The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has officially brought forth a legal challenge to the Quebec government’s new law to bolster and protect the French language.
The largest English-language school board in the province filed the 47-page lawsuit last Friday after voting in favour of taking action against the legislation known as Bill 96.
The lawsuit states the language law violates the Canadian Constitution in “at least three ways” and directly interferes with the governance of English schools.
The newly adopted law, which received royal assent last week, has been widely criticized by anglophone, immigrant and Indigenous groups that argue it goes too far.
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Bill 96 will soon impose tougher language requirements, including in the education and business sectors. It caps enrolment at English-language junior colleges and requires students who do attend those CEGEPs to take three additional French classes. It also extends some of the provisions of the province’s existing language charter.
The law also invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to shield it from court challenges. The province’s premier has maintained the legislation is moderate and there is a need to protect the French language.
In its lawsuit, though, the EMSB argues the Quebec government is overstepping with some of the measures outlined in Bill 96. The school board points out that the language law can’t be entirely shielded from legal challenges under the notwithstanding clause if it affects existing language rights.
The EMSB claims the government is “impermissibly” infringing upon the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by imposing the use of French in English-language school boards. It says the new law goes against section 23, which protects the right of Quebec’s anglophone minority to be educated in English.
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The EMSB argues it and other school boards would be required to use French or both French and English in certain circumstances, such as internal communications and external dealings with other anglophone organizations.
The lawsuit argues that only English-language school boards have the power to make those decisions as part of “the right to management and control” outlined in the charter.
“Minority language school boards have the exclusive authority to make such decisions, including the right to create and maintain an environment in which staff, students, families and community members can interact and thrive in the language of the minority,” the lawsuit reads.
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The legal challenge also says the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), the province’s language watchdog, would have oversight of the use of French in English school boards.
The EMSB says school boards would have to submit an analysis of their “linguistic situation” and if they fail to do so, could be investigated by the OQLF. School boards could may also have to implement a compliance program if they aren’t meeting the standards of the French-language charter, according to the lawsuit.
When it comes to Bill 96, the EMSB has previously said it supports protecting the French language but “measures to protect the French language in Quebec cannot violate the constitutional rights of Quebecers.”
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The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board, which covers a large swath of regions north of Montreal, voted unanimously last week to support the EMSB in its legal fight.
A spokesperson for the EMSB said it doesn’t expect arguments to be heard in court for at least a year.
— with files from Global News’ Elizabeth Zogalis and The Canadian Press
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