An Open Letter to Bernard Drainville

 conference
Montreal - Monday, March 13, 2023

The English Montreal School Board Parents Committee (EMSBPC) has become increasingly disturbed by the impact Bill 96 is having on the English education system since its adoption by the National Assembly eight months ago. We wish to share our concerns with you so that you will have a better understanding of our opposition to the law and our support of the court case launched by the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). At the same time, we hope that you will agree in the short term to modify aspects of the law with an eye towards promoting student success.

With a youth and adult sector population of more than 37,000 students and a network of 73 schools and centres, the EMSB is the largest English public school board in Quebec. Most importantly, at 92.4 percent, we enjoy the highest rate of students who earn a high school diploma among all public-school boards in Quebec.

Earning a high school diploma is not our only measure of success. As parents, we want our children to have the French language skills to thrive in Quebec. We support the need to promote and protect the French language in Québec and indeed throughout Canada. Our English-speaking community invented French immersion in the sixties well before Bill 101, and our school boards across Quebec are committed to ensuring our children are able to live and work in French. EMSB parents have a choice of three models of French in elementary schools; Core, Bilingual and French Immersion, while secondary schools offer several French programs that exceed the minimum requirements set by the Ministry.

There are aspects of Bill 96 that are threatening the vitality of our English school system, which we wish to bring to your attention in the hope you will address them in a timely manner.

We encourage the Government to reconsider imposing a three-year limit – previously it was six years - on attending English schools for the children of people temporarily working in Quebec.  This reduces the pool of potential applicants to EMSB schools and to other English-language School Boards and therefore weakens our school system. More importantly, forcing students to abandon their friends and teachers and to adjust a new setting is not a recipe for student success. Furthermore, at a time when Quebec businesses are competing globally for talent it makes our city and our province less attractive to newcomers.

The pursuit of post-secondary school studies is another measure of student success. Our goal is for our young people to go on to CEGEP. Bill 96, however, creates unnecessary and unwarranted obstacles to our students succeeding at CEGEP and accessing higher education in Quebec. We are particularly concerned by the requirement that students at English CEGEPs to take three core courses in French in order to graduate and on the cap on enrolment at English CEGEPs.

  • More compulsory courses in French will make it more difficult for English students to pursue studies at the university of their choice (it will affect a student’s R score) and especially creates obstacles for children with special needs and learning disabilities related to language. Furthermore, we fear that many young people will opt to leave Quebec after high school.
  • The enrolment freeze puts the future of English CEGEPs at risk; they will be less likely to offer new programming and to qualify for funding. This will stifle innovation and severely limit the introduction of new programming.

The protection and promotion of French should not be done by setting aside the fundamental rights of Quebecers, nor by infringing on the rights of the English-speaking community of Québec. Quebecers are rightly proud of our progressive, comprehensive, and ground-breaking Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The Québec Charter is a fundamental, quasi-constitutional law of Québec. It was adopted unanimously by the Québec National Assembly on June 27, 1975, in a legislature formed of the governing Liberals of Robert Bourassa, the Official Opposition Parti Québécois and two MNAs of the Ralliement créditiste. René Lévesque was so proud of the Charter that he mailed a copy to the home of every Quebecer once he was elected Premier.

The Quebec Charter has become one element of the common values of Québec. The fundamental human rights it protects for all Quebecers should not be set aside lightly. The same is true of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both Charters contain a notwithstanding clause permitting the legislature, with certain limits, to adopt legislation which applies despite the fundamental rights outlined in the Charters. However, it is our opinion, shared by many including a number of judges and justices, that the use of the notwithstanding clauses should be done with circumspection and with limited application.

The blanket and pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clauses shields Bill 96 from judicial challenge under the Charters of Rights, including every single provision of the Charter of the French Language. We believe that this is inconsistent with our values as Quebecers and our proud tradition of protecting human rights. It is one of the principal reasons we fully support the EMSB’s legal challenge to Bill 96, and for that matter to Bill 21 as well. The message that both laws are promoting runs counter to our commitment to building an inclusive Quebec where French is the common language.

We also maintain that government services in English should not be restricted to “historic anglophones” – people who are eligible to attend an English high school. We are also opposed to other elements of the law such as the new search and monitoring powers that have been added to the Charter of the French Language and that are not subject to the prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure found in both the Canadian and Quebec Charters.  

We are well aware that the legal challenge to Bill 96 will take years to wend its way through our court system and eventually to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. Please rest assured however, that while we are determined to stand up for our rights, our primary focus is on what matters most – enhancing the French skills of our children and ensuring their success in an inclusive Québec. It is with these goals in mind that we are urging you to immediately make the adjustments to the implementation of Bill 96 that we are proposing.

About the EMSB Parents Committee

The English Montreal Parents Committee (EMSBPC) is composed of one delegate from each school from each administrative sector and a member of the Advisory Committee on Special Education Services (ACSES). The EMSBPC gives advice on subjects conducive to the most efficient operation of the school board. They inform the school board of the needs of parents, and they give recommendations to the school board on matters for which they must be consulted.

Katherine Korakakis

Chair
EMSB Parents’ Committee

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