Controversial language bill adopted by National Assembly

Bill 96, the controversial law that has been at the centre of CEGEP preoccupations for over a year, was adopted by the National Assembly on Tuesday, May 24 by a vote of 78 to 29.

The CAQ majority and Québec Solidaire MNAs voted in favour of the Bill, the Liberals and Parti Québécois MNAs voted against it. The PQ deemed the law did not go far enough in protecting the French language, the Liberals denounced the invocation of the notwithstanding clause.

For the CEGEP system, the provisions in the Bill are far-reaching and affect who the English-language colleges can admit and how many courses students must take in which language. The Bill’s impact will be felt across the college curriculum and on faculty staffing. However, little is known at this time how the implementation will be carried out.

Seeking mitigating solutions

There is also little clarity on how the Bill will be applied to Indigenous students and students with special learning needs who are enrolled in English-language colleges. These and other considerations will likely affect the time it will take to implement the provisions of Bill 96, almost certainly more time than its architects had counted on as the processes to overhaul curriculum are labourious. After amending the RREC (rules that govern CEGEP curriculum), every program will have to be revised. At Dawson alone, there are up to 94 grids to revise.

The work of the DGs of the English-language colleges going forward will be concentrated on mitigating the impact of the Bill on students and on faculty staffing. Through consultation with Ministry of Higher Education officials, they hope to find solutions to the most pressing issues and needs. In these discussions, Director General Diane Gauvin will focus on her priorities: student success and reducing the impact on faculty while respecting the collective agreement.

The complexities contained within Bill 96 extend from the classroom to the workplace. Many provisions dictate how institutions will communicate with external bodies, and possibly internally as well. How this will apply to English-language colleges also remains unclear. Most certainly, policies and contracts will have to be formulated in French first, and if requested, in English.

Human rights challenges

Legal experts and human rights advocates are most concerned about the invocation of the notwithstanding clause. They point to the erosion of rights spelled out in both the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and in the Quebec Charter of Rights. The Globe and Mail’s Editorial Board explained this last provision by writing “the Quebec government has shielded itself from the onus of protecting the rights of citizens by invoking the notwithstanding clause.

“That’s the part of the Charter that allows legislatures to override a long list of constitutional protections. These suspensible rights include freedom of conscience and religion, the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, and the right of all people to be treated equally before the law, without discrimination.”

La Presse published a comprehensive article on May 23 exploring all facets of Bill 96 while quoting Director General Diane Gauvin and two Dawson teachers. It is a must-read for anyone seeking information about the Bill, what it hopes to achieve for Quebec society and the preservation of the French language, and its effect on all Quebecers, particularly on those who live or work in English.

Last Modified: June 1, 2022