Canada Quebec working on policy to limit access to government services in English
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The Quebec government wants to ensure that everyone is served in French when communicating with government organizations — with a few exceptions.
Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who is also responsible for the protection of the French language, said a new language policy will ensure all ministries and organizations are offering public services almost exclusively in French.
The policy should be ready in the coming weeks, he said, and will apply to communication with individuals as well as companies.
Nothing will change for the "historic English minority," he explained, adding that they "will always be able to receive all the services in their own language."
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Exceptions will also be made for Indigenous people, but not for new immigrants to the province.
When asked by Tout un matin host Patrick Mansbourian whether first-generation immigrants should be "given a break," Jolin-Barrette said all immigrants should have the opportunity to learn to speak French, and that Quebec has invested a lot into ensuring there are programs in place for them to do so.
When it comes to who, exactly, will be able to access services in English, Jolin-Barrette gave the example of someone contacting Hydro-Québec for billing information.
"For somebody who is a member of the English community, you will be able to receive [your] bill in English," he said.
"But it's not because you say, 'I want it in English' that [you will receive it in English]. So that's really important, that the governmental communication is first of all in French."
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Jolin-Barrette did not say how the government will differentiate between those who can receive services in English and those who can't.
The new guidelines come following a report by the Conseil supérieur de la langue française, the government's French-language advisory board, which found there are shortcomings in the government's language policies and that practices vary from ministry to ministry.
The policy will help create a uniform set of standards, which in turn will help ensure the sustainability of the French-language by making the state a model to follow, Jolin-Barrette said.
He blamed the current situation on the Liberal Party, which he said "didn't care" about making sure the government is exemplary when it comes to the use of French.
A slippery slope
Greg Kelley, a Liberal MNA and the official opposition critic for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, said in his opinion, the policy raises more questions than it answers about the delivery of services in the English language.
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"It's an extremely slippery slope when you start making very broad statements like that, that there is a historic community," he told Quebec AM.
He said there are people in Quebec who speak English but are from other provinces or countries, and it is unclear if they, too, are part of the historic community Jolin-Barrette is referencing.
He pointed out that just because someone asks to receive services in English, it doesn't mean they don't use French on a daily basis.
"Sometimes that is just the best way to understand fully a very complicated issue that might arise with the government."
Kelley pointed out the CAQ government likes to say they speak for the majority of francophones, and that they govern for the majority.
He said this policy is "kind of another message to the rest of us, that you're not quite part of this Quebec, and it is not an inclusive message whatsoever."
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Kelly McParland: Quebec's 'distinct' ability to irritate the RoC remains fully in placePremier François Legault managed it with barely a hint of effort when he suggested that, henceforth, only those citizens with a verifiable history in the province should expect the courtesy of being addressed in English.
A false impression
Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said the policy would give a false impression to immigrants that French is the only language in Quebec.
"It's also true that Montreal is a functionally bilingual city and we shouldn't pretend it's not," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
He said the "reprehensible" part of this is that the government is trying to divide people by creating this "historical Anglo community."
The move would deprive people of the ability to fully understand what is going on in their interactions with the government, he said.
"I think the creation of classes of citizens carries the potential for an equality challenge, as well as a freedom of expression challenge."
He said the purpose of Bill 101 wasn't spite — demographics showed that if nothing changed an English-speaking majority would eventually emerge. He said he studied those demographics and was convinced by the findings.
"However here, there is no study…. Just because Hydro speaks to somebody in English, does not threaten French. When they say it's to protect French, I'd like to know how it protects French to tell somebody you can't have your services in English."
Quebec overturns decision to deny French woman immigration documents over language issue .
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