As the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) was announcing plans for a protest of Bill 96 last week, a move was afoot to mitigate one of the more troubling irritants to English-speakers contained in the proposed new language law.
The QCGN held a news conference April 26 to enumerate concerns about Bill 96 as it moves closer to passage. President Marlene Jennings also announced a protest to take place May 14 in Montreal.
But later that same day, Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who is piloting the sweeping changes to language laws, announced he would alter the amendment regarding compulsory French courses at English-language CEGEPs.
Liberal members of the committee studying the bill had proposed an amendment requiring students to take three regular courses at CEGEP in French.
Other parties on the committee welcomed the Liberal idea. Following vociferous reaction from the anglophone community, the Liberals asked that the amendment be withdrawn or amended.
Jolin-Barrette filed the amendment to the amendment to the committee studying Bill 96 clause by clause. The amendments adopted by the committee will be voted on when the National Assembly resumes sitting on May 10.
The change Jolin-Barrette proposed would require students to either take three more courses in French instruction or regular courses in French. The minister told the Montreal Gazette: “We realized students with English schooling rights had short-comings in their mastery of French. The Liberal Party demonstrated this with the tabling of their sub-amendment; that there was an issue with the anglophone community.”
Jolin-Barrette added, “The Liberal Party highlighted the unacceptable level of the mastery of French of youth in the English system. We thank them for their amendment. Whether it is three courses in French or three courses of French, it attains the objective.”
While Jolin-Barrette’s change might mitigate some of the impact of the CEGEP French requirements on English-speaking students, it still leaves English college administrators with significant organizational and staffing challenges.
The implications of Bill 96 for education was one of the grievances aired at the QCGN news conference earlier in the day. Others include the impact on health and social services, on recruiting professionals from abroad, and the powers of search and seizure for investigating compliance.
Civil rights lawyer Julius Grey said the powers of search and seizure to enforce language laws would be more than those granted police to investigate murder.
“It seems to me,” Grey said, “that in one fell swoop – two, perhaps including Bill 21 (on state secularism) – the government is trying to undo the protections that hundreds of years of jurisprudence have given citizens against discrimination, against state violence, against abuse of power; I think the entire constitutional notwithstanding clause and rule of law part of this bill has no place.”
Jennings said, “We urge the government to set aside this proposed legislation. We remain convinced there are more effective and inclusive ways to protect and promote the French language than those outlined in Bill 96.”
She then said, “Given the seriousness of … our preoccupations, the QCGN and our partner organizations are planning a public demonstration for May 14 here in Montreal. We urge you and all your family and friends to join us in this very public expression of our dissatisfaction with Bill 96.”
As of this writing there is no information on demonstrations outside Montreal.