The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms was unanimously adopted with pride by the National Assembly in 1975. In fact, then Premier René Lévesque sent a copy to every home in the province.
Since coming to power Premier François Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government have repeatedly and pre-emptively neutralized most of the rights protected by the Charter. A year ago, they prohibited the wearing of religious symbols by teachers and school leaders as well as a wide range of public servants including police officers, lawyers, notaries, labour arbitrators and others while performing their official functions.
With Bill 96: An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec the Legault government has gone even further. Bill 96 effectively creates a Charter-free zone with respect to a wide range of interactions between individuals and the government. It touches on commerce, employment, education, access to public services, expression in a range of contexts, and the operation of the legal system. Where rights that would otherwise be protected are infringed, the courts will not be able to review and remedy the rights-violating conduct under either the Canadian or Quebec Charters.
The premier wants to use the notwithstanding clause to get his way and bypass democratic processes. The threat is not only to the rights of our minority language community, but to the fundamental rights of all Quebecers. Where will he stop?
If Bill 96 passes, the Office de la langue française will publish a list of businesses that are not compliant with law and then the government will refuse to do business with them. These businesses will not be able to receive public grants or subsidies.
If Bill 96 passes, an inspector with the Office de la langue française will be able to access an individual’s work computer or cellphone without a warrant.
If Bill 96 passes, English-speaking Quebecers will face new restrictions on provincial services and communications in English.
If Bill 96 passes, English-speakers will face new costs and delays in accessing the justice system.
If Bill 96 passes, Quebecers who live in majority French-speaking municipalities may lose the ability to receive information and services in English—if they had such an ability to begin with.
If Bill 96 passes, the Quebec government will be able to regulate the vocal music used in the public service.
If Bill 96 passes, public servants might be prohibited from speaking to one another at work in a language other than French.
The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms is a foundational document reflecting our values and our commitment to building an inclusive Quebec where French is the common language. Overriding the Charter is profoundly undemocratic and goes against our society’s most fundamental values and beliefs.
The Legault government’s approach may be in direct conflict with international law. It damages severely our reputation in the world as a free, democratic, and open society.
We have shown over the last three decades that we can promote the French language and ensure a vibrant future for French culture in Quebec while still respecting the rights and freedoms of all citizens.
Let’s focus on building bridges between Quebecers and on meeting the challenges of our post-pandemic recovery.
Please choose a letter to send to Premier Legault and Minister Jolin-Barrette demanding that the CAQ government build on the best of our democratic traditions, base his government’s efforts to promote French while respecting the Charte des droits et libertés de la personne and withdraw his proposal for a blanket use of the notwithstanding clause to protect Bill 96 from legal challenges. The letter will also be sent to your MNA, the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party Dominique Anglade and your federal MP.