The Trudeau government’s proposed reform of the Official Languages Act — Bill C-32 — recognizes that French is the official language of Quebec. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that French must be protected and promoted not only outside Quebec, but in the province.
The Bill also demands that employees working for federally chartered companies of 25 employees or more can work in French in Quebec and that companies with 50 or more employees will be required to communicate with those employees in French if those employees desire that.
The Bill does retain the federal government’s obligations to the English official-language minority of Quebec, and Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly and Justice Minister David Lametti have communicated this to English rights organizations.
Interviewed by The Suburban, Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly , stated that notwithstanding the change, English “will remain an official language of the legislature and courts,” as stated in Section 133 of the British North America Act.
Section 133 states, “Either the English or the French language may be used by any person in the debates of the Houses of the Parliament of Canada and of the Houses of the Legislature of Quebec; and both those languages shall be used in the respective records and journals of those Houses; and either of those languages may be used by any person or in any pleading or process in or issuing from any court of Canada established under this Act, and in or from all or any of the courts of Quebec.The Acts of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislature of Quebec shall be printed and published in both those languages.”
Columnist William Johnson, who passed away in 2020, repeatedly made the case that English is an official language of Quebec. “The two most central functions of any state are the adopting of legislation by its legislature and maintaining of the rule of law and equal justice for all through the judicial system,” Johnson wrote in 2018. “Since 1867, English has been constitutionalized as an equal and official language of the provincial legislature and the provincial courts. Every single law passed since Quebec was created as a province to this day was passed in English as well as French, under both federalist and separatist Quebec governments. Any law not passed in English was declared unconstitutional and void. That’s the very essence of an official language. And that Section 133 has never been rescinded. Its intent was confirmed by the 1982 Constitution Act. No law passed by the Quebec legislature can or did abolish the official status of English. The Charter of the French Language in 1977 pretended to, but that pretention was struck down unanimously in 1979 by the Supreme Court of Canada in Quebec (AG) v. Blaikie.”
A Bloc Quebecois motion recognizing Quebec as a nation with French as its official language and having a right to make its own constitutional changes was adopted by the House of Commons by a vote of 281-2. Two Independent MPs voted no while 16 Tories, 29 Liberals, five New Democrats and Green Party MP Elizabeth May abstained.
As part of the Legault government’s proposed Bill 96, Quebec wants to amend the constitution to declare Quebec a nation and officially French. “I believe that this motion is purely symbolic in that it only asks this House to acknowledge what Quebec intends to do as opposed to the House agreeing to anything substantive,” Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather said. “I also understand why this may be unclear to Canadians, especially official language minority communities and in particular English-speaking Quebecers.”
Housefather abstained along with several local MPs, including St. Laurent’s Emmanuella Lambropoulos, Vaudreuil—Soulanges’ Peter Schiefke, Lac Saint Louis’ Francis Scarpaleggia, Pierrefonds-Dollard’s Sameer Zuberi, Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle’s Anju Dhillon, Vimy’s Annie Koutrakis and Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel’s Patricia Lattanzio.
Housefather has pointed out Section 45 of the 1982 Constitution Act says “any province can pass a law in its provincial legislature to amend its constitution.” The motion “asks the House to recognize that Section 45 of the Constitution Act of 1982 allows Quebec and other provinces to unilaterally modify their own provincial constitutions.... Section 45 is subject to Section 41. Section 41 references Section 43 (b) which states very clearly that any amendment that relates to the use of the English or French language within a province also requires the approval of the House of Commons and Senate. No amendment to the constitution of a province made under Section 45 can have any legal effect on the Constitution of Canada.”
Housefather also expressed his opposition to the Notwithstanding clause.
“I do not believe it should be part of the Charter.... To allow legislatures to place unreasonable limits on rights and putting laws outside the review of the judicial branch of government is not something I can ever support.”
All of Quebec became green for COVID-19 as of Monday June 28, meaning fewer restrictions for Montrealers and others in the province who spent this past spring and winter huddled at home or eating in their cars when out on the town.
Some lessened restrictions also went into effect June 25.
Premier François Legault said that there were fewer than 100 cases reported in Quebec the day he announced, and that 80 percent of Quebecers 12 years and older had received at least one vaccine dose. As of this past Friday, there were only 88 cases in the whole province.
What does the lessening of restrictions mean for Montrealers and Quebecers as a whole?
• Inside homes, according to quebec.ca, there can be a “maximum of 10 people from different addresses or occupants from three households. Physical distancing and mask wearing are recommended for people who do not have adequate protection against COVID-19. Adequate protection refers to the immune protection a person has developed following vaccination (two doses) or those who had COVID-19 (one dose of vaccine).”
• “Outdoor gatherings of a maximum of 20 people or the occupants of three households are permitted on private property.”
• A maximum of 250 people at places of worship, if it is the entire building. Wedding ceremonies are “limited to a maximum of 250 people who must remain seated during the event.” Wedding receptions are “limited to 25 people, if it takes place indoors, and to 50 people if it takes place outdoors.” Social distancing is required, unless from the same household.
• Funerals are “limited to an audience of 250 people who must remain seated during the event.”
• At restaurants, in addition to the recently allowed maximum 10 people or individuals from three private residences being able to share the same table, “outdoor terraces are able to accommodate a maximum of 20 people per table.” The same applies to bars, breweries, taverns and casinos.
• At movie theatres, there can be a “maximum of 250 people, and a maximum 3,500 people if the room can be divided into 250-person areas, and eating and drinking are permitted. Face coverings or masks must be worn but may be removed once seated, provided the person remains silent. Physical distancing of 1.5 m between people who do not reside at the same address is also mandatory.”
• Outdoor festivals can host a maximum of 3,500 people without assigned seating.
• As well, there can be 50 players and 50 spectators for outdoor sports, and 25 players and 25 spectators for indoor sports.
In contrast to the freer atmosphere in Quebec, The Suburban discovered on a recent shopping day in Hawkesbury, Ontario, that while people can eat outdoors, there was a generally more uptight atmosphere emanating from those in charge of restricting the amount of people in stores.
Those in the province had experienced considerably higher COVID numbers, and they are a ways away from reaching Quebec’s level of freedom.