Thousands of Montrealers march against Bill 96

Many protesters said that while they support the protection of the French language and culture in Quebec, Bill 96 would have disastrous consequences for the education, language and health care sectors.

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It was an unusual scene on a bizarrely hot day in May.

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Political satire group Bowser and Blue sang a song about Anglophones who were second-class citizens and several thousand took to the streets of downtown Montreal to protest a bill that aims to bolster the status of the French language in the province.

Many said that while they support the protection of the French language and culture in Quebec, Bill 96 – expected to be voted in the National Assembly by the end of this month – would have disastrous consequences for education, language and health. healthcare sectors.

The law would give more powers to the Office québécois de la langue française, the province’s language watchdog, such as search and seizure without a warrant. It would also limit services in English in healthcare facilities and the courts.

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“François Legault’s politics divide Quebecers in all sorts of ways, and we have to stand up for what is not right,” said Dominique Anglade, leader of the Quebec Liberal Party. “We are all in favor of supporting and promoting the French language; the problem here is that it affects access to justice and healthcare. There are many people who are demonstrating today because they realize it will affect our future.”

When Anglade was introduced before the march began, Anglade was greeted with cheers and a bit of booing from the crowd, probably out of anger at an amendment tabled by the Liberal Party to require Anglophone students to take more courses in French.

While that amendment was softened in hearings last month at the urging of Liberals, it remains a pain point among UK CEGEPs. Students say the legal requirement to take either three core courses or three additional French courses would affect their future, and the law will create two levels of students as allophones and French speakers in English will have to take CEGEP’s French proficiency exams to graduate , while Anglophones take a final English exam. The law also restricts the registration of French speakers in English CEGEPs.

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The bill has also angered the province’s indigenous peoples, who called it a form of cultural genocide and asked to be exempted from it.

Speaking to the Mohawk community from Kahnawake, Kenneth Deer said the law raises more barriers for indigenous peoples.

“The Mohawk language was spoken here thousands of years before French was spoken,” Deer said. “We’re being re-colonized by the Quebec government because of Bill 96. We’re not forcing you to learn Mohawk. Do not force us to learn your language.”

A woman holds a sign during a demonstration against Bill 96 in Montreal on Saturday, May 14, 2022.
A woman holds a sign during a demonstration against Bill 96 in Montreal on Saturday, May 14, 2022. Photo by John MahoneyMontreal Gazette

The protest began at 10 a.m. at Dawson College and ran down Atwater Ave. along Ste-Catherine St.W. and finished in front of Prime Minister François Legault’s Montreal office at Sherbrooke St. and McGill College Ave.

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Legault has defended Bill 96 as realistic, balanced and necessary to protect French. He said the rights of the English community will be respected if it becomes law.

But those at the rally say their rights are clearly in jeopardy.

“My son is going to CEGEP in a few years; he has learning difficulties and has been immersed in French since childhood, but taking more French courses is becoming an extreme issue for him,” said David McLeod, resident of Notre-dame-de-Grâce. He wore a black kilt, a white T-shirt with the words Bill 96 and a stripe through it, and a black parasol with a sunflower design inside. He denounced “legislative bullying,” which was done with very little deliberation, and while it seems the CAQ government isn’t listening to community concerns, it’s still important to voice opposition. “I think people who stand up and say their rights matter always make a difference.”

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The protest was peaceful with police escorts in front of and behind the row of demonstrators.

Adam Bright said he was there in hopes of raising awareness about the bill, the finer points of which are not well known.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking to see how few people really understand what this bill is going to do to their chances,” said Bright, who teaches English literature at Dawson College. Bright thinks he will lose his job if the bill is passed because there will be less need for English education in the CEGEP system. “So many of us are investing in French in Quebec. My son goes to a French nursery and will go to a French primary school, but the bill is based on the misguided idea that learning English somehow jeopardizes French.”

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As the crowd made their way to McGill’s Roddick Gates, there was a group of about 15 supporters of the bill playing music and singing in French, inviting everyone to join in the singing.

There were a few booing and yelling, and no one took their offer.

“The purpose of the French language is to unite people, so we wanted to greet people and celebrate our culture with them,” said Montrealer Florence Beaudoin, one of the group’s members. “French is important, and we are in a French province, but it is difficult to be served in French in Montreal. It is not normal. I am here to support the language.”

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