Commentary, Opinion

Bill 96 further ingrains systemic racism

In a devastating decision taken by the National Assembly of Quebec on May 24, Bill 96—the newest addition to the province’s array of restrictive language laws—was officially adopted. While the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) advertised the bill as another small step to protect the French language, the reality is that Bill 96 will alienate and discriminate against all those who are not francophone.

As a native English speaker born and raised in Quebec, I am used to being told that I am a second-class citizen because of the language that I speak. The Sûreté du Québec, the police force that is tasked with protecting me, is not required to communicate with me in English, no matter the circumstance. Moreover, I was only permitted to attend an English high school because my parents are anglophones. My children would be forced to attend French schools if I do not request a document from the Quebec government that certifies I graduated from an English high school. By preventing allophone and francophone children from attending English schools, the government is limiting the children’s abilities to learn a language used globally, across all industries. Moreover, existing legislation in Quebec seems to contradict The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that children have the right to use their mother tongue and that education should allow children to fully develop as people—which is facilitated when done in a child’s preferred language.  

Bill 96 further delegitimizes my status as a Quebec citizen in the eyes of the government by ingraining my otherness as a non-francophone. I will now have to demonstrate that I am a “historic anglo” in order to receive medical services in English. If I work for a company that has more than 25 employees, I will have to conduct all internal and external business in French. The obstacles that white Quebec anglophones like me will have to face, however, can hardly compare to the repercussions of Bill 96 for Indigenous people and immigrants. 

Because neither group qualifies as historic anglophones, there is nothing guaranteeing the rights of Indigenous people or immigrants to receive healthcare in any language other than French. Unsurprisingly, the Quebec government uses the term “historic” to grant rights to anglophones but ignores the fact that Indigenous people are the historic caretakers of this land. The lack of accommodation for Indigenous people proves both that systemic racism is still rampant in the province and that the government has doubled down on its attempts at assimilation.

Immigrants can receive services in English during their first six months in Quebec, which are allotted to learn French—but once that time has passed, immigrants are expected to navigate services in French with the ease of a native speaker. The communication barriers the government is set on establishing will likely lead to a decrease in the quality of care, an increase in medical malpractice cases due to miscommunication between doctors and patients, or instances where doctors purposely misinform patients. Racialized patients already face neglect due to systemic racism in Quebec’s healthcare system and Bill 96 only increases the likelihood of more widespread discriminatory practices.

The targeted racism of Bill 96 extends throughout the government and into every business and institution, including the most formative—education. The Bill limits the educational opportunities of Indigenous youth by requiring them to follow a French curriculum rather than one determined by their respective communities. According to international and Canadian federal law, Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination, meaning they have the right to oversee their own political, economic, and cultural development. Bill 96 directly contradicts and disregards this right, while also invoking the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian constitution for protection from federal challenges.

The Quebec government is also restricting the educational opportunities available to immigrant and Indigenous students by placing a cap on the number of non-historic anglophone students that can attend English CEGEPs. The CAQ’s targeting of these students stifles their educational opportunities, which is a clear sign that the party is not invested in the futures of minority groups in the province. 

The passing of Bill 96 disadvantages all non-francophones, but Indigenous people and immigrants are more affected than anglophones. The bill institutionalizes and legitimizes the racist ideal of assimilation of racialized and non-francophone groups in Quebec. It also makes emigration an enticing option for all those the Bill discriminates against, a consequence that falls in line with the Quebec government’s desire to create an entirely francophone population. Ultimately, Bill 96 joins the ranks of Bill 101, Bill 178, and Bill 86 in the Quebec government’s arsenal of laws that perpetuate systemic racism and discrimination against non-francophones throughout the province.

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