Dozens from anglophone community protest against Bill 96 in NDG

Protestors call for the bill to be disallowed by the federal government if passed in National Assembly

Anglophone protestors hold anti Bill 96 and Bill 21 signs in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park on Dec. 5 Photo by Amany Mohanna.

Dozens of people gathered in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park on Dec. 5 to protest against Bill 96.

The demonstration was organized by The Committee to Disallow Bill 96; a civil group advocating for the rights of English speakers in Quebec.

The proposed bill is an overhaul of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, or Bill 101. It contains 200 amendments that enforce the province’s laws to be initially stated in French in precedence to their English translations. It also places more limits on the number of students who are allowed to study in English-speaking CEGEPs, and forces businesses with 25 employees or more to obtain a Francization Certificate. This certification is a procedure currently imposed by the Quebec government on businesses with 50 employees or more. It creates measures to ensure the presence of the French language in the internal communications, documentation, and worktools of workplaces.  

Protesters said it is likely that Bill 96 will be approved following its scheduled vote in provincial parliament on Dec. 10. They called upon the federal government to disallow the bill if this happens, affirming that it violates the rights and freedoms of the English-language speakers in Quebec.

For about 90 minutes in front of the park’s cenotaph, protestors circled speakers who gave speeches denouncing overhaul of Bill 101. Protesters held Canadian flags and signs in both French and English condemning bills 21 and 96.

Hugo Shebbeare, the co-leader of the committee, claimed that bills put out by the Coalition Avenir du Québec like Bill 96 and Bill 21 scare many people, even forcing some to move to the other provinces. For example, Bill 21 bans people from wearing religious symbols in certain professions.

“We’re lacking human resources all over the place, and [Premier François Legault is] scaring everybody away,” he said.

Bill 96 was tabled last May by the provincial government. According to the bill, “French is the common language of the Québec nation”. This claim puts Bill 96 in direct conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom which does not recognise the Quebec’s status as a nation. To circumvent this challenge, the Quebec government has invoked the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This allows federal, provincial or territorial governments to temporarily override certain Charter rights.

“That’s what happens when you make discriminatory laws. It enables some people to be bullies and in power and feel justified,” — David Clarke

Sharon Brien, a protestor, said Bill 96 would diminish the rights of the English population in Quebec, and she urged not to give up these rights. “I speak French, but I won’t because we’re forced to.”

Bee Santori, an author and publisher, was one of the speakers. He chanted some of his poems denouncing Bill 96. Santori explained that Bill 96’s proposed restrictions on accessing English educational institutions will be detrimental to young people because it will limit their opportunities to work and travel throughout the world. 

“If you speak only French, you're traveling blind [...] I’m not saying that English is the nicest language in the world, but it just happens to be that somebody chose it as the international language of business and of getting together in the world,” Santori said.

Bill 96 grants more power to the Office québécois de la langue française in handling public complaints against businesses. OQLF investigates if they do not follow the bill’s guidelines. 

David Clarke, another protestor, is worried about possible discriminatory practices in the working environment or during the hiring process against the non-francophone population because of Bill 96. “That’s what happens when you make discriminatory laws. It enables some people to be bullies and in power and feel justified,” he said.

The new bill will also waive the condition for Quebec judges to be proficient in English. Louise Makovsky, an attendee, is concerned about its impact on the fairness of legal processes. 

“This worries me because it means that if you have to go to court [because] you’re falsely accused of something, you will not even be able to understand what’s going on. And to me, that’s the beginning of really making people not have rights,” she said.

The Committee to Disallow Bill 96 created a petition on its Facebook page calling on the federal government to disallow the bill in the event it passes provincial parliament.