Citizens of the province of Quebec in Canada are presently under the threat of losing civil and human rights. On May 13th, 2021, Bill 96, “An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec,” was brought to the legislative table in an apparent move to further protect the French language by making it the predominant language in Quebec’s workplaces.
“The anglophone community in Quebec has become the Tibet of Canada; abandoned by the federal government and constantly attacked by the present government of the province of Quebec,” says Giovanni Bisciglia, a Canadian healthcare worker based in Quebec.
In response to the Bill’s proposed legislation, Bisciglia founded the advocacy group, Our Bilingual Quebec/Canada: No to Bill 96 & C-32, to sound the alarm about the severe limitations Bill 96 brings, and how the Act threatens the basic rights of Quebec’s non-francophones.
“We are still suffering through the pandemic,” Bisciglia says. “People are dying in hospitals. Many more have lost their jobs. Is this really the time to play politics with language?” Additionally, Bisciglia mentions how many articles contained within Bill 96’s legislative text have nothing to do with the French language at all. “In fact,” Bisciglia continues, “these laws are an international embarrassment and violate basic civil rights.”
For example, Division I, Chapter II “INSPECTIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS, Section 111 of the Charter is amended by replacing the first paragraph by the following paragraphs: “A person making an inspection for the purposes of this Act may (1) enter at any reasonable hour any place, other than a dwelling house, where an activity governed by this Act is carried on, or any other place where documents or other property to which this Act applies may be held; (2) take photographs of the place and of the property located there; (3) cause any person present who has access to any computer, equipment or other thing that is on the premises to use it to access data contained in an electronic device, computer system or other medium or to verify, examine, process, copy or print out such data; and (4) require any information relating to the application of this Act or the regulations as well as the communication, for examination or reproduction, of any related document.”
Essentially, this portion of Bill 96 is legally authorizing the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF) to search and seizures under the pretext of protecting French as Quebec’s predominant workplace language. These search and seizures, per Section 111, will be allowed even without an authorized search warrant in place.
“I work in healthcare with confidential files,” Bisciglia clarifies. “This Act would prevent me from protecting the confidential information of my clients if I am reported to the OQLF for using languages other than French. Verbal reassurances are of no use by the present provincial government. It must be written in the law,” he adds, “codified to ensure it is legally binding.”
According to Bisciglia, another example of how Bill 96 violates the civil rights of Quebec citizens can be found within the Bill’s Division I, Chapter II FUNCTIONS, POWERS AND IMMUNITY, Section 204.2 to 204.4. This portion of text has been amended as; “No legal proceedings may be brought against the Commissioner or his employees for an act or omission in good faith in the exercise of their functions. No civil action may be brought because of the publication of a report of the Commissioner under this Act or any other Act, or the publication, in good faith, of an extract from or summary of such a report.”
“Essentially,” Bisciglia continues, “this clause is included solely to grant politicians immunity from prosecution; it has nothing to do with the Act’s claim of protecting the French language. I — and many others — would be blocked from defending ourselves in court against these individuals.”
Furthermore, as Bisciglia tells us, this second set of clauses also violates Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states, “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”
Bill 96 contains over 200 amendments, across more than 100 pages, to Quebec’s existing language legislation. Many of these articles will have an incalculable impact on the anglophone community and many nonfrancophones in Quebec. For instance, under Bill 96, only those defined as “historic anglophones,” those who attended English-speaking schools (both primary and secondary) in Quebec, will have access to English health services. Therefore, if an American immigrates to Quebec, they will not have access to any English-speaking health services.
“Doctors who do not speak French well can be accused of committing an ‘act derogatory to the dignity of the profession’,” Bisciglia adds. “This is a term typically reserved for grave ethical misconduct, such as committed sexual acts against a patient.”
Compounding these issues with Bill 96, cities (i.e., boroughs) in Quebec which do not have at least 50% of their residents registered as English speakers will lose their bilingual status. Bill 96 also violates Article 30 of the UDHR, which states that “no State, group, or person” can take away any persons’ human rights. With Bill 96, however, Quebec’s legislators would deprive Anglophones of their right to freedom of expression, right to legal recourse, right to freedom of education, right to choose the culture and language of their own choice, right to freedom of doing business, and more.
“The worst part of this Bill,” Bisciglia declares, “is that measures have already been put in place to make it nearly impossible to contest it. Quebec has preemptively invoked the Notwithstanding clause, which empowers provinces to exempt certain portions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including Section 2 (basic freedoms), Sections 7–14 (legal rights), and Section 15 (equality rights).”
As Bisciglia explains, all that is required for the Notwithstanding clause to take effect is that it be expressly stated, which has already been done. Should Bill 96 be enacted into law, it would severely limit — if not outright eliminate — the ability for Canadians living in Quebec to defend themselves legally. This would clearly violate Canadians’ right in Quebec to “…ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy…” per Part II, Article 2, Section 3(a) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To seek remedy due to violations of rights legally removed by Bill 96, Quebec’s citizens would be left with only one resource to do so: The United Nations.
“These issues with Bill 96 are why I founded my advocacy group,” Bisciglia concludes, “to bring worldwide attention to them. I have already sent emails to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regarding this Bill mentioning many of these points.”
Bisciglia and his advocacy group have created a short video explaining some of the major issues. It now has 11,000 views on Facebook and over 40,000 views on TikTok. To learn more about the bills and for updates, visit the Our Bilingual Quebec/Canada: No to Bill 96 & C-32 Facebook page.