English language debated, faces uncertain future in Quebec with proposed rules

Protesters opposing language Bill 14 demonstrate outside the office of Quebec Premier Pauline Marois in Montreal, …
Pauline Marois' proposed Bill 14, the first substantial revision of Bill 101, Quebec's 1977 Charter of the French language, has sparked a language crisis in the province.

Bill 14 contains a whopping 155 proposed amendments to the Charter of the French Language, all of which are designed to enable francophones to never have to speak a non-French language as long as they reside within Quebec's borders. Bilingualism will be a thing of the past.

Barbara Kay outlines what she considers "a pathological attack on the sin of speaking English" in the National Post:

"To this end Bill 14 would co-opt all public institutions, municipalities, school boards, unions, private enterprises and even ordinary Quebecers as participants and – not to put too fine a point on it – occasional spies in the great common project of suppressing English. That the project would radically diminish the freedoms and quality of life of non-francophones seems irrelevant, perhaps even a matter of satisfaction, to this government," she writes.

[ Related: PQ refusing to change Bill 14 provision for military families ]

She lists some of the proposed amendments by the Parti Quebecois:

1. English-speaking members of the Armed Forces living in Quebec temporarily will lose their right to send their children to English schools. Language Minister Diane de Courcy calls this current provision a loophole for people to use to bypass the French education system, something she wants to put an end to.

2. Municipalities with less than 50 per cent anglophone residents will lose their bilingual status.

"French as a common language is a noble, unifying objective. Apparently some Anglophones in these municipalities think that if they want to buy a bus ticket they should be able to buy it in English…can't they even use French that much?" Charles Castonguay, a member of Syndicalistes et progressistes pour un Québec libre, said at a hearing on Wednesday.

3. Employers will be required to justify their need for employees who speak any language other than French — and risk being sued by employees required to speak English.

On Thursday night, during a two-hour long panel on the future of English in Quebec, notable Quebecois raised their voices in heated debate.

Some citizens expressed concern that medical services will become less accessible to some if health care becomes French-only.

One resident asked if French classes be made available at no cost for English-speaking seniors.

Jean-François Lisée, the Parti Québécois’s minister responsible for anglophones, emphasized that in the six months he's been in office, he's only heard that Montreal anglophones want to feel more part of Quebec society, not alienated from it.

"One of the main things I hear is that Anglo Quebecers want in. They want in," he said.

On Tuesday evening, the Lester B. Pearson School Board presented a 14-page brief to the commission studying the proposed language law that described the proposed legislations as "useless, based on unfounded premises and troubling."

"We consider the bill as well and truly an attempt to further inhibit and ghettoize the anglophone community and tighten the already overly restrictive regulations for anglophone schools," the board states.

"We call upon Quebec leaders to have the courage to stand up and say: 'All Quebecers are equal and deserve the same support, protection and encouragement from their government without consideration of language or ethnic origin.'"

The English school board insists it "is not a threat to Quebec's francophone culture" and claims that 77.45 per cent of Quebec's anglophone students between the ages of 5 and 24 are perfectly bilingual.

[ Related: Quebec government hears criticism on controversial language bill ]

More than 32,000 concerned Quebecois have already signed the school board's petition against Bill 14.

Still, Castonguay emphasizes that French is what's most being threatened, not English:

"Anglophones who have chosen to stay in Quebec or move to Quebec should think about language loyalty and the fact it is French which is in difficulty, not English."

The opposition Liberals are refusing to support Bill 14, while the second opposition Coalition Avenir Quebec says it might — but only if certain measures, including those affecting military families, are removed.