By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The author of a controversial new law that will extend the tentacles of the French language into even more of daily life in Quebec says it will not, however, infringe on the rights of Quebec’s Indigenous people or prevent them from preserving their own language or stop them from being able to protect their traditional culture.
Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said he wants to reassure Indigenous communities that their ability to speak their languages, teach them and preserve them will not be affected by the new law, which will, amongst others, add three extra French courses to the course load for students attending English CEGEPs in the province.
The new law, which has been criticized roundly by many observers in Indigenous, anglophone and the educational communities, will also extend Bill 101 to businesses with 25 employees or more, forcing them to operate in French only, and allow the Office Quebecoise de la Langue Francaise to seize e-mails and cell-phone records without a warrant to enforce that aspect of the law.
Additionally, medical professionals and professionals in the justice system will be obliged to communicate in French only, no matter their first language, their level of comfort in speaking it, or their ability to understand it.
If the client doesn’t have `historical’ anglophone status (i.e.an English school-eligibility certificate) communication in English is forbidden, by law, even if the consequences could be life and death.
“First off, we want to reassure Indigenous communities that Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec will not change anything as it pertains to the rights of First Nations and Inuit people,” he said.
Kahnawake isn’t feeling reassured these days, however. In the run-up to the bill passing last week, Indigenous leaders from across Quebec and Labrador sought an exemption for Indigenous communities from Bill 96, citing the relative tenuous nature of Indigenous languages, which are far less spoken worldwide than French is.
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said last week that the MCK would be cutting off any further political discussions with Quebec over the issue, and Kahnawake community members have taken to the streets in protest over the bill twice.
Yet, Jolin-Barrette said Indigenous rights were very much a part of the Bill 96 discussion.
“We also want to reiterate that the law was written and created with the idea that none of the stipulations in it contravene the inalienable rights of First Nations and Inuit peoples to maintain and develop their traditional languages and culture, as they have had under the Charter of the French Language since 1977,” he said.
The initial phase of Bill 96 indicated that students at English CEGEPs would have to take three of their core program courses in French. Since then, the government softened slightly, insisting instead on three extra French second-language courses for those students. Currently, students at English CEGEPs are required to take two French second-language courses.
Despite not meeting with Indigenous communities before the law’s passing and ignoring any and all recommendations brought forth by those communities’ leaders, Jolin-Barrette said the government made those rights “were a concern,” as the law was being written.
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the IORI:WASE. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.