Montreal Gazette

Language minister: I won’t back down

Proposed law opposed by many groups, Liberals say

- PHILIP AUTHIER THE GAZETTE pauthier@montrealga­ Twitter: @philipauth­ier

Hours before hearing an impassione­d plea to maintain the rights of military parents to send their children to English schools, Language Minister Diane De Courcy dismissed a call from the provincial Liberals to read the writing on the wall and drop the bill to tighten Quebec’s French-language charter.

QUEBEC — The province’s language minister Tuesday dismissed a call to backtrack on her proposed amendments to the Charter of the French Language.

“I assume that the best way to measure my listening capacity will be when we get to the clause-by-clause study” of the bill, Diane De Courcy said in response to accusation­s from the Liberals that she is not getting the message the PQ’s Bill 14 is opposed by many groups.

Liberal language critic Marc Tanguay has just urged her to see the writing on the wall and to backpedal as the minority government has so many times before when it was in hot water over its plans.

The study of individual clauses is the next phase in the adoption of the bill and De Courcy’s mention of them means she intends to soldier on despite the widespread opposition to the bill that four weeks of hearings have revealed.

And there was more dissent later in the evening when De Courcy found herself tangling at the committee studying the bill with representa­tives of the South Shore’s Riverside School Board over who is and who is not showing respect for Canada’s military.

The government wants to withdraw the right of military parents to be exempt from the charter and send their children to English schools.

About 700 students a year in Quebec get into English schools under this exemption.

Riverside, considered the birthplace of French immersion schools in Canada because of a campaign launched by St-Lambert mothers 40 years ago, runs one of those schools, St-Johns, in St-Jeansur-Richelieu.

Out of a population of 838 students, 106 are the children of military parents.

If Bill 14, De Courcy’s bill amending the charter, is passed, it would have a “devastatin­g effect” on the school, staff and programs, the board said.

“We ask that you take another look at the changes you are proposing under this bill and reconsider the message you are sending,” Riverside board president Moira Bell told the committee.

“There appears to be a definite lack of forethough­t for the rights of Quebec citizens, a lack of respect for the commitment of the francophon­e military to the service and protection of our country, as well as a further squeezing of anglophone­s living in Quebec.”

But De Courcy, who has heard the same argument from the Central Quebec School Board, bristled at the accusation.

“The debate is not about the respect for the military,” De Courcy said. “Of course we profoundly respect them. This debate is on a question of equity.

“I sincerely think these (military exemptions) are a form of bridging schools. It has not always been the case, but the situation progressed over time and we are faced with this phenomena.”

But later, after comments by another PQ MNA on the committee, Riverside board director general Sylvain Racette objected.

“When you insinuate that the 800 military (parents) are using these schools as bridging schools, it’s a little like you are saying they are fraudsters,” Racette said.

“Insinuatin­g 800 people are fraudsters is a lack of respect.”

And Jacques-Cartier MNA Geoffrey Kelley, one of the Liberals on the committee, took up the board’s defence:

“What did these families do exactly?” Kelley told the committee. “They obeyed the law.”

That was the kind of day the minister had. During question period earlier, Tanguay read out a long list of groups and associatio­ns against the bill.

“She should listen, she should hear; something she has not done,” Tanguay said.

De Courcy swatted him aside, noting Tanguay has been against the bill from Day One.

In the morning, the province’s powerful retailers’ lobby blasted the bill, saying the “hard line” the government wants to take on language is unjustifie­d and excessive.

Léopold Turgeon, president of the Retail Council of Quebec, told the committee the bill takes a coercive and judicial approach to French, which sends a negative message to businesses.

“The Charter of the French Language becomes a penal code with coercive side effects rather than a preventive tool,” retail council lawyer Lara Daniel noted.

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