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By Hunter Cresswell

Speakers at the Quebec Community Groups Network Bill 96 hearing painted a grim picture of what life for English-speakers in Quebec could look like under the sweeping language reform.

On Sept. 17, during the final of five virtual hearings organized by QCGN that took place earlier this month, Lord Reading Law Society human rights chair Frank Schlesinger said the bill as presented creates a hierarchy based on language, would allow the government to search and seize documents in businesses without a warrant, and force businesses with five or less employees to report how many employees can’t speak French.

“Bill 96 provisions extend far beyond language rights,” he said.

Schlesinger also expressed concerns about the Quebec National Assembly’s picking and choosing of who and what organizations can speak at the upcoming hearings in Quebec City on Bill 96. His concern is shared by the QCGN, which is why the network organized its own hearings, to give a voice to the uninvited.

“We held these hearings because the Quebec government seems determined to stifle debate on the implications of this seminal legislation,” QCGN vice president Kevin Shaar said in a statement. “We have succeeded in bringing increased public awareness of our concerns, but we have much more work to do. We have to keep spreading the word that this bill does not reflect the inclusive Quebec where French is the common language that we cherish.”

QCGN health and social services committee chair Eric Maldoff said that the bill restricts access to health services in English, but has nothing to do with health because it’s ideological.

“This is a very serious problem and there’s every reason for the community to be concerned about this,” he said.

Montreal Council of Women government affairs vice president Maria Peluso called Bill 96 an example of systematic discrimination.

“Ultimately we want our fair share of services for which we pay our taxes,” she said.

The next step is taking the discourse to the Bill 96 hearings at the National Assembly. The QCGN, unlike numerous other English organizations across Quebec, was invited to weigh in on the bill and is scheduled to appear on Sept. 28. The discussions and speeches made during the QCGN hearings will be added to the network’s brief, which will be filed with the National Assembly.

The 100-page Bill 96, tabled by the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec party in the National Assembly in March, amends the Charter of the French Language, 24 other Quebec statutes, the Constitution Act of 1867, and one other regulation. It would also make seeking justice in court in English more expensive by charging for translation, limit permits for students in Quebec to study at English schools to three year periods, decline enrollment in English primary and secondary schools, and could keep the unemployment rate of English speakers – which is higher than French speakers – stagnant.

Federal Bill C-32, which would amend the Official Languages Act, recognize French as Quebec’s official language, and guarantee an employee to be served in French at a company of more than 24 employees, was tabled by Parliament on June 15.

People who missed the hearings can view archived footage of each one on QCGN’s YouTube channel QCGN TV.

“As the debate heats up over the coming weeks with the National Assembly’s review of Bill 96, we encourage all to take part in a respectful and constructive manner, so we can work together to chart a positive and welcoming path forward, Shaar wrote. “At the same time, please [be] rest assured that the QCGN will continue to highlight the contribution English-speaking Quebecers make to this province.”

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