-speaking minority. The QCGN continues to emphasize the need for a balanced approach that protects minority language rights across the country while protecting and fostering the core Canadian value of linguistic duality.

On the provincial front, a handful of new bills raised profound concern, notably Bill 15. The legislation centralizes health services under a new health authority – Santé Québec – which will have significant control over the provision, delivery, and governance of health and social services. Passed with limited debate, this legislation abolishes local institution boards, reducing community governance and potentially jeopardizing English-language services. The QCGN and other health advocates warned that this power shift from local service centres (CISSS and CIUSSS) to a centralized body could jeopardize the status of bilingual institutions and could trigger revocations and reductions in the quality and quantity of English-language services, particularly for the regions. In an unprecedented public step, six former Quebec Premiers wrote an open letter deeming the bill “dangerous.” A QCGN petition demanding more consultations garnered 6,400 signatures in 16 days and was presented in the National Assembly by Westmount MNA Jennifer Maccarone. Additionally, the QCGN strongly objected to Bill 52, which renews the use of the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect Bill 21, Quebec’s state secularism law, from judicial challenges.

Keeping an eye on the courts

Our community was profoundly disappointed when the Quebec Court of Appeal largely upheld Bill 21, which restricts religious symbols in certain public sector jobs, despite the notwithstanding clauses in both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Quebec’s Secularism Law prohibits employees in positions of authority (such as teachers, judges, and police officers) from wearing or displaying symbols of their religion, including hijabs, kippahs, turbans, or ostentatious crucifixes while at work. The QCGN fully defends fundamental rights and laments the removal of recourse under either the federal or provincial Charters that flowed from the Quebec government’s use of notwithstanding clauses. This legal tactic tied the court’s hands. We were also disappointed by the Court’s narrow interpretation of minority-language education rights. Represented by human rights lawyer Julius Grey, the QCGN plans to continue its legal intervention as the case inevitably moves to the Supreme Court of Canada – where we are hoping for a broader interpretation of minority-language education rights.

In sharp contrast, our community celebrated a landmark victory when Quebec Superior Court struck down parts of Bill 40, provincial legislation aimed at centralizing decision-making in education. In a comprehensive 129-page ruling, Justice Sylvain Lussier struck down parts of Quebec’s Education Act that were modified by Bill 40. He emphasized the government’s duty to consider the English-speaking community’s concerns and to conduct meaningful consultations. The decision also rejected the narrow definition imposed by the government regarding who can vote in school board elections and serve as a commissioner. The ruling expanded voting eligibility to include all citizens with the right to register their children in English schools, whether those children are of school age or not, and to any individuals who have ever held that right. Emphasizing the crucial importance of education rights in preserving cultural and community vitality, the QCGN hailed the ruling as a significant triumph for both Quebec’s English-speaking community and official language minority communities across Canada. The QCGN and others urged the Quebec government not to appeal the decision and to respect the Charter rights of the English-speaking minority, to no avail.

Woes in wake of Bill 96

In the aftermath of Bill 96, which recognizes French as the common language of Quebec, the QCGN maintained pressure on the provincial government by monitoring and documenting incidents where citizens were deprived of public services in English. While top elected officials of the Government of Quebec and municipalities spoke about relying on the “good faith” of citizens in invoking entitlement to English-language services, numerous unfortunate incidents emerged, in our view, to demonstrate a clear absence of good faith. In turn, these led to the institution of certain legal actions contesting the validity of the law – actions launched even in the face of the enormous obstacle constituted by invocation of the notwithstanding clause to shield this legislation from judicial scrutiny. The QCGN also raised awareness on the impacts of the bill on small businesses. These would have to contend with additional paperwork by profiling the linguistic capacities of their employees and deal with additional signage restrictions to follow in the coming year. The QCGN also monitored other regulations introduced by the government in the aftermath of the bill’s passage. CEGEPs were particularly hard-hit by the imposition of stricter language requirements for admission that focus on proficiency in French as well as the obligation to take French-language courses.

The QCGN took a particularly active role, in the media and elsewhere, during the battle to reverse university tuition-fee hikes for Canadian students originating from outside Quebec studying at McGill, Concordia, and Bishop’s universities. French-language requirements threw a huge monkey-wrench into recruitment strategies and stirred tumult into the financial viability of these educational institutions. Unfortunately, the government pushed through with only minor adjustments. The QCGN maintained pressure on the government during the 2024 pre-budget consultation in January. We called for support for our school boards, CEGEPs, universities, and other institutions having to deal with the adverse financial fallout stemming from government legislation, regulations, policies, and programs. We also advocated for increased funding for community groups; equity in the funding of organizations serving the English-speaking community; and cooperation in accessing federal government funding.

Policy and Research

The QCGN’s Policy and Research Unit supports the organization’s advocacy efforts by developing evidence-based public policy options for issues affecting English-speaking Quebecer. As the only community sector organization in Quebec with this strategic capacity, we collaborate with experts on matters affecting the vitality of our community. This year, we partnered with the Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN) for Senate studies on Bill C-35 (early learning and childcare) and minority-language health services access. Additionally, we worked with the Quebec English-language Production Council (QEPC) and English Language Arts Network (ELAN) in consultations with the CRTC on implementing Bill C-11, which amends the Broadcasting Act and introduces new consultation requirements.

The QCGN actively ensured that English-speaking Quebec participated in consultations on the development of new regulations for Part VII of Canada’s Official Languages Act (OLA), which aims to promote the equality of English and French in Canada and outlines the federal government’s commitment to enhancing the vitality of Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs) and supporting their development. The OLA’s revisions include expanded obligations for federal institutions and increased responsibilities for the President of the Treasury Board, making certain policies mandatory. It also includes provisions for monitoring federal institutions’ consideration of language clauses in intergovernmental agreements. The QCGN developed five principles to help English-speaking Quebecers advocate for regulations that support the needs and priorities of our linguistic minority communities. Emphasizing community engagement, the QCGN held a town hall as the first of many such events as the OLA modernization calls for increased consultation with linguistic minority communities.

The QCGN conducts original research, both independently and with community partners, to support its public policy positions. Recent projects include a study on the policy interests of English-speaking youth and another identifying gaps in homelessness data that would help stakeholders and governments understand the impact of housing insecurity on English-speaking Quebecers. We are also documenting the history of federal investments in Quebec’s English-speaking community. Additionally, the QCGN collaborated with Statistics Canada to prepare for the post-census Survey on the Official Language Minority Population, which collects data on education, access to services, and language use among official-language minority communities. This survey aims to provide a better understanding of the current situation of these communities.

We also participate actively in community research events. This year, our Director of Policy and Research presented a paper to the Quebec English-speaking Communities Research Network (QUESCREN) Education and Vitality Forum. We are working with the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations (QFHSA), the English Parents’ Committee Association (EPCA), and other education and community stakeholders to organize a major conference on English public education to be held in September.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN ENGLISH

Fallout from Bill 96 Sharpens Focus of Access to Justice in English Team

The exemplarity of the French language requirement embodied throughout Bill 96 is now being applied throughout Quebec’s public service. A number of very serious legal challenges in this regard are already wending their way through various levels of the justice apparatus. And all of this tumult has been highlighted by an extraordinary volume and depth of related media coverage.

The question of access to justice in this new language-law context is of more grave concern this year. QCGN’s Access to Justice in English in Quebec (AJEQ) team chose to concentrate its resources on what can still be done in English before Quebec’s administrative tribunals during this post-Bill 96 era. Our work focused largely on the experience of English-speaking Quebecers as they participated in the less formal administrative tribunals which adjudicate common legal issues in such areas as housing, social assistance, and employment. The team performed its own legal research, conducted numerous stakeholder interviews, and engaged in a series of on-site visits. Additionally, an independent legal opinion was commissioned along with a province-wide survey of more than 1500 English-speaking Quebecers by a neutral polling firm.

Procedures in common law courts have been standardized and are predictable with regard to meeting Canadian constitutional requirements to ensure access in the English-language, this work determined. However, many administrative tribunals have not yet implemented clear or transparent policies to translate these linguistic obligations into standard practice. This has fostered haphazard, often inconsistent results. Circumstances and outcomes vary widely, depending on the parties involved, the approach taken by the presiding judge, the attitude of tribunal staff assigned, and other variables. The Justice team proposed 19 recommendations for the Quebec Bar, the Quebec Ministry of Justice, and administrative courts. These recommendations include:

  • Implementing detailed directives on English-language services as mandated by the Constitution of Canada;
  • Providing legal forms and documentation in English;
  • Requiring administrative judges to ensure all parties understand proceedings;
  • Collecting comprehensive data on the demand and availability of English-language services; and
  • Increasing the availability of voluntary English-language training for judges and court staff.

This year, the QCGN’s Justice and Policy teams held a webinar in collaboration with Seniors Action Quebec to share and discuss recent findings on access to English-language seniors services across Quebec. This constituted the first in a series of webinars designed to leverage the work of the AJEQ team to raise awareness and better inform members of our community – as well as organizations that serve them – how to better avail themselves of their rights and of the public services at their disposal. The presentation highlighted issues such as the striking absence of English documentation on available health-services; the lack of English-speaking professionals for English-speaking patients; and a general environment of anxiety surrounding any submission of complaints about health services. A fundamental recommendation flowing from the webinar was that community organizations must seize the initiative to bridge the gap between those responsible for providing senior services and the beneficiaries who experience access difficulties. Sometimes the issue is centred on the need to disseminate accurate and reliable information. Or it can be that services need to be on hand to aid in communication or with attendance at medical or social services appointments. In these and other areas, the community needs to step up, propose projects, request government funding, and deliver.

