Bill 96 was passed this week, but the English-speaking and Aboriginal communities are not taking off and want to continue the ongoing fight against the law. These fears, unfounded or not, are taxed as demagogic and close to the “delirium of persecution” by many commentators.

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What are they ? Are they founded? Are they political demagoguery?

To answer these questions, two professors from the Faculty of Law at the University of Sherbrooke, Guillaume Rousseau and Maxime St-Hilaire, and a columnist and essayist, specialist in French language issues, Frédéric Lacroix, have agreed to come and enlighten us on this linguistic debate.

Searches without a warrant for linguistic reasons

Various groups for the defense of the rights of the Anglophone minority were able to present this bill as a means for the government to no longer be limited by individual rights and freedoms in the event of a search.

For Guillaume Rousseau, full professor at the Faculty of Law of the Université de Sherbrooke and director of programs in law and applied state policy, “Bill 96 gives the OQLF powers comparable to those possessed by other public bodies such as the CNESST for example. In exercising its powers, the OQLF must respect the rights of citizens provided for in the Civil Code, in particular the right to privacy.”

French only for newcomers after the first six months

The six-month rule, imposed by Quebec on immigrants and refugees after which they are no longer allowed to receive services in a language other than French, has been one of the most decried rules. Québec solidaire has even undertaken to render it inoperative in the event of a victory in the fall elections.

For Guillaume Rousseau, “there are many exceptions to the six-month rule, in particular “when health, public safety or the principles of natural justice so require”.

The right to equality violated due to the addition of French courses at CEGEP

The imposition of new courses in French in English-speaking CEGEPs also provoked a major outcry. One of the arguments most often put forward is the right to equality violated by such a rule.

Mr. Rousseau specifies on this point that it would be “unlikely that Bill 96 would be considered contrary to the right to equality. First, because the provision of parliamentary sovereignty protects this law against attacks based on this right. And then because often the attacks against Law 101 based on the right to equality have been failures.

The abandonment of English in health

For the Coalition for Quality Health and Social Services (CSSSQ), Bill 96 would have negative repercussions on the health network, in particular by harming communications between caregivers and patients.

Here again, Mr. Rousseau comes to reassure the fears of the Anglophone, allophone and Aboriginal communities. “Section 15 of the Act respecting health services and social services, which provides for the right of Anglophones to receive services in English, is in no way modified by Bill 96, explains the professor.”

The supremacy of French in Justice

One of the last major issues raised by minority groups is the risk of seeing French prevail in the courts. As in health, it is communication problems as well as the publicity of debates and decisions that can be called into question. Access to justice, including access to high-level positions such as judges, are also at risk according to the latter.

Here too, Mr. Rousseau is reassuring. As he explains, “Law 96 primarily requires companies that file court proceedings in English to translate them into French. I don’t see how that infringes on any freedom.”

Maxime St-Hilaire, associate professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Sherbrooke, warns that “Quebec must still be careful not to restrict the status of English as a judicial language.” He also recommends that the legislator set up safeguards to avoid having the French version of a law prevail over the English version.

In the context of a column in the Journal, dated May 17, our colleague Mathieu Bock-Côté had been able to speak of “delirium of persecution”, explaining that “this community which represents the English-speaking North American empire in Quebec is taking over the language of diversity to victimize oneself. It’s like being in 1984, by Georges Orwell, where the meaning of the words is reversed and reality disappears.

Beyond the possible paranoia that such a vigorous reaction can represent, and while many jurists like Mr. Rousseau have argued that such reactions are unfounded in their view, we should see on the side of political demagoguery, according to author, columnist and essayist Frédéric Lacroix.

The latter explains that “a significant part of the English-speaking community seems to have divorced from reality.”

“While it has a major institutional over-completeness and this is in no way called into question by Law 96, we are witnessing a demagogic one-upmanship in the denunciation of this law”, he adds.

For him, “part of the English-speaking community has never accepted the principle of “French, common language” or “French, language of integration”. This community does not accept the status of “minority” in Quebec either, but behaves practically like a majority.”

Bill 96 was passed in the National Assembly on May 25. On May 27, the English Montreal School Board announced its intention to challenge it in court.