Trudeau government scolded for `dividing' linguistic minorities
Senator slams Liberals' rush to reform Official Languages Act after dragging feet
A federal bill that would overhaul Canada's Official Languages Act passed its second reading in the Senate on Thursday afternoon and is set to be studied by a committee, starting next week.
Bill C-13, an effort to protect and promote the French language, has wide support, but Quebec anglophone groups and some senators have criticized its references to Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language.
Senator Rose-may Poirier, the Conservative deputy-chair of the Official Languages committee, complained Thursday that the Liberal government has dragged its heels on C-13 and is now attempting to rush the bill through the Senate.
The House of Commons just sent the bill back to the Senate with almost 50 amendments. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government wants C-13 to become law before the House and Senate break for the summer at the end of June.
“This is not how Parliament was meant to work,” Poirier told the Senate. “This is not how the best interests of Canadians are served. The modernization of the Official Languages Act should have been a moment when we celebrated a historic moment, when we reaffirm our commitment to bilingualism and linguistic duality.
“Instead, the results have been divisive. Anglophones in Quebec still have concerns with C-13 and the reassurance given by the government hasn't satisfied them so far.
"Meanwhile, francophones outside Quebec are exhausted from waiting. And every day this bill is further delayed, they are more nervous.
“Linguistic communities across the country deserve to jointly celebrate the advancement of their rights ... and to not be divided by the issue.”
Poirier added: “It's difficult to comprehend how a government could present C-13 with such concerns remaining and to take so much time before we can look at it with sober second thought.”
Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the minister of official languages, has described the bill as an “ambitious reform” whose priority is to “halt the decline of French and support our minority communities.”
She has said the bill “does not take away any rights from anglophones in Quebec.”
On May 15, the House of Commons adopted Bill C-13 after an almost unanimous vote (301 Yes; 1 No).
The lone holdout: Liberal MP Anthony Housefather.
Housefather cited the vehement objection to Bill C-13 among anglophone rights groups who say it's a blow to Quebec's linguistic minority.
The main objection: three mentions of Bill 101. Known officially as the Charter of the French Language, the law was significantly toughened last year with the passing of the Coalition Avenir Québec government's Bill 96.
In an attempt to shield the law from court challenges, Premier François Legault invoked the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. That clause allows governments to override some fundamental rights.
Quebec senators clashed over Bill C-13 on Tuesday.
Senators Tony Loffreda and Judith Seidman said they fear mentioning Bill 101 in a federal law could set a dangerous precedent and be seen as an endorsement of the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause.
Lofredda also complained Bill C-13 “is almost silent on English rights in Quebec, which begs the question: Has the (federal) government given up on a fully bilingual country?”
Marc Gold, a Quebec senator who is the government's representative in the Red Chamber, downplayed Bill 101 concerns.
“No, this does not incorporate parts of the Quebec Charter into Bill C-13,” he said.
Another senator — Jean-guy Dagenais — accused Housefather of being a “fringe politician.” He said Housefather and his supporters “have an especially insulting attitude toward francophone Quebecers.
The Senate's Official Languages committee is to hear analysis and insight from experts, as well as groups that may be affected by the bill.
Several witnesses are scheduled to appear before the committee Monday afternoon, beginning at 4 p.m.
They include Raymond Théberge, Canada's official languages commissioner, and Liane Roy, president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada.
The Quebec Community Groups Network will also be there, represented by its president, Eva Ludvig, and Joan Fraser, a former senator who is a member of the QCGN'S board.
The QCGN 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.”
The Senate committee may recommend amendments. They would then have to be debated by all senators before a third and final reading can take place. The bill would then be sent back to the House of Commons.
The Senate and the House must pass the bill in identical form if it is to become law.