• Hunter Cresswell

Bill 96 forces students into courses in French

English, histoire, science, mathématiques, art and musique — this is what English CEGEP students’ course load could look like under Quebec language Bill 96.


On Feb. 23 during a Quebec National Assembly committee meeting on culture and education, CAQ Minister for the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette proposed an amendment to the bill that will require students at English CEGEPs to take at least three courses in French, which aren’t French language or physical education courses, to graduate.


“The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that a student who has not been declared eligible for instruction in English and who is enrolled in a program leading to a college diploma that is offered in English nevertheless completes a minimum of three courses in French, including courses other than language of instruction, second language and physical education courses,” Jolin-Barrette said. “The institution must ensure that these courses are given to the student.”


On Feb. 24, the same committee moved to solidify Bill 96’s English CEGEP capacity cap. It would freeze the English CEGEP student population at its current level — 17.8 per cent of all CEGEP students in Quebec. But with the growing population, that student population maximum would mean that English CEGEP students would represent only 11.2 per cent of the total CEGEP student population by the 2039-2040 school year, according to the Task Force on Linguistic Policy.


Quebec Community Groups Network board of directors secretary Matt Aronson, during an interview with the Low Down, said this requirement may be a systemic barrier for non-French speakers who seek a higher education in Quebec.


“We are,” Aronson paused for a long sigh, “disappointed. We’re shocked but we’re not surprised at the lengths this government will go to limit what language people choose.”


He said he’s confident that Quebecers who grew up speaking English at home but graduated from Quebec high schools will be able to take CEGEP-level courses in French, but added that he would rather people have the choice.


“The CAQ insists on doing with a stick what would be better done with a carrot,” Aronson added.


The Task Force on Linguistic Policy slammed the amendments in a Feb. 25 press release.


“The amended Article 58, requiring students in English CEGEPs to pass three core courses in French to obtain a [diploma], adds to the growing list of devastating actions that put the future of Quebec’s English CEGEP system in serious jeopardy, and further undermines English-speaking Quebecers’ ability to stay and prosper in Quebec,” Task Force chair Colin Standish stated.


Aronson said that the requirements for French courses in English CEGEPs would require English schools to recruit new teachers or pull faculty from the French school system.


“They’ve shortened the supply without any real answer on how to resolve that issue,” he said.


“The faculties at the [English] CEGEPS at the moment are very, very good at teaching their subject in the language of the institution,” Aronson said.

CAQ Gatineau MNA Robert Bussière again denied the Low Down’s request to interview him about this legislation, which will impact people he represents in the National Assembly.


Bill 96 is a far-reaching language reform bill that will affect many aspects of daily life if passed as written. It has been decried as heavy-handed by multiple English organizations, including the QCGN and Gatineau Hills English advocates. Bill 96 would allow the provincial government to conduct unwarranted searches and seizures in Quebec businesses to check for compliance with language laws. Under it, people who weren’t educated in English in Canada wouldn’t qualify to receive provincial health, legal, education, and more services in their mother tongue.


Bill 96 is currently still winding its way through the Quebec legislature toward final passage. For more information on the bill visit assnat.qc.ca.