English rights advocates in Quebec are warning Canadian senators that Bill C-13 will negatively affect English speakers in the province.
The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) appeared before a Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages on June 5 and said that Bill C-13’s references to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, which made use of the notwithstanding clause amid the passing of Bill 96, will not protect the rights of English-speaking Quebecers.
QCGN president Eva Ludvig argued that Bill C-13, An Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages, will give governments and courts licence to “interpret language rights asymmetrically.”
“Our minority – indeed all Quebecers – now live in a ‘Charter free zone’ where our fundamental human rights have been vacated in the name of protecting and promoting the French language,” she said at the Senate hearing. “This is the principal reason why the QCGN has been adamant that references to the Charter of the French Language must not be included in Canada’s Official Languages Act.”
Ludvig added that Canada and Quebec have enjoyed half a century of linguistic harmony — with Canada offering a national vision of language duality, treating both official languages equally. She said Bill C-13 “betrays this tradition.”
“The Official Languages Act is a lifeline for the English-speaking community of Quebec – now more than ever,” she said. “If C-13 is approved as it stands, that lifeline will be seriously frayed.”
The QCGN does see some positive aspects of the bill, which passed its third reading in the House of Commons in May, including a mention of the Court Challenges program and increased powers for the Commissioner of the Official Languages Act. They noted that they agree that protecting the French language is imperative, but not at the expense of other minority groups.
“We submit that withdrawing the references to the Charter of the French Language from C-13 would in no way diminish or abrogate the rights of, or support to, French-speaking minority communities,” added former Senator Joan Fraser and current QCGN board member during the hearing. “There is, however, danger in retaining those references — danger to the English-speaking community of Quebec and danger in setting up an official-language regime that creates a precedent for other provinces to impose restrictions on their own linguistic minorities as Quebec has done.”
Pontiac MP Sophie Chatel voted in favour of the bill earlier this spring and argued that the amendment to Canada’s Official Language Act will protect English speakers in the province and shields anglophones from some of the discriminatory policies laid out in Bill 96. She added that C-13 comes with a federal investment of $4.1 billion over five years — $137.5 million for English communities and includes access to court challenges, education, and healthcare. Chatel added that she is francophone while her husband is an anglophone, and she would not have voted for the bill if she felt it was an attack on her own family’s rights, let alone her constituents.
“There’s nothing in [Bill C-13] that undermines the rights of the English speaking minority,” she said. “To the contrary, there are investments in their vibrancy and in all sorts of fields: healthcare, education, and helping them to protect their rights.”
Chatel said she has problems with Bill 96 and added that the feds intend to intervene in the court challenge to argue against using the notwithstanding clause in a preemptive manner.
Quebec used the notwithstanding clause to sidestep portions of the Charter to pass the controversial Bill 96 last summer.
Senators will continue to study the bill this week. It could be passed by the end of June.