Joly, Skeete address language “anxiety”
Federal minister of official languages Mélanie Joly and MNA Christopher Skeete, parliamentary assistant to Premier François Legault for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, are trying to reassure members of the English-speaking community concerned about recently tabled language legislation.
Skeete and Joly spoke on June 22 during a conference organized by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) entitled “Our Place in Quebec and Canada.”
Joly authored Bill C-32, a sweeping reform of the federal Official Languages Act (OLA). The QCGN has expressed concerns that the bill would “territorialize language rights,” keeping protections in place for most official language minority communities while allowing Quebec to encroach on protections for anglophones. Some elements of the bill have been interpreted as a concession to the Legault government, which tabled its own language legislation, Bill 96, this spring.
“Nothing in [Bill C-32] is removing protections from any official language minority community, including Quebec’s English-speaking community,” said Joly. “We fundamentally disagree with the idea that Quebec has sole jurisdiction over language rights on its territory. Federal agencies, Crown corporations and former Crown corporations such as Air Canada will continue to provide service in both official languages.” She added that the law would reinforce language equity by giving the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages the power to order federally regulated businesses to comply with the OLA. “If you’re used to going to your bank and receiving services in English, that will continue,” she added.
The QCGN has expressed objections to Bill 96, stating that the bill “creates a rights-free zone” in the name of the protection of French and places tough compliance obligations on small businesses and on some court litigants. It’s rare for federal elected officials to publicly express an opinion about provincial legislation, and while Joly didn’t do so, she said she had “many questions” about the law and planned to “engage with our Quebec counterparts” to seek answers. Joly acknowledged that both bills were a “source of anxiety” for the English-speaking community.
Skeete also addressed this anxiety, noting, “I recognize that for the English-speaking community, [debate around language rights] is reminiscent of a time when things were very difficult, and I’m not insensitive to that. “W hat makes Quebec special is that we do speak French and we do have a different culture; French as a common language brings us together,” said Skeete, addressing a provision in Bill 96 that would establish French as Quebec’s common language. “That has nothing to do with whether we speak English among ourselves or in the streets. Language shouldn’t be a zero-sum game; we’re trying to enshrine the rights of the English-speaking community while protecting French.” He compared French to a struggling student in need of extra help: “We need to give it a little more [protection], both inside and outside Quebec, to keep it viable.” He added that anglophones’ established rights to health care and justice in their own language wouldn’t be encroached upon.
A QCGN analysis of the bill was less reassuring, finding that increased paperwork translation burdens on English-speaking litigants could reduce access to justice in English and that the confidentiality of English-language medical records could be put at risk if the Office québécois de la langue française, which would have increased search powers, searched a private clinic. Skeete countered that the legislation “has nothing to do with your rights as an individual.”
Skeete also mentioned that anglophones would have a right to access French courses under the law. “If we can increase people’s level of French fluency, we can close the employment Federal minister of official languages Mélanie Joly authored Bill C-32. gap between francophones and anglophones, and also move the needle on [anglophone representation in] the civil service,” he said.
Skeete’s analysis, in which he made a parallel between French in Quebec and in Louisiana, gave rise to many skeptical comments in the videoconference chat window. Neither elected official took questions, although Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation CEO John Buck spoke to the concerns of many when, while introducing Skeete, he raised concerns about the legislation: “On the eve of two major language reforms, it’s important to reiterate that the English-speaking community fully supports measures to protect and promote French in Quebec and across Canada. However, our support for the French language in no way [represents] acquiescence to any act to ignore, reduce or limit the viability of our community. While the English language is not threatened, the English[-speaking] community in Quebec is.”
Joly, Skeete address language “anxiety” was last modified: July 1st, 2021 by