• The Low Down

Feds have authority to disallow Bill 96 now

Bill 96 received royal assent on June 1 and is now law. This legislation strengthens Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language and other laws to attack the fundamental individual rights and freedoms of all Quebecers and is a deliberate and outright attack on the English and cultural communities and their institutions and the First Nations and Inuit peoples. It is a disaster for Quebec and Canada, particularly as it uses the notwithstanding clause to shield 30-plus clauses from legal challenges via the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


The Canadian government has the authority to disallow Bill 96 rapidly via Section 90 of the British North America Act. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has one year to disallow the law, which can easily be enacted. Disallowance was placed in the constitution following the discussions during the Confederation debates of 1865 to prevent provinces from passing laws to usurp federal powers, violate individual rights and freedoms, and attack minority language communities and religious minorities. Disallowance was last used in 1943, when the Alberta government passed a law to prevent the Hutterite community from purchasing land. Federal intervention was swift.


Bill 96 can rapidly be referred to the high court now. This is why the Committee to Disallow Bill 96 and Quebecers United for Equality insist that Justin Trudeau disallow Bill 96 immediately.


This odious legislation limits access to English health, social and legal services; gives the OQLF (language police) the right to carry out search and seizures for investigations; caps enrolment to English CEGEPs, which could negatively impact GPAs for university applications, violates bilingualism guarantees in Section 133, and for the First Nations and Inuit communities requires more French instruction, which hurts ongoing efforts by various communities to protect and promote their very threatened languages, and impacts many other aspects of daily life.


During the Confederation debates, French MPs from the United Province of Canada assured MPs representing the English community in what became Quebec that their communities and institutions would never be attacked, and should they, disallowance would be employed. Christopher Dunkin, an MP from the Eastern Townships, voted against Confederation with three other area MPs, warning that in the future, laws would be passed by the French Canadian majority against the English community. He was proved correct and the promises made by the French MPs were meaningless.


Bill 96 is designed to create another major exodus and weaken the English and cultural communities, and to make life so difficult for those who remain, that they eventually leave. The bill must be disallowed — it has no place in a liberal democratic society.


The clock is ticking and the longer it’s in place, the more damage it causes. Legal challenges are important, but disallowance solves the problem immediately. Federal Justice Minister David Lametti says he does not have the power to disallow provincial legislation. This is incorrect. Brian Mulroney used an obscure clause in the BNA Act to create several new senators to pass the Free Trade Act in the 1980s.


Time is running out and our prime minister must act decisively. Trudeau keeps insisting that the Liberal Party of Canada is the champion of rights and freedoms. He can prove it. Waiting until Bill 96 gets to the Supreme Court is unacceptable.


Irwin Rapoport is the co-leader of the Committee to Disallow Bill 96 and spokesperson for Quebecers United for Equality.