CEGEP St. Lawrence head: Bill 96 misses regional distinctions

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Photo: Photo from LinkedIn

Edward Berryman, the director of studies at CEGEP Champlain-St. Lawrence, says Bill 96 does not take into account regional differences and is “profoundly unjust.”

CEGEP Champlain–St. Lawrence director Edward Berryman says Bill 96, the overhaul of Quebec’s language laws proposed by the Coalition Avenir Québec, does not take into account the differences between the several English-language colleges in Montreal and Quebec City’s only English-language CEGEP.

Berryman spoke to the QCT three weeks after Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled the sweeping legislation, with people still trying to understand the implications of measures affecting a wide range of matters, including services to immigrants, commercial signs, constitutional amendments and language in the workplace.

It is, however, the proposed measures affecting English-language CEGEPs, notably a cap on admissions for francophone students, that have officials in Quebec’s English-speaking community confused and concerned about the potential impact.

Berryman, whose official title is director of the constituent college and director of studies, said, “My main reaction was the fact it’s a blanket application on all English-speaking CEGEPs of the framework and guidelines that seem to address what they perceive as a linguistic problem on the island of Montreal.

“I feel it’s profoundly unjust we are being treated the same way as Dawson and John Abbott,” Berryman said, referring to two of the largest English-language CEGEPs in the Montreal area. “Do you think the French language is threatened in Quebec City and the Capitale-Nationale region? The facts don’t support that. [The government is] applying a solution for Montreal to Quebec City; the linguistic dynamics are profoundly different and it’s really, really unfortunate.”

That feeling is echoed by Nancy Beattie, the director of Champlain College Lennoxville in Sherbrooke. She told local media, “I am disappointed and I am worried. It is sure that this will have an impact on our institution. You have to understand that in the region, it is not at all the same context as in Montreal.”

Berryman said besides the impact of Bill 96 on English-language CEGEPs, he questions the reasoning behind the measures. “The whole idea of seeing CEGEPs as the vector of penetration of English culture and English language, I’m not sure that analysis is well-rounded and based on facts.”

Students from the French-language high school system, without eligibility for English-language education at the primary and secondary level, account for between 75 and 80 per cent of St. Lawrence students, depending on the year, Berryman said. The total student population is about 950.

“The reason why we have a full-fledged English CEGEP in Quebec City is because the francophones who study at St. Lawrence … want to have the advantage of having better skills in English, whether for personal matters, for professional reasons, for their studies, to increase their options at the university level, because it is a skill that is sought after in the job market and for all the normal and obvious reasons.”

Berryman said St. Lawrence has for “years and years” given students from English-language high schools priority in admissions, a requirement included in Bill 96: “That’s another illustration of why that bill doesn’t fit the reality of St. Lawrence.”

One aspect of the bill that has administrators particularly puzzled is the notion of a 17.5 per cent cap on francophone enrolment in English CEGEPs. That percentage is thought to apply to the overall enrolment in all English-language colleges in the province.

“Where it gets more nebulous from my point of view is how do you divide that 17.5 per cent between the different colleges?” Berryman said. “Are we going to have each one of us a specific percentage? If so, based on what exactly? There are still a lot of questions to be answered about how this is going to be implemented.”

He added, “We haven’t received any further explanation from the ministry; probably they themselves don't know how they’re going to manage that.”

Berryman said, “We have started discussion with the government; we tried to explain our viewpoint; we are also collaborating with the Fédération des cégeps and with the English CEGEPs. We need to be treated according to our reality.”

He cited the example of how the Quebec government has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting its interventions to the situation in specific regions: “So why don’t they apply the same logic? The linguistic reality in Quebec City is far different from Montreal.”

According to National Assembly observers, Bill 96 is likely to go through the committee process and be adopted before Christmas.