A leading constitutional lawyer in Montreal says there will be a legal challenge against Bill 96, Quebec’s proposed law to protect the French language in the province.
The controversial law is expected to pass the National Assembly this week.
Civil rights attorney Julius Gray said he expected to participate in the legal challenge, but could not yet say which groups would participate.
“I hope to be part of the challenge to the UN like we did with Bill 178,” said Grey, who said the bill went too far and violated constitutional and fundamental rights. .
“This battle will not be over until the highest international courts have spoken.”
The bill would reform several Quebec laws, including the Charter of the French Language, affecting everything from education and health to the rights of immigrants to be served in other languages.
It has been criticized on several fronts, notably for its use of the notwithstanding clause, which allows a province to override fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Rather than applying the section to specific sections of the bill, the government applied it to the entire bill, protecting every aspect of this far-reaching law from Charter legal challenges.
Despite the roadblock, Gray says he’s confident parts of the proposed law could be challenged on other grounds.
The Quebec Community Groups Network criticized the bill for numerous reasons, in part for infringing on citizens’ right to privacy, dramatically reducing the ability to receive public services in English, and for imposing fines for talking about languages other than French at work.
“Make no mistake. The complexity of Bill 96 is intentional,” the Quebec Community Groups Network wrote in a statement about the bill. It connects English-speaking groups across Quebec.
“This controversial legislation amends the Charter of the French language, 24 other provincial laws, a regulation and the Constitution Act of 1867”, writes the network. “The government, it seems, is hoping that Quebecers don’t pay attention to detail.”
The minister responsible for the French language in Quebec, Simon Jolin-Barrette, vigorously defended the bill in the face of criticism, calling it reasonable, balanced and necessary “to ensure the adequate protection of the French language” in the province.
The law discriminates not only against English speakers, but also against French speakers, Gray said.
If passed, the law would cap the number of French students allowed to study in English-speaking CEGEPs. Young Francophones looking to learn English, often for professional reasons, will be at a disadvantage, he says.
“Francophones are the big losers,” said Gray.
The proposed law would also require students in English-language CEGEPs to take more French courses than are currently required.
“There is absolutely no rationality behind this law. The whole explanation given that French is in danger is wrong,” Gray added.