Bill 96 stay celebrated, Secretary General’s retirement acknowledged at local English school board meeting

Bill 96 stay celebrated, Secretary General’s retirement acknowledged at local English school board meeting

By William Crooks

Local Journalism Initiative

The Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) held its monthly Council of Commissioners meeting April 23 at which a stay of Bill 96, a law with the stated aim of protecting the French language in Quebec, was celebrated, and Secretary General Éric Campbell announced his retirement. More than 30 people attended the gathering, presided over by Chair Michael Murray, in person in Magog and online.

Bill 96

In his Chair Report, Murray expressed the ETSB’s collective satisfaction with the recent court judgment on Bill 96. The English Montreal School Board, along with eight other English school boards, successfully challenged Bill 96 in the Quebec Superior Court, obtaining a stay on certain aspects of its application relating to school boards.

This legal action was a response to incidents arising from the bill’s “extreme interpretations,” as the ETSB experienced firsthand, he said. An employee from the Ministry of Education, specifically the regional ombudsperson, recently insisted on speaking only French and claimed the law prohibited any other language use, reflecting a “misinterpretation” that also surfaced in other widely publicized cases.

In addition, despite translating presentation materials into English, ministry personnel recently said they were unable to speak English to parents of students with special needs, citing Bill 96.

Thankfully, Murray said, the court’s ruling upheld the status quo, allowing communications in English, French, or both, as was the practice before.

The ETSB is pleased with this outcome, reinforcing its right to communicate in the preferred language, often bilingual. This victory supports the ETSB’s expectation that Bill 96 will eventually be ruled unconstitutional regarding its application to English school boards and other linguistic rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights. The ETSB’s legal counsel has been instrumental in these victories, and the ETSB will continue to rely on their expertise.

“We’re all basking in that glow for the moment,” Murray said.

“I think it’s number four of our string of successes in the courts so we’re not unhappy with that.”

Murray added in his Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) Report that the QESBA’s main focus over the past few months has centered on its interactions with the Ministry of Education. Last week, the Executive Committee of QESBA “finally” met with Education Minister Bernard Drainville, he said.

Murray noted this one-hour meeting coincided with the day Drainville publicly apologized for civil servants presenting only in French to English-speaking parents of special-needs children. During the meeting, Drainville acknowledged that ministry personnel had misinterpreted Bill 96, which mandates that communications involving more than two people must be in French.

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