More than 200 people gathered in the square opposite Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ office on Sunday afternoon to protest the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) proposed changes to language laws with Bill 14. The rally featured several guest speakers who denounced the bill’s potential impacts on Quebec society, and was organized by two minority rights groups—the Unity Group and PutBackTheFlag.com.
Introduced by the provincial government on Dec. 5, Bill 14 focuses on amending Bill 101—Quebec’s Charter of the French Language. The bill seeks to further protect and promote the French language in Quebec in the realms of business, education, and municipalities.
Bill 14 would restrict the use of English in the workplace by mandating that businesses with 26 or more employees must make French their “normal and everyday language of work,” whereas currently this applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. The new legislation would also amend the bilingual status of certain municipalities. If the law were to pass, a community would only be considered bilingual if English were the mother tongue of at least 50 per cent of its population.
According to Jimmy Kalafatidis, chairman of the Unity Group, Sunday’s protest was an opportunity for both Anglophones and Francophones to demonstrate their discontent with Bill 14.
“Basically what we’re doing here is … trying to send a message to [the Coalition Avenir Québec] and the Liberals to vote down Bill 14,” he said. “[The bill] is detrimental to our economy … to education … to business in general .… It hurts everybody.”
Colin Standish, a law student at Université Laval, was one of four guest speakers who spoke at the rally. Standish expressed concern with the impact Bill 14 would have on the bilingual status of municipalities with both Francophone and Anglophone citizens.
“With [Bill 14], we would see 45 of 90 bilingual status municipalities lose [the] ability to communicate with citizens in the language of their choice,” he said. “In the Eastern Townships … we have 18 bilingual-status towns right now, and 15 of them would be taken away.”
Many of those present at the protest shared Standish’s opinion. Chris Durrant, a third-year law student at McGill said he was shocked by Bill 14’s new bilingual status requirements.
“Requiring 50 per cent Anglophones is ridiculous,” he said. “Certainly, no minorities in the rest of Canada, [like] Franco-Ontarians, would be subjected to such a high standard. I firmly support the right to protect the French language in Quebec, but this goes beyond that. This is persecution of the English-speaking community.”
In his speech, Standish further denounced Bill 14 for its proposed changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
“[In the bill], we see the term “ethnic minorities” changed to “cultural communities,” he said. “In international human rights tribunals, ethnic minorities do have rights, [but] cultural communities don’t. So if we see our rights infringed upon here in Quebec, and want to take it to the Supreme Court … we would actually have no rights here in this province.”
Attendees expressed concern with Bill 14’s impact on students’ ability to finish school, and to enroll in English CEGEPs.
“To graduate CEGEP and secondary school, even from an English system, you would have to pass a French exam,” Standish said. “It’s totally disconnected from any pedagogical goal, [and] also explicitly disconnected from merit-based acquisition of academic credentials.”
Kalafatidis also pointed to the difficulties Bill 14 would create for students to secure employment in the province after graduation.
“When I graduated [from Concordia] in 1994, everybody left [the province] because of the language laws,” Kalafatidis said. “We don’t want the best and the brightest [students] to leave. We want them to stay here, and help grow the economy, and help grow Quebec into a very strong multilingual society.”
Daniel Roy, who said he was not speaking on behalf of any group or organization, attended the rally to express his support for Bill 14.
“The French language is beginning to disappear in America, and it is beginning to disappear in Quebec, as well,” Roy said in French. “I support Bill 14 because it reinforces certain [aspects] of Bill 101 that have been diluted several times by the Supreme Court … and I don’t think [the bill] goes far enough. It’s important to preserve .… French in Quebec.”
Throughout the duration of the event, several police vans lined the street, blocking traffic from accessing McGill College between Sherbrooke and President Kennedy. No arrests were made, and the protestors began to disperse after an hour.
According to The Montreal Gazette, a parliamentary committee will hold public hearings regarding Bill 14 in March.