Our Access to Justice in English team collaborated with our Policy and Communications teams to completely revamp the Language Rights section of the QCGN website. Given the drastic changes imposed by new legislation, this was essential to stay abreast of the multitude of changes which exert an impact on the rights of English-speaking Quebecers. From federal Bill C-13, which updated Canada’s Official Languages Act and upended a half-century of symmetry, to Quebec’s Bill 96, a major extension of scope and powers of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, the last several years have confronted the English-speaking community of Quebec with a broad array of direct and indirect impacts on what services are accessible to English-speaking Quebecers and how we are – or are not – served in our own language. Each section on the extensively revamped and expanded Language Rights page includes a brief explanation of the legislation; QCGN’s perspective, which in turn links to our media and policy statements; legislative briefs; a roundup of media coverage and commentaries. There are also an array of additional resources encouraging members of the English-speaking community to delve deeper into these various rights – as well as the tools to assess how new legislation has limited and modified them.

The AJEQ team also continues to gather information and monitor the impacts of Bill 96 on the English-speaking community through an online survey. It also maintaining up-to-date content and resources on various topics of law in the areas of criminal justice; education; family; employment; and housing.

COMMUNICATIONS AND MARKETING

QCGN Communication Channels Keep English-speaking Quebecers Informed

With the lion’s share of QCGN’s activities revolving around various forms of advocacy and community and member engagement, it is no surprise that the QCGN is heavily focused on communications. Successfully advocating for the rights and priorities of our official-language minority group requires conveying diverse messages to different publics and doing so effectively and in a timely manner. We employ a multifaceted communication strategy to raise awareness on issues affecting English-speaking Quebecers. Through traditional media channels, newsletters, and social media, we inform, persuade, and mobilize the community and policymakers to drive positive change that will have an impact on the vitality of our community.

While we did not succeed in obtaining major changes to either piece of legislation, our communications vehicles remain an effective means to inform English-speaking Quebecers and engage them in the ongoing battle to preserve and protect the rights of our minority community. Continued mobilization will be required in the coming years.

Despite these ongoing and amplifying challenges, the QCGN has bolstered our reputation and effectively communicated with various audiences. In the middle of a growing news desert, the QCGN is an ongoing and important source of news for and about the English-speaking community. Our free subscription Daily Briefing delivers a daily dose of news of concern to our minority community to hundreds of English-speaking Quebecers as well as journalists, politicians and political staffers, francophone and anglophone alike. Appearing six times a year, our Network News provides more and more members, stakeholders and English-speaking Quebecers with the news and views of the QCGN. It gained some 400 new subscribers over the past year bringing our total to 1,379 subscribers and growing. Furthermore, the Weekly Update from the desk of our director general provides more than 200 “insiders” – that is individual and organizational members – with timely information about the activities of the QCGN, our network and our community.

The QCGN also engages with different demographics through social media on platforms such as X, formerly Twitter, and Facebook, where we amplify our messages and continue to attract a widespread following. Additionally, our corporate website, which attracts significant traffic from Google and other web-based search tools, acts as a repository for forward facing material about the QCGN, our members and activities as well as extensive information about the rights and priorities of English-speaking Quebecers. A new Members Portal also provides network members with a place to gather and share useful information and to register for QCGN activities such as webinars, workshops, and town halls. Most of those activities are recorded and available on our YouTube channel.

Our multipronged approach to communications and consistent online presence has contributed to the success of initiatives, such as a petition demanding a rethink of Bill 15 – the Coalition Avenir Québec’s massive reorganization of health and social services – which garnered some 6400 signatures in less than two weeks. Across multiple platforms we also encouraged more than 3,000 Quebecers to sign an open letter urging Parliament to amend Bill C-13 to remove all references to the Charter of the French Language and calling on the federal government to ensure that all language rights created by Parliament are extended to both official languages – English and French. While we did not succeed in obtaining major changes to either piece of legislation, our communications vehicles remain an effective for informing English-speaking Quebecers and engaging them in the ongoing battle to preserve and protect the rights of our minority community. Continued mobilization will be required in the coming years.

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WEEKLY UPDATE

106

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223
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117
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DAILY BRIEFING

359

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657
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298
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518

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3,446
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The Quebec Community Groups Network acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada and the Action Plan for Official Languages 2023–2028: Protection-Promotion-Collaboration through the departments of Canadian Heritage, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Justice Canada.