By Jack Wilson
Local Journalism Initiative
Bill C-13, a bill reforming the federal Official Language Act, passed the Senate June 15 with 60 votes in favour, five against and five senators abstaining. Three of the five senators to oppose the bill represent Quebec. The bill has come under criticism from representatives of Quebec’s anglophone community, notably for its three references to Quebec Bill 96, the sweeping provincial legislation that restricts access to English-language services and includes the notwithstanding clause.
While legal experts have cautioned that including references to Bill 96 might have unintended consequences for Quebec’s English-speaking minority, C-13’s supporters have characterized the reference simply as an acknowledgement of Bill 96’s existence. In her June 5 testimony to the Senate committee studying the bill, Minister of Official Languages Ginette Petitpas Taylor asserted that, “C-13 in no way takes away any rights from anglophones in Quebec.”
In that same meeting, Marion Sandilands, the lawyer representing the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) argued that including the reference in the bill’s purpose clause “impacts the interpretation,” of the entire bill.
Quebec Senator Tony Loffreda unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to remove the Bill 96 references from Bill C-13. “We’ve been told over and over that it doesn’t infringe on the rights of anglophones, but no one is saying how it will help or benefit francophones in Quebec,” he said. “If we know the references to [Bill 96] will not contribute to the protection of the French language in Quebec or provide francophones any additional rights, yet we know that the English-speaking community completely opposes them and feels their rights are being breached and diminished, why not remove the references altogether?”