Opinion: Our opposition to Bill 14 – a question of principle

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Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard and Liberal critic on language issues Marc Tanguay offer a refreshing and confident position on the language question. Their opposition to the “unnecessarily coercive and judicialized approach, and inflammatory measures,” of Bill 14 stand in stark contrast to that of the PQ government, let alone the CAQ that coward away from killing the bill outright.

Couillard and Tanguay speak of the benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism and of the great advantage that the million strong English-speaking  Quebecers – “they are not foreigners” – have in speaking at least two languages fluently.

They finally state what is plain to many but not enough in Quebec, that Francophones are placing themselves at a disadvantage by hindering themselves and their children off from greater opportunity.

I am far from a Liberal flag bearer.  Bill 22, Bill 178, these pieces of language restrictive legislation, along with hiring of more language cops came in under liberal governments.  However, the principles espoused in this opinion piece deserve praise and should be echoed by more and more Francophone leaders across Quebec.

Couillard and Tanguay close with, “Let’s choose to focus on our strengths and, above all, on our desire to live and prosper together.   Sounds good to me.

Opinion: Our opposition to Bill 14 – a question of principle (Montreal Gazette)

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Cotler breaks federal MP silence on repressive language legislation

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The following article appeared in The Metropolitain.

Our Linguistic Duality Must be a Legal Reality

By Hon. Irwin Cotler on April 22, 2013

In the words of René Lévesque, “A nation is judged by how it treats its minorities.” Regrettably, linguistic minorities in Canada have often had to fight for just treatment, and that struggle continues against the backdrop of several troubling recent developments that threaten the rights of minority language communities throughout the country. Simply put, it is critical to ensure that minority language communities feel welcome and are able to thrive, and this is as true for Anglophones in Quebec as it is true for French-speakers elsewhere in Canada.

Regrettably, Quebec Anglophones have recently come under increased pressure in the form of Bill 14, which would amend the French Language Charter with the goal of enhancing protection for French. All Quebecers – indeed, all Canadians – have an interest in ensuring the continued vibrancy of the French language and culture in our province, but this can and must be accomplished while respecting the rights of the English-speaking minority.

To that end, Bill 14 is problematic in several respects. It would:

• Allow the provincial government to strip municipalities or boroughs of bilingual status against their will if the population of mother-tongue Anglophones drops below 50%.

• Empower OQLF inspectors to seize property without a warrant, and to refer infractions for prosecution without giving alleged offenders an opportunity to comply.

• Prohibit English CÉGEPs from considering Francophone applicants – regardless of merit – until all Anglophone applicants have been accepted.

• Remove an exemption allowing members of the armed forces to send their children to English schools.

• Modify the Charter of the French Language by replacing “ethnic minorities” – a defined term in international law – with “cultural communities,” a concept lacking legal clarity.

• Make French the “normal and everyday language” in which government agencies are addressed, and require citizens applying for government assistance to apply in French or pay for translation. As the Quebec Bar Association recently noted, this could limit access to justice in English, particularly for low-income Anglophones and Allophones seeking legal aid.

Moreover, as the Quebec Bar Association also noted in its analysis of the legislation, Bill 14 could allow public servants to refuse to acknowledge anything said to them in English and require that files be translated in French at the expense of the applicant. Further, it places new and unnecessary burdens on employers with multilingual staffs, while translation inconsistencies in the bill may give rise to unnecessary litigation while burdening the delivery of social services.

Above all, however, Bill 14 would amend the preamble of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to say that “rights and freedoms must be exercised in keeping with … the values of Quebec society, including … the importance of its common language and the right to live and work in French.” In so doing, Bill 14 renders Quebec’s Charter a document designed to entrench the supremacy of the majority, whereas a primary purpose of constitutions is to establish individual and minority rights that cannot be suppressed by simple majority rule.

As the Supreme Court stated in the reference on Quebec’s secession, “there are occasions when the majority will be tempted to ignore fundamental rights in order to accomplish collective goals more easily or effectively. Constitutional entrenchment ensures that those rights will be given due regard and protection.” Accordingly, while the Francophone majority may certainly seek to ensure the sustained vitality of its language and culture, the rights of the Anglophone minority must be protected even if their protection complicates the majority’s goal.

In constitutional democracies such as ours, it is the constitution that protects minority rights from what Alexis de Tocqueville called “the tyranny of the majority.” Indeed, without constitutional safeguards, a majority-elected legislature would be legally empowered to oppress minority groups. Therefore, for Quebec’s Charter to subordinate all other rights to the importance of the majority’s language would be to undermine the very raison-d’être of a human rights charter.

