QUEBECERS UNITE AGAINST BILL 96
By Marlene Jennings
Last Tuesday, the QCGN held a press conference to discuss the harmful impacts of Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec. More than 150 community leaders were on hand to support our message and concerns about the negative impact that this legislation would have not just on our community, but on Quebec society as a whole. I want to thank all of our QCGN members and stakeholders for participating. They helped demonstrate our community’s wide opposition to this far-reaching bill.
Our message was effectively reinforced by our guest speakers including human rights lawyer Julius Grey; Aki Tchitacov, executive director of YES Employment + Entrepreneurship; Dan Lamoureux, president of the Quebec English School Boards Association; Nancy Beattie, director of Champlain College – Lennoxville; Côte-St-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein; and QCGN Board member Dr. Sandra K. de la Ronde. (More details in story below.)
For the past year, the QCGN has served as a crucial and constructive voice through this emotional and, on occasion, hostile debate. Since Bill 96 was tabled in the National Assembly last May 13, we at the QCGN have repeatedly explained the critical concerns of our community to all Quebecers and to our government. We have repeatedly insisted that our legislators reasonably address the serious apprehensions of English-speaking Quebecers. Our cries and concerns have gone unheeded.
Throughout we have posed vital questions that remain unanswered.
Why is Quebec so intent on pre-emptively overriding the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms? This would set aside our proud tradition of protecting human rights as well as international human rights standards to which Quebec has bound itself.
Why does Bill 96 further limit access for our community to education, health and social services, and the courts? Moreover, how does restricting services for English-speaking Quebecers protect and promote the French language?
Why is Quebec adding a number of new and draconian powers to the Charter of the French Language? This includes new search and monitoring powers that would be exempt from the prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure in our Canadian and Quebec Charters.
Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette stated last February that his goal was to protect and promote French and that the English-speaking community and our institutions would be protected. While he continues to push that refrain, it is clear that Bill 96 will have long term, negative impacts on individual English-speaking Quebecers; on our health care, education, and other institutions; and on our community organizations.
We have repeatedly addressed these questions to the government and have asked to meet with Jolin-Barrette, Premier François Legault – who kept for himself the cabinet portfolio as Minister Responsible for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers – as well as MNA Christopher Skeete, Legault’s parliamentary assistant responsible for relations with our community. Skeete will be in Rawdon next week for a talk entitled What Does Bill 96 Mean For You? where he is proposing to answer questions from English-speaking Quebecers about this proposed legislation. We suggested to Skeete that the QCGN host a similar event where members of our community could come and ask about Bill 96 and their concerns. He has not acknowledged receipt of our invitation.
Bill 96 Would Hurt Community Vitality
Unquestionably, if passed into law, Bill 96 would hurt the vitality of our community. And we would be unable to fight back on account of the unprecedented, pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause which would shield Bill 96 and run roughshod over our rights and the rights of all Quebecers.
QCGN continues to urge the government to set aside this proposed legislation. We remain convinced there are more effective and inclusive ways to protect and promote the French language than those outlined in Bill 96. This bill simply does not reflect the modern inclusive Quebec that members of our community have helped build.
If you missed the press conference, or wish to watch it again on QCGN’s YouTube channel, please click here. Also see extensive coverage of the press conference, the upcoming rally, and Bill 96 in the Montreal Gazette, Global News, CTV Montreal, CityNews, MTL Blog, and the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph.
Join Us to March Against Bill 96 on May 14
Faced with the intransigence of the government on this issue, the QCGN and its partner organizations, the English Parents’ Committee Association, the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations, and the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) are organizing a rally against the bill. We are joining forces with a number of other groups including students, teachers and parents to carry out this demonstration.
Keep abreast of details on our Quebecers Against Bill 96 - Québécois-es contre le projet de loi 96 Facebook page. If you like the page, you will receive updates and information. If you are planning to demonstrate with us, you can sign up on the Facebook event or, if you are not on that social media platform, you can register here. Please do not sign up more than once.
Over the last two years, the QCGN has been immersed in a renewal process that will set the course for our organization for the years ahead. This has been no small feat as the pandemic has created barriers to us coming together as a community. Meanwhile the Coalition Avenir Québec government has continued to undermine institutions at the heart of English-speaking Quebec.
Despite these challenges, the QCGN has persisted in our commitment to adapt to the needs of our community. The renewal process has sought to develop and implement a new model of policies and practices designed to promote a greater sense of belonging within the organization.
The road to renewal has been thoughtful and thorough. Through consultations with our members and stakeholders, we gained a refreshed sense of our community’s needs and a new understanding of the challenges we face. This process included a long look at the QCGN’s internal processes, resources, and approach to advocacy and community development. This has led to a renewed vision for the organization that is open and inclusive with a sharper focus on advocacy through community development.
Quebec’s English-speaking community continues to change and evolve. It includes new and different voices that must be heard in order to promote and defend the vitality of our English-speaking community. The model we have been developing will provide a voice for more people, enshrine a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and ensure representation from all corners of Quebec.
The Board of Directors is strong in our commitment to work with our members to bring this renewed vision to life. It is one that we hope will allow the QCGN and its members to better advocate for the needs and priorities of our groups and support the vitality of all English-speaking communities in Quebec.
I am pleased to announce the Transition Committee that will steer the renewal process. Chaired by the Secretary of the QCGN, Matt Aronson, members include Treasurer, Eva Ludvig, as well as Eleni Bakopanos, Gerald Cutting, Valerie Gordon-Williams and Matthew Harrington, who chaired the Renewal Committee which has passed the reins on to the Transition Committee.
We will be discussing the renewal process with our members in the coming weeks to determine how this will usher in positive change for our organization. I look forward to sharing more on this initiative with you all in the months ahead.
Eleni Bakopanos appointed to QCGN Board
I am pleased to announce that at its latest meeting, the Board of Directors appointed the Honourable Eleni Bakopanos to fill a vacancy. A former MP, Eleni has served as a member of the QCGN’s Renewal Committee, and she was a community commissioner for QCGN’s parallel hearings on Bill 96 last fall.
Eleni is a public policy analyst, political media commentator, and public speaker. First elected in 1993 as the Member of Parliament for Saint-Denis, she was re-elected three times in Ahuntsic. A member of the Privy Council of Canada, she served in a number of parliamentary roles including Assistant Deputy Speaker and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and as special advisor for caucus to Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion. She is a member and has served as President of the Women’s Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada (Quebec).
Prior to entering politics at the federal level, Eleni worked in provincial politics with the Liberal Party of Quebec and in the Quebec government as policy advisor to the Quebec Premier and the Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities. She was also a candidate in the electoral district of Crémazie for the Liberal Party of Quebec.
In addition, she was Senior Director for Government Relations at McGill University, her alma mater, and is presently Honorary President of the McGill Women’s Alumnae Association. She also serves as a director for a number of non-governmental and not-for-profit boards and is the past chair of the national board of directors of Equal Voice, whose mission is to elect more women at all levels of government. Eleni has also volunteered with many Quebec women’s organizations, including the Montreal Council of Women; Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie; and La Gouvernance au Féminin. She is Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians.