Bill 96: English rights group decries draconian details
If the current draft of Bill 96 passes, language police can come into businesses without a warrant to search through phones, computers, and documents to ensure that communications are in French.
This was a main point of discussion during English language advocacy organization Quebec Community Groups Network’s conference on draft Bill 96 on June 21.
“It is not only about going into businesses and seizing cellphones, although that is one [concern],” conference panelist and human rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis said. “… Bill 96 does not require any prior judicial authorization for any form of search and seizure. That is only one of the many infringements.”
The network – QCGN – said the waves this bill will make in Quebec society and culture remain to be seen, but will be far-reaching.
“Bill 96 calls for the most sweeping use of human rights overrides in the history of Quebec and Canada,” QCGN president Marlene Jennings said during the conference.
The bill, tabled by the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec party in the National Assembly in March, amends the Charter of the French Language, 24 other Quebec statutes, the Constitution Act of 1867, and one other regulation. It took QCGN’s lawyers and staff weeks to go through the 100 page, 201 article bill, and it published its analysis online on June 10.
According to the analysis, the bill could make seeking justice in court in English more expensive by charging for translation, limit permits for students in Quebec to study at English schools to three year periods, decline enrollment in English primary and secondary schools, keep the unemployment rate of English speakers – which is higher than French speakers – stagnant, and much more.
By far the most concerning aspect of the bill, according to the QCGN’s panel, is the powers granted to the Office Québecois de la langue française and a newly formed Minister of the French Language.
“When I first heard it, I was appalled,” panelist and former MNA and MP Clifford Lincoln said about the bill.
The new ministry would be given the power to develop Quebec’s language policy, intervene and obtain information across the public sector, order the language police to inspect and verify business’ compliance with its language policy, restrict the use of any other language than French in certain circumstances, intervene in court cases that could impact the use of French in Quebec, control the “quality” of French being used in a government agency, and more.
The policy could even require French music to be played in certain places through “provisions concerning ‘the implementation of a French-language environment, in particular with regard to vocal music,’” the analysis states.
The language office could also order businesses with at least 25 employees to create a “francization committee” if they consider the use of French at all levels of the business inadequate. The committee would have to meet at least every six months and the meeting minutes must be sent to the office. Language police could even drop in unannounced on the committee meetings. The office could also blacklist non-compliant businesses from getting government contracts, grants, and subsidies, according to the QCGN analysis.
More Bill 96 changes at a glance
Government employees could be punished for giving services or information in English to people who don’t qualify to receive it;
Further restrict the criteria for who qualifies to receive services and information in English;
Private agencies providing emergency services aren’t explicitly required by Bill 96 to provide English services;
The Minister of Justice and Minister of French Language would have to approve the use of judges or court staff who know a language besides French;
Official bilingual municipalities that have fallen below the benchmark of a population with 50 per cent English speakers would have to pass a resolution to continue offering English services. Chelsea is one of these municipalities and passed a bilingual resolution in June. Low is also officially bilingual and passed a bilingual resolution in June, despite having a population of over 50 per cent English speakers.
“History judges society by how they treat their minorities. With Bill 96, I and the QCGN think Quebec is at a crossroad,” Jennings said.
Read QCGN’s full draft Bill 96 analysis at qcgn.ca