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Sorry anglos, French only. That’s the law

March 13th,2024 | Opinion

Close to 7,000 residents in the region won’t be able to understand what the MRC des Collines government is up to this year. 

That’s because Bill 96 – the province’s overhaul of the Charter of the French Language – restricts the regional government from translating its documents into English. The MRC just released its annual report  exclusively in French, and the government says it has no power to translate the document so that English-only speakers can read it. 

According to MRC des Collines spokesperson Melanie Bureau, because the region has less than 50 per cent of English speakers, her regional government is not allowed to translate official documents into English. 

“We never had bilingual status and because of that the only documents that we could legally do bilingual would be with public security – information with an urgency for the public,” said Bureau. 

According to Census data from 2021, there are 6,445 residents in the MRC des Collines who only speak English. There are another 45 residents who can’t speak French or English, bringing the total number of residents who won’t be able to read the regional government’s annual report to 6,490. 

This law is clearly discriminatory – restricting residents from a certain cultural demographic from receiving important information that is readily available to their French-speaking counterparts. It’s frustrating that the CAQ government was able to slide these restrictions into legislation but also not surprising given that they had to use the notwithstanding clause, which allows provincial legislatures to temporarily override sections of the Charter.

When this bill was on the table, critics warned that the preemptive use of the notwithstanding clause would create a two-tiered society in Quebec – one where francophones would be given more rights than anglophones. And while CAQ politicians downplayed the potential assault on minorities, we are now seeing how these discriminatory policies are affecting them. 

When we tried to interview our MNA, Robert Bussiére, he declined, and his press secretary instead explained the law. 

“The official language in Quebec is French. Municipalities that do not have bilingual status are obliged to transmit their written communications in French only,” wrote Pascale Labelle in an email. “That said, if a citizen communicates with his or her municipality in English (by email, in person, by telephone or otherwise), the municipality may, at its convenience, respond to that citizen in English by the same means.”

This is what La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux does. While the municipality does not have bilingual status, Lamoureux answers English speakers in the language of their choice, but every municipal document is French only. 

Politicians consistently told reporters during passing of the bill that English services would be maintained, but clearly this is not the case.  

It’s great that the province will still allow police to keep anglophones safe by giving them important information in English…thanks for that, but it would be nice to apprise anglophones on economic development, regional budgets and climate action plans. Good thing there are still a few anglo papers around to do the work of explaining such important documents. Pick up next week’s Low Down for more on the MRC’s annual report. 

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