• Nikki Mantell

Bill 96: A lonely fight

Picture it: you are shopping at one of our local businesses of 25 or more employees, when a couple of Office de la langue française officers march in and demand the owner turns over all the laptops, cellphones, notepads – whatever is being used to communicate with staff – so they can check if all that communication is being done in French. Do they have a warrant? No, they don’t need one if Bill 96 passes. Why were they called in? Likely because some anonymous person called the snitch line — just like the ones currently set up for sign infractions. What follows if they find work messages in anything but French? Big fines. Is this really how we want to protect the French language in this province?


When Bill 96 was first introduced, the reaction was muted, but those watching closely predicted that the devil would be in the details. “Oh don’t worry about it,” said many MNAs, including our own Robert Bussière, the English community won’t be affected. Now that lawyers for groups like the Quebec Community Groups Network have checked the details of the 100-page bill, the alarm bell is being sounded that there is much to be worried about.


“Bill 96 also calls for the most sweeping use of human rights overrides in the history of Quebec and Canada, ousting the application of both the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” QCGN president Marlene Jennings told the Montreal Gazette recently. “In so doing, Bill 96 follows the path of Bill 21.”


Bill 96 contains two provisions that should have alarm bells ringing across the country: the clause to rewrite the constitution to recognize Quebecers as a nation whose only official language is French; and a second clause to pre-emptively shield the entire bill with the notwithstanding clause. Anglophones, allophones and other minorities will effectively be relegated to second-class citizens, wiping out protections for fundamental rights and preventing the courts’ jurisdiction to intervene. Is anyone hearing those bells?


In the past, Quebec’s minority language communities could count on federal parliament as an ally to curtail such draconian moves. Not so this time. Instead of rallying to defend the communities made vulnerable by the proposed legislation, it has presented - almost in tandem with the Bill 96 announcement - its overhaul of the Official Languages Act. Among other things, this drastic rewrite includes a clause recognizing, for the first time, that French is the official language of Quebec. The QCGN calls Bill C-32 “a clear attack” on the equality of French and English in Canada that will have a profound effect on the rights of Quebec anglophones for years to come.


Add that to the recent 281-to-two vote in the House of Commons to support the Bloc Québecois motion recognizing Quebec as a nation where the official language is French (mirroring Bill 96), and our prime minister’s previous statement that it’s fine by him for Quebec to unilaterally modify the Canadian Constitution for the same purposes – and the anglo minority in Quebec is wondering if there is anyone in our corner.


It sure looks like we’ve been left on our own when it comes to defending our basic rights in this province.