If you are a kid going to school in Quebec, you are going to do it in French. That’s the line in the sand, that in Quebec, French is spoken. And if you want to go to school in English in Quebec, it just got a lot tougher thanks to the passing of Bill 115 in an emergency session of the Quebec National Assembly. Ordinary assembly rules were suspended and the government invoked closure to ram the bill through the assembly, meaning that the assembly had to vote on the bill at the end of the sitting, which in this case ran for 20 hours.
This current bit of legislation, intended as a compromise, was passed after the Canadian Supreme Court overturned Bill 104, enacted in 2002 by the Parti Québécois government of the day to close a loophole in Quebec’s French Language Charter. The loophole enabled parents to enrol their children in the English public school system after sending them to an English private school for a year or less. Bill 104 eliminated that option.
Under Bill 115, children who attend English private schools will accumulate points over at least three years to qualify for English public school. Lawyer Bill Tyler, who brought down Bill 104, is not enthusiastic about the compromise.
Under Bill 115, it will now take three years in a non-subsidized English school to get the 15 points needed to obtain a certificate, Tyler says. “But then those 15 points can be subtracted from, depending on where the brothers and sisters went to school, depending on where the parents went to school—and a whole series of factors that are completely irrelevant to the situation of the child.” Tyler says the bureaucrat in charge of a child’s dossier would also get discretion over eight points, “so conceivably, you could have a child that did all of their elementary instruction in English at a private non-subsidized school, and they still wouldn’t get a certificate.”
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois promises to quash the new law and replace it by extending Bill 101, the province’s historic language legislation, to private English schools. “I will keep my election promises,” Marois says, adding that “collective rights take precedence over individual rights when it comes to language.”
Bill 101 defines French, the language of the majority of the population, as the only official language of Quebec and frames fundamental language rights for everyone in the province. The preamble states the resolve of the national assembly “to make French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business.” So everyone in Quebec has the right to speak French. This is to preserve the identity of Quebecois Francophones.
Not that Anglophones don’t have rights too. Anglophones are permitted to attend an English-only school under some conditions, like if the child has a Canadian parent who went to an English-only elementary school in Canada; or if the child has a parent, regardless of citizenship, who received most of his or her elementary education in Quebec; or if a child has a Canadian parent who received most of his or her elementary schooling in English, along with the child’s brothers and sisters; or if a child. . . there’s more, but you get the idea. Bill 115 is designed to nail down these rules, but it actually only affects a few hundred children of immigrants, who generally prefer that their kids receive instruction in English rather than French.
Bill 115 looks like a good compromise, since no one likes it and another Supreme Court challenge is expected shortly, so everyone who doesn’t like the law, which seems to be everyone, can look forward to changes soon.
(On ne passe pas! [“They shall not pass!”] was the battle cry of the Poilu defenders of Verdun against the Germans in the Great War.)