If you did not like Bill 96, pay attention to what feds are doing with Bill C-13
It’s unacceptable and reprehensible
If you think Quebec’s Bill 96 threatens the future of the English-speaking community in this province, wait until you see what is coming down the pike as the federal government moves forward with its updates to the Official Languages Act.
The proposed legislation, known as Bill C-13, could fundamentally change the nature of Canada, stripping it of the distinction as an officially bilingual country.
As it is proposed now, the bill will no longer require the federal government to protect minority language rights in Quebec. It would, essentially, as one analyst put it, eliminate more than 50 years of official language policy as we know it. It will drive a stake into the heart of the notion that Canada has two official languages from coast to coast to coast.
So if you had consoled yourself that the provincial government’s move to limit the use of English in the past year will be tempered somehow by the federal government’s protection, let this be a wake-up call. The federal cavalry is poised to abandon its post in the fight for minority linguistic rights in this province.
Too alarmist, you say?
Recently, the Quebec Community Networks Group, the umbrella organization that includes just about every English-language organization in the province – from the Townshippers’ Association to the Quebec Farmers’ Association, the Quebec Community Newspapers Association to the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations – issued a call demanding the federal government withdraw the bill.
In a statement, QCGN said Bill C-13 “dramatically alters the Official Languages Act in ways that would profoundly damage the vitality of English-speaking Quebec.”
The bill is deeply flawed in its intent.
At its heart, Bill C-13 would specifically recognize Quebec’s Charter of the French Language within the framework of the Official Languages Act. This means that Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, which was amended this year by the CAQ’s Bill 96 that makes French the only language of Quebec, would be incorporated into the federal legislative framework.
If this sounds like a lot of legislative gobble-dee-gook, it is. But it represents a fundamental and profound shift in Canada’s commitment to bilingualism. It will eliminate the federal government’s obligation to promote minority language rights in this province.
The bottom line is that this would be a first. No longer would Quebec’s language laws govern what falls simply under provincial jurisdiction, it would also dictate language provisions for all things that fall under federal jurisdiction in Quebec as well. That includes banks, the post office and federally chartered companies.
In essence, if this bill becomes law without amendments, forget about receiving information in English in Quebec from Canada Post. But in other provinces, the postal service would continue to provide services in both languages.
But that is not all. By doing this, the federal government would be saying that its Official Languages Act would be beyond the reach and protection of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms because it officially looks to uphold Bill 96, which was passed in Quebec completely shielded by the notwithstanding clause of the charter.
That would be a first since Canada became an official bilingual country in 1969 and since the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed the right of official-language minorities to instruction in their language. Essentially, what was envisioned by Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau would be swept away.
As QCGN pointed out, the federal government is proposing “by amending the Official Languages Act, to make the protection and promotion of only one of Canada’s official languages its fundamental purpose” in this province.
How can that be acceptable?
And doing it by side-stepping its own charter of rights, how is that not reprehensible?
As proposed, Bill C-13 cannot be allowed to move forward.
Brenda O’Farrell is the editor-in-chief and co-owner of two newspapers, The 1019 Report in Vaudreuil-Soulanges and The 1510 West in the West Island; editor-in-chief of the QFA Advocate, and interim president of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association. She is also a former senior news editor of the Montreal Gazette.
What was envisioned by Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau would be swept away.