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By Bird Bouchard

Local Journalism Initiative

Members of English-speaking community organizations are concerned changes to federal language legislation could be a major setback for the rights of English-speaking Quebecers.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages has allowed references to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language to remain in proposed new federal language legislation to amend Canada’s Official Languages Act.

“This is a major setback for the rights of English-speaking Quebecers,” said Eva Ludvig, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), a not-for-profit organization bringing together English-language community organizations across Quebec. “It is clear to us the deck is stacked against English-speaking Quebec.”

During the committee’s clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-13, a Liberal proposal to remove a reference to Quebec language legislation was defeated. This Act would amend the Official Languages Act to enact the use of French in federally regulated private businesses and make related amendments. Members from the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Québécois voted against removing the Quebec language legislation references.

According to Ludvig, the Conservatives and NDP have abandoned linguistic duality and are in the process of ripping apart 50 years of federal official languages policy.

Meanwhile, a motion put forward by the Bloc to further entrench Quebec’s Charter into the Official Languages Act was adopted. A second Bloc Québécois motion further entrenching asymmetry into the Act was similarly supported and passed with support from the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party.

Ludvig said Bill C-13 is a disastrous bill which will profoundly crumble language rights and the relationship between the federal government and the English-speaking minority.

“We feel this would be an infringement of our rights,” she said. “This will strip the rights of a minority English-speaking community. It won’t add any benefits, but it will hurt the English-speaking community.”

Despite her concerns, Ludvig clarified the QCGN is in favour of the protection and promotion of French, but is opposed to the inclusion of the Charter of the French Language in the Official Languages Act as it would not achieve that goal.

“On behalf of English-speaking Quebecers, we repeat our plea to parliamentarians to remove all references to the Quebec Charter of the French Language from this legislation and to ensure all language rights created by Parliament are equitably extended to both official languages, English and French.”

Don Warnholtz, president of Townshippers’ Association echoed Ludvig’s comments, stating the association is also not against the protection of the French language.

“We think that’s a good thing. Where we disagree is in the way that it’s being done,” said Warnholtz.

According to Warnholtz, the association sent out a letter last month to local MPs expressing deep concerns about Bill C-13.

“We feel the plan to modernize the Official Language Act does not reflect our vision of Canada for linguistic duality,” he said. “The equality of the two official languages and the protection of minority rights are intrinsic values.”

Warnholtz said he urged local MPs to amend Bill C-13 by removing all references to the charter of the French language, and that all language rights created by Parliament are equitably extended to both official languages.

“We feel all Canadians should be reflected in the legislation,” said Warnholtz.

While concerned this would lead to French being considered the only minority language in Canada, Warnholtz added the Townshippers’ Association will continue to follow the situation and see what they can do.

“Canada has always followed the principle of linguistic duality, that we have two official languages. The modification weakens the protections for the English language minority here in Quebec, so we're concerned,” said Warnholtz.

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