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Quebec’s new language bill creates ‘charter-free zone,’ English rights group warns

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.

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Polls reveal divisions over language rights

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.”

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WHAT EXACTLY IS THE NOTWITHSTANDING CLAUSE, AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Canada’s Constitution includes an ‘entrenched’ bill of rights; the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our Charter comprises 34 sections of the Constitution Act, 1982. Thus, it enshrines our fundamental freedoms and rights. These include our democratic, mobility, legal, equality, and official language rights.

With Confederation, the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty (or supremacy) in the Westminster tradition of government was adopted by Canada and the provinces. In its purest form, a legislature can enactor repeal any law it chooses. From the beginning, this doctrine has been limited by Canada’s federal framework, which allocates legislative powers between the national government and the provinces.

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New official languages plan aims to end the decline of French in Canada

The federal government recently unveiled an ambitious new official languages plan to modernize the 51-year-old Official Languages Act.

It’s the most significant proposal on the status of French and English in Canada since the 1982 enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which entrenched the main provisions of the 1969 Official Languages Act in the Canadian Constitution. The last major reform to the act was in 1988.

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