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Official Languages, a “Record Skipping” for 50 years?

Marking the 50th anniversary of Canada’s Official Languages Act, Radio-Canada takes an in-depth look at the vitality of Canada’s linguistic minority communities. Many issues are on the table for Quebec’s English-speaking community, says Geoffrey Chambers, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network. Among them, he adds, is the need for an administrative tribunal to give the Act additional teeth.

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Official languages: the necessary redesign

The Quebec Community Groups Network, and the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario met with the editorial board of Le Droit. This united front emphasizes the importance of modernizing the Official Languages Act for official minority language communities.

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Alliance with Anglos of Quebec: The AFO missed the boat

Francophones in Ontario and Anglophones in Quebec should come together on pressing issues such as the modernization of the Official Languages Act and minority language education, but officializing the relationship goes too far, writes Sébastien Pierroz of ONfr.

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QCGN Eager to Contribute to Hearings on Modernization of the Official Languages Act

Montreal, March 11, 2019The Quebec Community Groups Network looks forward to contributing to cross-country consultations by Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, as Canadians celebrate the 50th anniversary of this pivotal law.

“The Official Languages Act is a lifeline for English-speaking Quebec,” said QCGN President Geoffrey Chambers. “It is the only law that protects the linguistic interests of English-speaking Quebecers as a community. Having said that, after 50 years, the Act is somewhat antiquated and is in serious need of an update. We are particularly keen that English-speaking Quebec participates in the forums and towns halls announced by the Minister today.  We must make sure that our voices are heard.”

Over the past few years, the QCGN and its Francophone counterparts across Canada have been actively involved in discussions on ways to modernize the Act, including at hearings by both the House of Commons and Senate committees on Official Languages. We now look forward to providing input to Minister Joly, who is responsible for drafting the government’s proposals to modernize the act. (Read our brief here.)

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Frame of reference for the Vitality of Official-Language Minority Communities (OLMCs)

Canadian Heritage: Official Languages Support Programs (OLSP) – Support for the Community Sector

Developed by minority languages experts and community groups across Canada, Canadian Heritage’s Frame of Reference for the Vitality of Official-Language Minority Communities establishes a number of factors that are key to ensuring the vitality of minority language communities.

Download Frame of reference for the Vitality of Official-Language Minority Communities (OLMCs) (in PDF format)

 

 

Future of English-speaking Quebecers is core element for Modernization of Official Languages Act

Ottawa –May 28, 2018 – The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) spoke up today as part of the Modernization of the Official Languages Act.

“The Act is a lifeline for English-speaking Quebec,” QCGN President Jim Shea told a hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages. “The Act is the only language rights legislation that protects the interests of English-speaking Quebecers as a community. It sets out quasi-constitutional rights for English-speaking Quebecers, including the right to access federal services in English, the representation of English-speakers in the federal public service, and those workers’ right to work in English.

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QCGN Welcomes Raymond Théberge, Canada’s New Commissioner of Official Languages

Download a copy of the press release in PDF

Montreal – December 13, 2017 – The Quebec Community Groups Network welcomes the appointment of Raymond Théberge as Canada’s 7th Commissioner of Official Languages whose nomination was officially endorsed by the House of Commons this afternoon.

“Commissioner Théberge takes the helm at a critical time for Canada’s Official Languages,” commented QCGN President James Shea, noting that Government of Canada will soon unveil its multi-year Action Plan on Official Languages; Treasury Board is conducting a ground-up review of Official Languages Regulations; and work to modernize the Official Languages Act, which will shortly turn 50 years old, has begun.

Théberge, who holds a doctorate in Linguistics from McGill University, has more than three decades of experience serving official language minority communities from leading positions in government, academia, and the community sector. During his confirmation process, Théberge stressed the importance of research, and a firm evidence-base upon which to protect, and build upon the language rights of Canadians. He is also committed to ensuring that the participation of English and French-speaking Canadians in the leadership of his new office, and visiting the English-speaking community of Quebec as a first order of business.

“Commissioner Théberge is now the leading advocate for Canada’s English- and French-speaking minority communities,” commented Shea, noting that the Commissioner’s job requires an equal understanding and commitment to both of Canada’s official language minority communities.

“We look forward to him visiting Quebec’s English-speaking communities and QCGN is duty-bound to helping him better understand the needs and challenges of our Community of Communities as well as the many enduring policy gaps that impact our community.”

Traditionally held alternately by a French-speaking and an English-speaking Canadian, Théberge is the third Francophone and first commissioner from outside Ontario and Quebec to be appointed to the post since it was created in 1970 to ensure the application of the Official Languages Act and to promote bilingualism and linguistic duality. The Commissioner, who reports directly to Parliament, is responsible for the full recognition and widespread use of English and French within Canadian society, as well as within federal institutions and other organizations subject to the Official Languages Act.  The Commissioner of Official Languages is appointed for a seven-year mandate.

“Over the past decade, the QCGN has built a close relationship with the Commissioner of Official Languages,” remarked QCGN Director General Sylvia Martin-Laforge. “This relationship was a critical part of key community victories, like the recent establishment of a Secretariat for Responsible for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers, and helping us get access to the highest levels of the federal government to ensure English-speaking Quebec’s unique concerns and priorities are heard and understood by policy leaders.

“The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages remains a key community ally and immense source of support, and we will continue to fully support their work,” said Martin-Laforge, extending our organization’s and our community’s appreciation to Interim Commissioner Ghislaine Saikaley and her team who have held down the fort since Graham Fraser retired a year ago after more than a decade of outstanding service.

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.

QCGN Advocates for More Flexible Regulations for Provision of Federal Minority Language Services

Montreal, November 17, 2016 – The Quebec Community Groups Network is pleased with today’s announcement by Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly that the government will undertake a review of the regulations pertaining to the Official Languages Act which deal with communicating to the public.

“It is particularly appropriate that representatives from Canada’s official language minority communities have been invited to today’s announcement, demonstrating the intimate links that exist between all parts of the Official Languages Act, which aims to ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada, and support the development of our nation’s English and French linguistic minority communities,” commented QCGN President James Shea, who was on hand for the announcement.

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