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Controversy in Quebec as more French students choose English college

“Simon Berube loves Quebec, its culture, French language and people, but he and his parents decided the best thing he could do for his future was to enrol in one of the province’s English-language junior colleges.”

Many French-speaking Quebecers are choosing to attend Quebec’s English CEGEPs, a choice that could be revoked pending Parti Québécois’s win in 2018 elections.

Geoffrey Chambers, VP of the QCGN, says the English-speaking community of Quebec is used to have its institutions threatened by political parties, and this debate merely is identity politics.

Read the article in the National Post

Bill 101’s track record is one quiet evolution

This op-ed was published in the Montreal Gazette on August 31, 2017 and co-signed by James Shea, president and Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president.

“Bill 101’s adoption 40 years ago marked a milestone in Quebec language politics. To better understand its significance, we must see it as part of a longer continuum. History, nuance and context will best serve as our lenses.”

The Charter of the French Language did not make French the sole official language of Quebec. Premier Robert Bourassa did that in 1974, with Bill 22. He was, in turn, building off Union Nationale premier Jean-Jacques Bertrand’s Bill 63. That 1969 law sought to establish French as the working language.

Similarly, the operation of the Charter of the French Language has evolved significantly through the four decades that followed its adoption in 1977. Bill 101 initially restricted the use of English in the courts and the National Assembly. It asserted that laws must be adopted only in French. Those limitations were stuck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1979.

Restrictions preventing English schooling in Quebec for the children of Canadians educated in English in other provinces were ruled unconstitutional. Rules governing signs and many other provisions have also been the subject of successful court challenges. The second government of premier René Lévesque substantially amended the Charter. Other significant changes were made on six subsequent occasions.

Bill 101 remains a perennial prospect for judicial review. For example, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 26.3, grants parents “a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” To protect the French language in Quebec, the Supreme Court has allowed this right be abridged for most Quebecers, a group that includes all francophones and all non-Canadian migrants. However, this suspension of civil liberties for the vast majority of Quebecers can only be temporary and transitional. Their underlying rights are not erased forever. Instead, these rights are suspended, to allow a period of adjustment. Current rules that govern access to English schools could and should eventually be changed by the courts, without any change in Bill 101 itself.

So while the Charter may have brought language peace, or at least a climate of much reduced strife, it is not a carved-in-stone defining instrument of language practices. Rather, it should be viewed as one of the controlling elements in an evolving discussion about social practices.

Even Bill 101’s most basic asserted principle — its ringing declaration that “French is Quebec’s only official language” — is on closer examination a resounding statement of intention that flies in the face of constitutional, legal and practical reality. The right to use English is constitutionally guaranteed in the courts, in the legislature and in English schools. Further, it is legally guaranteed in health and social services legislation, whenever citizens deal with Revenue Quebec and in hundreds of other circumstances protected by various Quebec statutes.

The federal Official Languages Act recognizes official language minorities in all provinces. The English-speaking community of Quebec is by far the largest and in many ways the most complex.

The government of Quebec has denied and ignored the existence of an official language minority. How can there be such a thing in a jurisdiction with one official language?

Now, however, a dialogue has begun to create a secretariat in the premier’s office to address the needs of the English-speaking community and to begin to remedy the profound ignorance and indifference of the Quebec civil service to the fact of English Quebec.

Yes, our four decades under Bill 101 and our roughly half-century of language legislation have given rise to very real and relevant grievances. But this evolving process has also fostered discussion, provided us opportunities to engage and presented us venues to argue in our interest. Things don’t ever stay the same. And they don’t always get worse. Let’s work to make them better.

Madeleine Meilleur takes herself out of the running for languages commissioner job

“Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly says her controversial pick for the position of official languages commissioner is withdrawing her candidacy.”

In a letter to the Minister, Madeleine Meilleur expressed regrets for the controversy surrounding her nominations, and also concluded that her ability to perform would have been compromised. Opposition Leader, Andrew Scheer, mentioned that such appointment embarrassed the current government.

Community groups from both minority languages in Canada welcomed Meilleur’s decision to back down. Vice president Geoffrey Chambers felt relieved of such conclusion, since the process itself was the problem. Starting it over again might lead to less disappointment if all parties are consulted, he added.

Read the article on CBC News website

Proposed new electoral map an ‘attack’ on the Anglo vote, lobby group says

“A proposal to eliminate a provincial riding with a large anglophone population could damage the community’s political voice, according to a prominent Anglo lobby group.”

A proposed electoral map would have the riding of Westmount-Saint-Louis split in two to join the riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and the newly-created downtown riding of Ville-Marie.  The result would be one less seat in the National Assembly, said Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of the QCGN.

The proposed revisions also sparked discontent in Saint-Marie-Saint-Jacques riding where its MNA Manon Massé could lose her seat with the re-drawing. The process is contested since no consultation was made prior to those changes.

Read the full article on CBC News

Premier Names Son of MNA to Liaise with English-speaking Community

“Haitian-born anti-discrimination lawyer Tamara Thermitus has been named head of the Quebec Human Rights Commission. She received the unanimous support of members of the National Assembly.”

The name of Tamara Thermitus had been circulating for at the National Assembly, but it was finally approved yesterday to show case diversity as an important figure of Quebec. Furthermore, the office of Premier Philippe Couillard also announced the nomination of Gregory Kelley, son of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley, as liaison officer for the English-speaking community.

Interviewed for this article, Geoffrey Chambers said the QCGN was pleased with those two nominations. He hopes Kelley will help ensure access to health-care services in English as well as improve representativity of the English-speaking community in Quebec’s public service.

Read the full article in the Montreal Gazette

Sherbrooke: Trudeau admits he could have spoken English during town hall meeting (FR)

“Le premier ministre Justin Trudeau a mis fin à sa tournée du Québec, mercredi après-midi, et il s’est retrouvé sur la sellette pour avoir parlé uniquement en français lors d’une assemblée citoyenne, la veille.”

This Canadian Press article reviews the event that happened on the evening of Tuesday January 17 in Sherbrooke when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded in French to a question asked to him in English. It follows with Trudeau’s apologies in a press conference the next day in Bishop’s University where he mentions that he responded in English to a question asked in French in Peterborough.

The article follows with QCGN’s comments taken from their press release stating the group wants formal apologies while quoting Geoffrey Chambers and his concerns. The article also features comments from Mouvement impératif français, before announcing other actions Trudeau has done during this brief passage in Quebec.

Read the article in the Metro Journal

Justin Trudeau defends decision to answer questions only in French at Sherbrooke, Que. town hall

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision after he chose to answer questions only in French during a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que., Tuesday night.”

In this feature made by Global reporter Sarah Volstad, QCGN vice-president Geoffrey Chambers is interviewed to make some comments on Trudeau’s answers in French to English questions during a town hall meeting in Shebrooke and his following press conference.

Watch the feature on Global Montreal

Educational Institutions Must Tie Their Activities to the Vitality of the Communities They Serve

Montreal, September 21, 2016 – The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) recognizes that schools are a cornerstone of the vitality of English-speaking communities and believes that Education Act should enhance the responsibility of our educational institutions to serve their communities.

In a brief submitted to the Committee on Culture and Education this week, the QCGN argues that school boards, schools, as well as adult and vocational centres must support the development and vitality of their respective communities. QCGN, which represents 48 groups across Quebec, insists that this responsibility should be clearly defined within the Education Act rather than being discretionary on the part of educational institutions.

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Read our Brief on Bill 105