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Jorge Maria LJI Reporter

More than 125 people came out in person for a meeting held by the Regional Association of Western Quebeckers (RAWQ) in order to lay out what Bill 96 and Bill C-32 will mean to the people of Pontiac.

RAWQ director general Jeanne Nivischiuk said the goal of the event was to engage with the community, to exchange ideas and ask questions.

President of the association, Arthur Ayres, an immigration, refugee and litigation lawyer by trade, presented some of the more important points.

  • French must be twice the size of any other language on a sign
  • All provincial government interactions are to be done in French
  • All court work must be in French or officially translated
  • French will be the only language required for employment or for businesses. All
    businesses with more than 25 employees must work and interact in French, making
    the language mandatory
  • A cap of 17.5 per cent for Francophone and Allophone Quebecers wishing to attend
    English CEGEPS
  • Fine for non-compliance on a first offence will range from $3,000 to $30,000

Not mentioned during the meeting was how fines progress after repeat offences. The bill allows for the doubling and tripling of fines for repeat offences. Each day an offence continues counts as a repeat offence.

A major point of concern is the use of the notwithstanding clause, which Ayres called the “despite” clause.

While the legislation can be challenged as unconstitutional or ruled to be contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, any legal ruling against the law cannot be enforced. The notwithstanding clause’s use expires after five years, wherein the legal ruling could then be enforced. This means a portion of the constitution can be suspended for five years.

“Your right to sue is just as important as your right to vote,” Ayres said.

Many were there to listen but also to make their voices heard. Cathy Scullion from Campbell’s Bay, like many in the audience, was angry about the bill. We have rights too and things should be fair, she said. The rest of the country is bilingual. “Quebec should be bilingual too,” she added.

There were many local politicians on hand as well as federal and provincial representatives. MNA for the Pontiac André Fortin was there in person. Pontiac MP Will Amos attended virtually along with another 100 members of the public. The mayor of Clarendon, John Armstrong, said the Bill, as it sits now, has accommodations for bilingual communities. Many of which are in the Pontiac.

However, he was concerned about changes as the bill progressed through the National Assembly. Once committees start working on a bill, the government will try to see how far they can take things, he said.

MNA Fortin echoed Armstrong’s concern. My worry is creeping changes, amendments as the bill makes its way through the National Assembly, a hardening of the rules, he said.

The bill will mean more inspectors and more people in our communities, Fortin said to the crowd.

He also feared the government was using the bill as a political tool.

The general public is becoming much more aware of Bill 96, but Bill C-32, a federal bill, remains relatively unknown.

Nivischiuk said the Bill-C-32 “puts a lot of emphasis on the French language.”

Bill C-32, an amendment to the official languages act of Canada, provides new protections for the French language. For instance, it enables the language commissioner to force companies to follow more restrictive French language laws in federal workplaces.

MRC Pontiac warden Jane Toller plans for a formal petition to be sent the Quebec government voicing the concerns of Pontiacers.

In a separate interview with THE EQUITY, Toller said the Quebec government requires specific language for a formal politician and she is working with MNA Fortin to present the document to the community as soon as possible.

The next information meeting for the RAWQ is set to take place in Wakefield. No specific date has been chosen.

According to Nivischiuk, the RAWQ currently has 1700 registered members, but is actively seeking new members.

The next Annual General meeting is scheduled for Sept. 26, 2021.

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