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  • Writer's pictureNikki Mantell

Dangerous silence on Bill 96

In publishing this column, do we need to watch our words? Is it too risky to “poke the nationalist bear” (as one Montreal Gazette columnist put it)? In asking controversial questions, do we risk being dismissed as Quebec-bashing “angryphones” or be “cancelled” altogether for daring to point out that, once again, Quebec might be trampling on the rights of its minorities in its drive to promote the nationalist agenda?

Let’s be clear: the French language and culture define Quebec, and no one argues that it shouldn’t be protected. But Bill 96 does so at the cost of the essential rights of its citizens, and there is an alarming chill settling around any dissent on the issue.

Until last week, the Quebec Community Groups Network and a handful of English media were the lone bell-ringers trying to alert Quebecers - and all Canadians - about the dangers of Bill 96: how it would rewrite the Constitution, make anglophones and other minorities second-class citizens, and suspend individual rights while shielding the whole law in the notwithstanding clause.

QCGN is doing an excellent job, but its numerous warnings have mostly been falling on deaf ears.

Then the federal leaders’ debate happens, and when the question of “discrimination” in relation to Bill 21 and Bill 96 is posed by the moderator, all backlash hell breaks loose. The accusations of Quebec-bashing fly, and premier Legault comes out with a statement that – just by asking the question – Quebec is “under attack.” Of course Legault and the Bloc leader joined forces to demand an apology, but what a disappointment to see the Liberal and Conservative leaders also condemn the question for fear of losing those all-important Quebec votes.

The question itself was not Quebec-bashing: in a decision, the Quebec Superior Court called Bill 21 (the secularism law) discriminatory. Bill 96 is also discriminatory by definition, as it eliminates English altogether as an official language of the province. The question of discrimination against minorities is hugely important — if we can’t ask these questions in an organized, moderated, national debate, where can we?

There is a disturbing pattern of silencing those who dare question Quebec’s nationalist agenda.

Last week the Bloc leader, Legault, and a Montreal mayoral candidate attacked the English Montreal School Board after it called on the federal government to put Bill 96 to the Supreme Court to test its legality. Legault went even further, calling the EMSB a “radical” organization. (Granted, the board gaffed in its resolution that said Quebec was and never will be a nation, which sparked much of the ire, but still.) And then there was the Liberal MNA Emmanuella Lambropoulos, who, in 2019, dared to ask for proof that French was in decline and was forced to apologize and had some of her duties removed after the harsh backlash. (Of note: StatsCan shows that never before have more Quebecers been able to speak French.)

The new law being pushed through will change the province forever. Those who dare to ask questions about its impact should be answered with robust and thorough debate — not slapped with an anti-French or anti-Quebec label and silenced.


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