Message From the Chair: Bill C-13

joe ortona
Montreal - Friday, June 9, 2023

I have written letters to each member of the Senate of Canada on the subject of Bill C-13, urging Senators to fulfill their roles “as the Chamber of sober second thought” and to propose amendments to in order to ensure the rights of minority-language communities in this country.

Here is a copy of the letter.  

 

School Boards play a critical role in ensuring the vitality of Quebec’s English-speaking community.

In this capacity the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is at the forefront of speaking up for our community, promoting our contribution to Montreal and Quebec and in defending our constitutional rights. We have, for example, launched court challenges in opposition to provisions of Bill 40, which contravenes our right “to manage and control” our school system; Bill 21 which prevents us from hiring teachers and staff who wear religious symbols; and Bill 96  which modifies the Charter of the French Language and makes Quebec a charter-free zone.

Our community has longed look to the Canadian government as the defender of our rights and freedoms, and in this context, we are deeply concerned by elements of Bill C-13: An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts. As explained in a letter signed by close to 3000 Quebecers https://qcgn.ca/open-letter-parliamentarians/ , “This new act would abandon half a century of official language policy, which has been based on the principle that both official languages and official language minority communities have equal rights in law. It would turn the Official Languages Act, a quasi-constitutional law, into legislation aimed at protecting and promoting one official language – French – while neglecting the language rights of 1.3 million English-speaking Quebecers.”

The incorporation by reference of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language into the federal law represents a serious flaw in this legislation. As amended last year by  Bill 96, the Charter now contains the pre-emptive invocation of our Constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause, which allows governments to override rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The EMSB is opposed to the putting in place of an important legal structure such as C-13 – where constitutional rights would be different in one province than in all the others and where, as Associate Deputy Minister at Heritage Canada Julie Boyer told the committee, the consequence of embracing Quebec’s Charter of the French Language within C-13 “is that federal legislation would be subject to a provincial law.” It would also be a structure under which other provinces could be free to legislate their own restrictions on official-language minorities.

These concerns were addressed directly by former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache before the Senate Committee on Official languages in October 2022:

“I am personally opposed to a reference to a provincial act in a federal act,” he said. “I believe that the federal language regime is very different from the provincial regime. The role of the Commissioner of Official Languages is very different from the role of the Office de la langue française. I would not want to see federal institutions subjected to investigations by the Office de la langue française with respect to their compliance with obligations stemming from Quebec statutes that have not been adopted by the federal Parliament.”

With the Bill now having been referred to the Senate for consideration, we urge you and your colleagues to fulfill your role “as the Chamber of sober second thought” and to propose amendments to Bill C-13 in order to ensure the rights of minority-language communities in this country are not mutually exclusive, where French is given the support and protection it deserves while English-speaking Quebecers are free to enjoy the historic rights and access to services they deserve.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and to appear before the Official Languages Committee, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns.

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