Panelists suggest Trudeau’s support is motivated by ‘political calculation’
After more than a half-century of rising and falling tensions between Quebecers over the use of English and French, concerns are rising among stakeholders that some rights and protections Quebec anglophones fought for since the introduction of Bill 101 more than 40 years ago are threatened by Quebec’s proposed Bill 96 and changes to Ottawa’s Official Languages Act.
‘Our Place in Quebec’
On the evening of June 21 and the morning of June 22, the Quebec Community Groups Network hosted a policy webconference entitled ‘Our Place in Quebec and Canada.’ It brought together English-speaking Quebecers to discuss the rights of Canada’s official language minority communities as well as overall human rights.
The speakers and moderators included Minister of Official Languages and Economic Development Mélanie Joly, Sainte-Rose MNA Christopher Skeete, former Ahuntsic MP Eleni Bakopanos, former Liberal political advisor Warren Kinsella, and human rights lawyer and McGill University professor Pearl Eliadis.
‘Charter-free,’ says Jennings
“Bill 96 effectively creates a Charter-free zone with respect to a wide range of interactions between individuals and the state in Quebec,” QCGN president Marlene Jennings said in introductory remarks, referring to the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights.
She maintained that Bill 96, which some are now referring to as the new Bill 101, will make a major impact on areas of everyday life such as commerce, employment, education, access to public services, free expression and the operation of the province’s legal system.
Undermining the courts
“Where rights that would otherwise be protected are infringed, the courts under Bill 96 will not be able to review and remedy the conduct under either the Canadian or the Quebec Charters,” she said. “Further, this bill positions the Quebec Nation as holding collective rights, although these rights are not defined. And the bill places the National Assembly, not our courts, as the arbiter between these collective rights and individual human rights.”
Warren Kinsella suggested that both the provincial and federal governments were motivated by political expediencies to propose Bill 96 and changes to the Official Languages Act respectively at this particular time.
“[Premier François Legault] was aided and abetted in that regard by Prime Minister Trudeau, who in my opinion is seeking seats in the province of Quebec at the expense of not just the federation, but also the anglophone minority in the province of Quebec and to hell with the consequences,” Kinsella said, alluding to a possible snap election being called by the Trudeau government this fall.
Courting Quebec’s votes
Pearl Eliadis agreed. “I completely agree that Prime Minister Trudeau is courting Quebec votes. And given the timing, his initial response of, you know, ‘there’s not much to see here folks, let’s move on,’ I think is a political calculation,” she said.
Kinsella pointed out that at 100 pages in length, Bill 96 contains “some extraordinary provisions,” just one of which would be the ability of Quebec’s language police to enter business premises and “demand that you hand over your cell phone in order to determine whether an insufficient amount of French has been communicated on it. You know, accessing private messages with individuals and personal information. It’s just extraordinary. It is, in my view, completely unconstitutional.”
Right of seizure in Bill 96
Eliadis said that up to 1982 in Canada, federal police authorities could be conferred with extraordinary power through a Writ of Assistance, which allowed them to enter homes and businesses and seize whatever they wished without any prior judicial authorization such as a warrant.
‘Where rights that would otherwise be protected are infringed, the courts under Bill 96 will not be able to review and remedy the conduct under either the Canadian or the Quebec Charters,’ said QCGN president Marlene Jennings
While noting that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force in 1982 and put an end to this when it declared Canadians have a right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, Eliadis said Bill 96 “does not require any prior judicial authorization for any form of search and seizures. I mean, that is only one of the many measures.”
Who is a Quebecer?
On day two of the conference, federal Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly and Sainte-Rose MNA Christopher Skeete who is responsible for English-language community relations in the CAQ government, vigorously defended the proposed language reforms, without declaring much more than what they’d previously said.
While Skeete maintained he had no time to answer questions as he had to be at another engagement, Bakopanos asked him to define who is included in the Quebec Nation.
“I hear that question a lot – we’re all Quebecers,” he replied without further elaboration. “I don’t think a lot of the members of the English-speaking community feel that way,” Bakopanos responded.