Group seeking injunction against Quebec’s Bill 96

"Language rights now are meant to protect the French-speaking majority," says Michael Bergman, lead lawyer on the injunction against Quebec's Bill 96. It aims to stop measures that are restrictive to English-speakers. Anastasia Dextrene reports.

By News Staff

A group representing Quebec’s English-speaking community has filed an application for an injunction and judicial review of Bill 96.

The application was filed on Wednesday at the Superior Court in Montreal.

“They constitute encroachment on constitutional and human rights with respect to rights to life, liberty, and security; equality; healthcare services; government services; education; employment; as well as freedoms of expression and mobility, and freedom from undue state interference,” states the application.

Michael Bergman and Associates filed the suit on behalf of the Task Force on Linguistic Policy, which was formed in 2021.

“We are suing the Attorney General of Quebec and exceptionally also the Attorney General of Canada,” Bergman told CityNews. “We are asking that the unilateral amendment made by the Republic of the Canadian Constitution be rendered unconstitutional.”

The Task Force believes the Legault government will aim to introduce 50 new measures to promote French, which they say will more than likely involve greater hardship for English-speaking Quebecers.

“Language rights now in Quebec are meant to protect the majority whereas the commonly held understanding, traditionally, was the minorities’ rights are protected because the majority is always in control,” Bergman said.

“The plaintiffs are individuals rather than sectoral groups or corporations or people with special interests.”

The case has been in the works since June 2023 and will have its initial hearing Feb. 6. The case is expected to land at the Supreme Court, but could take years to litigate.

“The government decided that the Charter of the French Language needed to be updated and reformed, making it more expansive,” Bergman said.

“We have 30 vignettes of people who had difficulty getting services, health services, informational services, care services, business services, you name it, because of this law.”

The 21-page injunction outlines various examples of residents allegedly being discriminated against because they speak English:

  • Woman moved to Quebec from B.C. She wanted to sign up for French courses via the Quebec website, but the registration was only in French and all communication with them was in French. She ended up using a private French course
  • Middle-aged woman went to the Glen hospital and triage nurse refused to speak to her in English. She left. Next day she went to Queen Elizabeth and was found to have sepsis which triggered a cardiac event which sent her to the ICU. She almost died.
  • Son was told he and other catering staff would be ‘expelled’ if they were caught serving clients in English
  • 64-year-old man called the RAMQ about an issue with his Medicare card and was hung up on when he asked for service in English.

The court filing also calls on the provincial government to stop measures that restrict or penalize for the use of English.

“The Office Québécois de la langue française, which is the enforcer of these elements, has the right to warrantless search and seizure, meaning they can come into your business without a warrant, without authorization, and order the business owner to show them all of their documents and software to see if they are in French” Bergman said.

Violators of the bill can be fined. Among other rules under Quebec’s Charter of the French Language is a requirement for French words to take up two-thirds of all signs, with English only allocated one-third.

“It sounds like a calm comedian’s bad joke, but it’s real,” Bergman said.

“There may be those who say, look, we thought all of the language matters were largely resolved years ago and now we find they’re not. We don’t want to live in an environment where the peace of society, even though Quebec is a very peaceful society, but the linguistic peace is uncertain.”

The injunction application alleges the Legault government has created a fear and insecurity amongst the anglophone community, in addition to the tuition hikes for English universities.

“In doing so, the Government of Québec has created and promoted a social climate where the use of the English language is restricted and disdained and is considered to be a threat to the survival of the French language and identity in Québec,” according to a press release by The Task Force.

–With files from Anastasia Dextrene

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