LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Inflamed rhetoric around Bill 96 is harmful and counterproductive

It was with some disappointment that I read the QCGN’s press release respecting Bill 96 and its proposed changes to the Charter of the French Language published in the Chronicle-Telegraph on May 19.

For a communication from an organization which describes itself as “a centre of evidence-based expertise,” the press release was remarkably heavy on hot takes from its president and light on concrete information about the bill.

The press release opens with the shocking statement that Bill 96 proposes to “override fundamental human rights,” though upon reading through the press release, it does not give a single example of which human rights are being overridden, much less how. The only information the press release offers about the actual contents of Bill 96 is that it will extend the application of Bill 101 to businesses with 25 or more employees, and that it modifies the Canadian Constitution.

Of these two scant factual statements, the second is dubious: the constitutional amendments involved are actually to sections of the Constitution Act, 1867 which relate to Quebec’s constitution, as expressly permitted by sections 41, 42, and 45 of the Constitution Act, 1982. (The same acts of British parliament created Canada simultaneously with Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia; the provinces and the dominion therefore share constitutional documents.)

More disappointing, however, is that the press release expressly states that the QCGN has not yet taken the necessary time to “fully examine the details of the 96-page bill,” meaning the QCGN has chosen to condemn this bill for allegedly infringing human rights – a very serious allegation – before it has even finished reviewing the contents of the bill itself.

Quebec’s English-speaking communities deserve better from those who would declare themselves their leaders, co-ordinators and opinion-makers. It does our communities a great disservice to give credence to the tired stereotype that anglophones will oppose any language reform without even hearing out what’s being proposed. As for these heavy-handed allegations of threats to human rights, everyone knows what happens to those who too often cry wolf.

I have independently read through the entirety of Bill 96. There are certainly some elements of the bill about which I am concerned, notably the expansion of government search and seizure powers (section 111 of Bill 96), ceasing the recognition of English-language birth, marriage and death certificates (sections 122 and 123), and of course the risk of a gradual reduction of spaces in English-language CEGEPs (section 58). These are common civil rights concerns and likely the kind that will be addressed through ongoing legislative review of the bill; they are not, by any stretch, human rights violations.

I have communicated my concerns about Bill 96 to my MNA and encourage all others to do the same. However, I worry that any informed, measured and constructive critiques of Bill 96 will be drowned out by a chorus of misinformed talking points pushed by those who made up their minds about the bill before even reviewing it.

Upon my review of Bill 96, I found it also has elements that will be beneficial to Quebec City’s anglophone communities. Its proposed reduced tuition for Canadians studying in French-language programs at Quebec universities where such programs are not available in French in the students’ home provinces (section 19 of Bill 96) will make Université Laval an attractive option for bilingual students from across Canada, for instance.

Also, the fact that English-language CEGEPs are disproportionately located in the Montreal region means the government may even favour CEGEP Champlain–St. Lawrence when allocating places and resources. You won’t find such analyses from those who made up their minds before they even read the bill, but they’re crucial to open and constructive discussion within our communities and with the greater Quebec community as a whole.

In comparison to the QCGN press release, I thank Peter Black for his quality, factual reporting on Bill 96 and reactions thereto as also published by the Chronicle-Telegraph on May 19. We need more of this kind of fair and nuanced reporting and analysis, and less of the unhelpful rhetoric like that found in the QGCN press release that was published beneath it.

Hear, hear, Farnell, I liked Peter's dispassionate review of the situation too.  We really don't need more language wars. The angryphone response makes me think of those American liberty freaks on youtube who get their kicks filming themselves talking back obstinately to police at traffic stops, refusing to answer questions, roll down windows, move their car out of the way, search warrants and all that.  Don't Tread On Me...   Don't Mess with Texas...  Don't step on us Anglos.  

I read Mr. Chambers' critique of the bill too.  I really don't think Bill 96 is going to lead to me being stopped in the street by a langauge inspector, demanding to go through my cellphone in search of confidential information, medical files, bad spelling and English-captioned photos of my pet parrot... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