Inasmuch as the language minister has expressed her hope that the amendments to the preamble will affect Supreme Court decisions about Quebec’s language laws, Bill 14 seeks manifestly to reduce constitutional protections for linguistic minorities. Yet such protections must be robust, both for Anglophones in Quebec and Francophones elsewhere in Canada.

Last October, at a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held in Quebec City, Canada signed an international agreement to “uphold cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial, political and religious diversity as a global value which should be celebrated, respected, encouraged and protected within and among all societies and civilizations.” It is time for government decisions – at both federal and provincial levels – to adhere to this noble ideal.

Irwin Cotler is the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He is an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University. 

 

Council speaks out against Bill 14, supports bilingual status quo

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Cote Saint-Luc City Council lead the charge last night against Quebec’s draft Bill 14 which would severely punish more than 65 remaining bilingual cities and towns.  The much criticized draft legislation threatens much of Quebec’s anglophone communities with losing its bilingual status permitting communication with residents in their preferred  “official” language.

Mayor Anthony Housefather, a former president of the once powerful and influential English-language rights lobby group, Alliance Quebec, took a leadership role in drafting the following resolution.  The Council felt so strongly about supporting the resolution that they took the unprecedented procedure of all seconding the motion simultaneously.

 

RESOLUTION ON SECTION 29.1 “BILINGUAL” STATUS

 

Whereas the Charter of the French Language (“Charter”) was adopted by the Quebec National Assembly in 1977, and over 80 municipalities throughout the Province of Quebec were recognized as having “bilingual status” pursuant to the provisions of Section 29.1 of the Charter; and

Whereas the original provisions of the Charter allowed those municipalities that had a majority of residents who spoke a language other than French to be officially recognized under Section 29.1; and

Whereas the City of Côte Saint-Luc has been recognized as having bilingual status under Section 29.1 of the Charter since 1977 and wishes to retain such “bilingual status”; and

Whereas currently the Charter does not allow the recognition of “bilingual status” under Section 29.1 to be removed from a municipality or borough except at the request of such municipality or borough; and

Whereas the Quebec National Assembly adopted Bill 170 imposing forced municipal mergers on municipalities in 2000 and simultaneously adopted companion legislation Bill 171 which drastically changed the criteria to obtain recognition under Section 29.1 of the Charter, from a majority of residents of a municipality or borough who spoke a language other than French to a majority of residents whose mother tongue was English; and

Whereas the revised criteria, under Bill 171, was imposed without consultation with municipalities recognized under Section 29.1 and adopted the narrowest and most inaccurate definition of the English-speaking communities within said municipalities or boroughs; and

Whereas the current Quebec Government has now proposed Bill 14, which would allow for the removal of Section 29.1 recognition from municipalities or boroughs by decree and against the will of the municipality or borough concerned, its duly elected council and its residents; and

Whereas the City of Côte Saint-Luc is firmly opposed to the proposed amendments to Section 29 of the Charter as set out in Bill 14

 

It was moved by Mayor Anthony Housefather, second by the entire city council and resolved:

 

THAT The City of Côte Saint-Luc hereby declares that it wishes to retain its “bilingual status” recognition under Section 29.1 of the Charter now and in the future and wishes to do so irrespective of any fluctuations in its population shown in census numbers now or in the future.

THAT The residents and Council of the City of Côte Saint-Luc view the recognition of our municipality under Section 29.1 as fundamental to the character of the municipality and as a testament of the historical presence of both the English- and French-speaking communities in the municipality;

THAT The City of Côte Saint-Luc vigorously opposes the proposed modifications to Section 29 of the Charter set out in Bill 14 and demands that the Quebec National Assembly continue to recognize the acquired rights of all municipalities and boroughs that currently possess such status and refrain from adopting any legislation that allows Section 29.1 recognition of bilingual status to be removed from a municipality or borough except at the initiative of and express request of said municipality or borough.

 

 

THAT The City of Côte Saint-Luc calls upon all of the members of the Quebec National Assembly to remove the provisions of Bill 14 that propose to amend Section 29 of the Charter or to vote against and defeat such provisions since we view such provisions as an attack on the fundamental rights and intrinsic character of all municipalities and boroughs that currently possess Section 29.1 recognition.

 

 

THAT The City of Côte Saint-Luc directs its clerk to send copies of this resolution to

all of members of the Quebec National Assembly, to all other municipalities in Quebec officially recognized under Section 29.1 of the Charter and to the local federal member of Parliament and the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and the UMQ, FQM and FCM.