They maintain Bill C-32 will establish ‘asymmetrical bilingualism’
In the wake of the Quebec government’s planned language law reform, a group of English-speaking Quebecers who say they are “from all walks of life” has emerged “to defend individual and language rights and cease attacks on the freedoms of all Quebecers and their institutions,” says the group.
“The ‘White Paper’ and Bill C-32, Bill 96 and the proposed Constitutional amendment, taken as a whole, are a fundamental restructuring of the Canadian constitution, language policy and our basic human rights and freedoms,” says Colin Standish of Cowansville, founder of Language Equality/Égalité linguistique, while adding they “will fervently oppose Bill 96’s excesses.”
Over 200 amendments
Like other critics of the CAQ government’s proposed language law reform, the Task Force maintains that Bill 96 contains over 200 amendments, including vast search and seizure measures, restrictions on who is entitled to receive government services in the language of their choice, a cap on English CEGEP enrolment, and a false definition of who qualifies as a member of Quebec’s English-speaking community.
They say Bill 96 also seeks to eliminate the bilingualism of more than 50 of the 89 bilingual-status municipalities across Quebec, and effectively “deinstitutionalizes the English language and its speakers in Quebec.” They say the Task Force was formed when members recognized that they were being abandoned by the major political parties in Quebec’s legislature and in the federal Parliament.
The group maintains that the Trudeau government’s Bill C-32 proposes changes to the Official Languages Act that will establish asymmetrical bilingualism – a unilingual French Quebec and a bilingual rest of Canada – by placing the status of the French language ahead of the promotion of bilingualism, the protection of linguistic minorities and access to public services and justice.
They claim Bill C-32 will also extend French-preferential laws to federally regulated businesses across Canada and entrench flawed provincial language laws in federal legislation nationwide.
An unconstitutional rewrite
“Bill 96 intends to unilaterally and unconstitutionally rewrite the Canadian constitution,” says the Task Force. “It declares that Quebecers form a nation, with French the common and only official language of Quebec, and boldly proclaims the ‘Quebec nation.’
“This would reshape and distort the Canadian Constitution. The proposed amendment cannot be passed unilaterally by Quebec. Furthermore, Bill 96 is shielded by the notwithstanding clauses of the Canadian and Quebec Charters to prevent judicial scrutiny.”
The Task Force says it believes that the only truly threatened languages and cultures throughout Quebec and Canada are those of Indigenous peoples. They are appealing to more community leaders from across Quebec, from all backgrounds, to join the Task Force.
EP’s Henderson on board
A number of former and newly-awakened Quebec anglophone rights activists have waded into the growing language controversy and have stated their support for the Task Force.
“The Canadian Constitution is the bedrock of our civil liberties and national unity,” says former Equality Party leader Keith Henderson. “We cannot allow it to be adulterated by the excesses of a Quebec government hellbent on violating our unity and freedoms.”
“The unconstitutional aspects of the Bill are flagrant, and extend far beyond the amendment,” says Brent Tyler, a constitutional lawyer and veteran of numerous court challenges involving Bill 101. “The Quebec government is seizing jurisdiction over federally regulated trademarks and workplaces. That’s not allowed, period.”
‘We are all Quebecers’
“We are all Quebecers,” says Andrew Caddell, a former Canadian diplomat and journalist. “We must be treated equally before the law. There are no groups more important than others. Rights and freedoms are not negotiable. We can fight back, but we need people of good faith to pitch in.”
“If Bill 96 and C-32 are adopted there is no guarantee that parents of students in English schools will receive information and services in English,” says Marcus Tabachnick, former chairman of the Lester B. Pearson School Board.