English schools are allies, not adversaries in protecting French language - Bill 14 should be withdrawn; if not, redrafted: QESBA

The following is an edited version of the brief from the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) to be presented to the National Assembly Commission studying Bill 14.

MONTREAL, March 14, 2013 /CNW Telbec/ - As the elected voice of English public education in Quebec, the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) has a direct and pressing interest in the fate of Bill 14, An Act to amend the Charter of the French Language, the Charter of human rights and freedoms and other legislative provisions. We express that interest in the name of the nine school boards we represent, the 100,000 students who attend the 340 English elementary and high schools, adult and vocational centres in our system, the 13,000 dedicated teachers, administrators, professionals and clerical staff who serve them and the school communities across Quebec who depend upon them.

The comments that follow are guided by a simple statement by the Premier of Quebec herself in her inaugural address to the National Assembly on October 20th, 2012. Mme Marois said in that speech that, " Une majorité d'entre nous est d'accord pour défendre et promouvoir la place du français dans notre société, et ce, en tout respect de la communauté anglophone."

We are part of that majority, and we wish to underline our endorsement of the two objectives outlined in that statement by our Premier. With the greatest of respect, QESBA submits that the draft legislation before this committee fails to serve or validate either of them. Consequently, it is our contention that Bill 14 should be withdrawn, or at the very least, modified substantially. Allow us to explain why.

QESBA believes that Bill 14 should be withdrawn, or at the very least, modified substantially. Here is why:

Sustaining enrolment in English public schools has been a precarious practice and a constant preoccupation. The Charter of the French Language already imposes strict conditions on who can attend English public schools. Bill 14 proposes to extend those limits, further compromising the future of our school network, with apparent disregard for the genuine and active role our schools play in the francization of Quebec.

Three such measures, all of which our preliminary legal analysis indicates could be vulnerable to court challenges, are worthy of mention.

First, this government proposes to overturn a regulation that legitimately and properly exempts families of military personnel temporarily stationed in Quebec from the access restrictions on English public schooling in Quebec. QESBA estimates that some 750 students would consequently be lost to our school system if this measure is adopted - 700 at a single school board, Central Québec. That number represents close to 17 per cent of that Board's total population. The devastating consequences could quite clearly result in school closures, job losses and a real threat to the long-term future of this cornerstone institution serving the minority language community of Quebec.

Military families would lose an acquired right, their children would lose the opportunity to participate in a school board that has placed second in high school success rates in the province, while offering its students unparalleled opportunities to master French as well as English.

A previous PQ government recognized, presumably upon consideration of the above arguments, the importance of granting, by regulation, this military exemption. The current government contends that it is removing a "loophole" in Bill 101. QESBA contends that it is eliminating a right, the maintenance of which a strong majority of Quebecers - English and French -- would surely support.

Second, Bill 14 proposes to amend section 73 of the Charter of the French Language in a manner that we can only guess results from this government's assessment that serial cheating to get into English schooling is happening on such a massive scale that it might make a material witness to the Charbonneau Commission blush with shame! How else does one explain this proposed language, at 73.0.1:

For the purposes of section 73, no account shall be taken of instruction in English received in the context of the illegal attendance of a school. The same rule applies to instruction in English received as a result of trickery, deception or a temporary artificial situation the sole purpose of which is to circumvent the provisions of this Act."

Article 77 of the Charter already addresses any such eventuality, and we have no argument with it:

"A certificate of eligibility obtained fraudulently or on the basis of a false representation is absolutely null".

Consequently, QESBA is deeply concerned that the government has judged it necessary to go to such an extreme. It is our worry that the impact of the above change - and, sadly, perhaps the intentions of the Legislator in drafting it - will be to instruct the bureaucracy to institute and impose additional burdens, delays and obligations on parents seeking to establish the eligibility of their children for English public schooling. Many public commentators have suggested that this law contains passages that are merely rhetorical, partisan and without major import. We disagree. It is an established principle of law that words, quite simply, must have legal import. If the above example is of legal import, it is then most worrisome to us, indeed.

Third, Bill 14 proposes to narrow the conditions under which eligibility to English public schooling is procured from one generation to another.  While it is difficult to accurately quantify the numbers of students who might be deprived of English-school eligibility as a result of this change, they are clearly modest. We implore the members of this Commission to remember that in matters of English public school eligibility in Quebec, there is no such thing as "modest numbers". We secure students for our schools one at a time and at great effort. We represented a school system that served 250,000 students in 1971 -- only a generation and a half ago -- and 100,000 today.

French-language proficiency requirements
QESBA has strived to sensitize the public and successive governments to the substantial and conclusive efforts made by the English public school system to empower each and every student with the capacity to master the French language and, thus, contribute fully to the future of Quebec. It is a core mission in the partnership and success agreements co-signed by each of the nine English school boards and the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports. World-class French immersion programs were first developed within our English school system in Quebec.

It is thus with some disappointment that we read the lengthy and somewhat redundant articles prescribing intensified testing and evaluation of French second-language practices in our schools.

Access to English Cegeps
QESBA was part of the clearly expressed consensus of Quebecers who opposed the original intention of this government to apply Bill 101 language restrictions to adult students seeking access to English Cegeps. We appreciate that the government has not acted on that intention. We are nonetheless concerned by a vague provision in the draft bill (Article 88.2.1(3)) requiring English Cegeps to give priority admission status to graduates from English schools. Let us be clear: QESBA deeply values the institution of English-language Cegeps and the fundamentally important role they exercise on behalf of the communities they serve. That said, we worry that this article might begin to do indirectly what this government has properly decided to avoid doing directly - that is, discourage francophone and allophone adults from freely choosing their language of instruction.

Other provisions of Bill 14
QESBA wishes to comment briefly on two other areas encompassed by the provisions of Bill 14: municipal and health and social services and the right to work in French. Our interest in both is predicated on their potential impact on the families and communities that provide our school system with its students. There are articles in Bill 14, some in their content, others in their tone that would tend to limit the collective capacity of Quebec institutions to lawfully deliver services, information and support to individuals in English.

Proposed measures and reporting procedures would limit - without their democratic consent - designated municipalities from delivering services in English as well as French. Reducing the right of municipal governments to offer services and information in both languages would drive the English-speaking parents of our English students away from those communities, resulting in further losses of enrolment to our schools and centres. Similarly, there are worrisome signals to the health and social services bureaucracy and additional reporting burdens imposed on that bureaucracy with respect to the delivery of English services in this most essential sector of activity.

Finally, QESBA is fully cognizant and respectful of the provisions in the Charter of the French Language protecting the right of Quebecers to work in French. We fail to understand why this government has judged it necessary to further reinforce them. The logical assumption is that a diagnosis has been made by this government that the requirement of some level of English capacity is being unduly included in too many job postings across the province. QESBA has not seen any clear evidence of such a problem.

QESBA wishes to reiterate that it is an ally and not an adversary in the legitimate and necessary efforts to protect and promote French as Quebec's common language.  At the same time, we have been assured by this government that it echoes our own unconditional contention that English-speaking Quebec institutions be actively supported and sustained. Bill 14 is wholly inconsistent with each of these statements. As such, it is not, in our contention, possible to countenance the adoption by the National Assembly of Bill 14. QESBA thus urges members of this Commission to call for its withdrawal or, at the very least, its serious modification.

SOURCE: Quebec English School Boards Association

For further information:

Kim Hamilton
Director of Communications and Special Projects
514-849-5900, ext.:225

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