Senator questions Bill 101's inclusion in language law
Tony Loffreda says he feels compelled to protect Quebec's anglo minority
A Quebec senator says references to Bill 101 have no business being included in the federal government's proposed modernization of Canada's Official Languages Act.
During a Senate debate on Bill C-13 Tuesday, Tony Loffreda said including Quebec's language law is a major flaw, in part because it may be seen as an endorsement of the Coalition Avenir Québec government's use of the notwithstanding clause.
He echoed Liberal Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather, the only MP to vote against Bill C-13 when the House of Commons endorsed the legislation in mid-may, sending it to the Senate.
However, other Quebec senators defended the inclusion of Bill 101 in the federal law, with one accusing Housefather of being a “fringe politician” who has an “insulting attitude toward francophone Quebecers.”
Loffreda, a member of the Independent Senators Group, said he is a proud Quebecer, he agrees the French language must be protected, and he supports Bill C-13's objectives.
However, he said he felt compelled to “very humbly rise to defend another language minority in the country, the one we often forget, the anglophone minority in Quebec.”
Loffreda added: “Along with many in my community, I am concerned that the bill includes three references to (Bill 101). I am also a little disheartened that the bill is almost silent on English rights in Quebec, which begs the question: Has the (federal) government given up on a fully bilingual country?”
He noted that Bill 101, known officially as the Charter of the French Language, was significantly changed last year with the passing of Bill 96.
“English-speaking minorities in Quebec felt targeted (by Bill 96) and in some ways personally attacked when the provincial government introduced and adopted that bill with pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause,” Loffreda said.
That clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows governments to override some fundamental rights.
“I think it's wrong — or, at the very least, rare and confusing — for a federal law to include a reference to a provincial law that uses the notwithstanding clause ... I'm afraid the Liberal government may be establishing a troubling precedent and may be leading us down a slippery slope,” Loffreda said.
“In fact, I would even argue that including the Quebec Charter in the federal law is in some respects an endorsement of Bill 96, and some experts agree.”
He said that “to avoid any misunderstanding, to ensure clarity and logic and to reduce judicial confusion and complications, it might make more sense to remove the references altogether.”
Loffreda and Senator Judith Seidman, a Conservative from Quebec, said Bill C-13 should be studied by the Senate's Constitutional Affairs Committee.
She said English-speaking Quebecers “were disappointed and disturbed” to see the Bill 101 references, which “do nothing to strengthen or promote the rights and freedoms of French-speaking Canadians.”
Seidman noted Bill 101 is the only piece of provincial legislation mentioned by name.
“This is a problem because the (Quebec) Charter could be further amended by a future Quebec government in ways that are even more harmful to the English-speaking community, yet the reference in our Official Languages Act would remain. This change also creates an asymmetry between the rights of official language minority communities within and outside Quebec.”
Marc Gold, a non-affiliated senator from Quebec, downplayed Bill 101 concerns.
“Colleagues — and here I say this with respect, and I wear my constitutional lawyer's hat as much as any other — we have to be clear about what these references mean, what they do and what they don't do,” he said. “These references are statements of fact. In no way do they incorporate the Quebec Charter into Bill C-13.
“In legal terms, these are references of fact and observations of fact. They are not, to use legal terms, an incorporation by reference. No, this does not incorporate parts of the Quebec Charter into Bill C-13. In no way does that do that, period.”
Jean-guy Dagenais, a Quebec senator in the Canadian Senators Group, dismissed the concerns of some Quebec MPS about the inclusion of Bill 101.
“There will always be fringe politicians who see efforts to protect the French language as a threat to their right to live in English. We saw a fine example of that in the (House of Commons),” Dagenais said.
“What surprises me is that some of them live in Quebec, including the only MP who voted against Bill C-13 and who wanted to get rid of the references to the Charter of the French Language because he is convinced the Quebec government is bent on taking away anglophones' rights.”
He said Housefather and his supporters “have an especially insulting attitude toward francophone Quebecers. Why? Because they don't seem to realize that, as anglophone Quebecers, they have access to two anglophone universities in Montreal, namely Mcgill University and Concordia University. They also have access to an anglophone university in Sherbrooke, Bishop's University. They also have access to anglophone colleges and anglophone schools, and they even have a constitutionally protected school board.
“When these anglophone Quebecers go out, shop or deal with the government, they can do it in their own language. If they need to go to court, they can do it in English, without restrictions, without interpreters and without delays. Do francophones get as many rights and public services when they are the minority in other provinces? I believe that you know the answer.”
Raymonde Saint-germain, a Quebec member of the Independent Senators Group, said including Bill 101 in Bill C-13 does not endanger or infringe on anglophone Quebecers' rights.
“Bill C-13 is, in fact, beneficial for the English-speaking minority in Quebec because it includes commitments to linguistic minorities such as advancing formal, non-formal and informal opportunities for members of English and French linguistic minority communities to pursue quality learning in their own language throughout their lives, including from early childhood to post-secondary education.”
The Quebec Community Groups Network says its representatives have been invited to discuss their concerns about Bill C-13 on Monday before the Senate's Committee on Official Languages.
The QCGN, which represents 40 anglophone groups, has said enacting C-13 “would mark a clear retreat from 50 years of official-language policy that has recognized the equality Canada's two official-language communities have before the law.”