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MP Chatel voted away power to fight notwithstanding clause

June 21st,2023 | Opinion

The federal government will soon be fully supportive of Quebec’s use of the controversial notwithstanding clause.

In a landslide decision June 15, Canadian Senators voted 60-5 to adopt Bill C-13 — an Act to amend the Official Languages Act, which gives the right to work and to be served in French in federally regulated businesses in Quebec, such as banks and transport companies. This was the final legislative step before Bill C-13 receives royal assent — a rubber stamp into law.

The problems in Bill C-13 have nothing to do with protecting the French language. English rights groups across the province have been clear that protecting French language and culture is imperative, but not when it is at the expense of other minority groups.

Where the issues come into play is that Bill C-13 contains three references to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, which, due to its amendments with the passing of Bill 96 last year, is now entirely subjected to the notwithstanding clause.

This means that the Quebec government can “restrict rights guaranteed by the Canadian constitution,” according to the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), an English-language advocacy group in Quebec. It argues that because the Upper House rejected a proposal to remove the references to Quebec’s language charter, Quebec can infringe on the rights of English-speaking Canadians “with the acquiescence and tacit support of the federal government in the law of the land.”

What’s highly disappointing locally is that our own MP Sophie Chatel voted in favour of Bill C-13, arguing that the bill comes with funding and initiatives to protect English services in Quebec. But what is a real head-scratcher is that Chatel has been vocal against the notwithstanding clause and has said she will fight its use in a “preemptive manner.”

But in voting for the bill, she gave away any power she would have had to fight it.

Canada’s Official Languages Act and the Charter of the French Language are now “inextricably linked,” says the QCGN, arguing it creates an asymmetrical framework for minority language groups.

Quebec’s new language law, referred as Bill 96, is creating more and more division between French and English speakers in the province, as opposed to uniting Quebecers, as Premier François Legault has said it is intended to do.

Just this past week, a 12-year-old autistic girl was told by her bus driver that she shouldn’t be speaking English on the bus and scolded her for not respecting the language of the province. The student goes to REACH, the only English-language public school for children with special needs on Montreal’s South Shore. The incident led a young, English-speaking Quebecer to feel unsafe and threatened on the way to school.

It’s highly disappointing that our federal leaders are now arming the ruling CAQ party with even more ammo to fire at anglos in the province — and our own MP Chatel will have some of the gunpowder on her hands.

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