Quebec moves to protect French and limit the use of English | Quebec

The Quebec government has successfully passed sweeping French language protection rules that critics warn will reshape all aspects of public life.

Bill 96, which was passed Tuesday afternoon in the provincial assembly, will require new immigrants and refugees to contact provincial officials exclusively in French six months after their arrival, otherwise they will face service losses. The bill also restricts the use of English in the legal system and restricts enrollment in the province’s English-language schools.

The ruling Avenir Québec Coalition received support from the left-wing Québec Solidaire to pass the bill by 78 to 29. The Provincial Liberals voted against the bill, saying it was too much. The separatist Parti Québécois said the legislation did not go far enough.

Celebrating the passage of the bill, Prime Minister François Legault framed it as an effort to strengthen protection for Quebec’s official language. The prime minister also dismissed fears that the law undermines the rights of linguistic minorities.

“I do not know of any linguistic minority better served in its own language by the English-speaking community in Quebec,” she said on Tuesday. “We are proud of that, and we are also proud to be a French-speaking nation in North America and it is our duty to protect our common language.”

Quebec’s previous attempts to protect the French language have made headlines in the past. In 2019, the province denied residence to a woman from France, claiming she could not prove she could speak French. That year, the government proposed banning the “Bonjour-hi” popular salute, only to retreat quickly amid anger and ridicule from residents. In November, the head of the country’s largest airline was criticized for admitting that he had never learned French, even though he had lived in Montreal for 14 years.

Legault said critics of the bill were “fueling the fire” of “misinformation” that spread across the county before the vote.

“We are committed to protecting your access to English-language healthcare. “It’s a historic promise that we will keep and continue to have English-speaking hospitals, schools… and universities,” he said, dismissing fears that those seeking English-language healthcare would face new obstacles.

Thousands have rallied against the bill in recent weeks amid fears that many public services will be cut.

“Bill 96 is the most significant human rights deviation in the history of Quebec and Canada,” said Marlene Jennings, head of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which promotes English-speaking rights in the province.

“This legislation revokes the right of access to services in English for about 300,000 to 500,000 English-speaking Quebec,” he said.

Julius Gray, a lawyer leading the fight against the bill, described his vote as one of the “most pointless uses of power I have ever seen” in an interview with CTV News. Gray said he and other lawyers planned to raise a number of legal challenges, adding that they would fight it out to the United Nations.

The bill has also been criticized by indigenous groups, who say it erodes indigenous language rights.

Earlier this month, Haudenosaunee Longhouse, the traditional Mohawk government in the Kahnawake community, vowed to defy the law, saying in a statement that the bill “would never apply” to residents in their ancestral lands.

On Tuesday, the Assembly of First Nations called Bill 96 “an important step backwards” that thwarted reconciliation efforts.

By invoking a legislative mechanism known as the “extension clause” to make the law inviolable from constitutional challenges, the Quebec government has significantly reduced the chances of the federal government intervening.

Prime Minister Justin Trindade, whose constituency is in Quebec, has been outspoken in his criticism of the bill, telling reporters only that he had “concerns” about the bill.

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