In December 2012, the Quebec government introduced Bill 14, “An act amend the Charter of the French language, the Charter of human rights and freedoms and other legislative provisions.” The Bill would diminish rights and freedoms based on Quebec’s own rights Charter for English speakers and allophones.
The Bill would assert that French is the common language in Quebec and the “foundation of Quebec’s identity.” The Bill ignores the historical contributions of Aboriginal languages and English. It ignores the existence of allophones.
Bill 14 also encourages laws and practices that aim to make French the “normal” language, implying that other languages are abnormal.
Bill 14 erodes the collective commons by imposing French-only requirements for health and social services records, smaller businesses, government communications with English universities, municipalities and other aspects of public administration.
The first clause of Bill 14 replaces the term “ethnic minorities” with “cultural communities”. This may seem innocuous, given that the term “cultural communities” is well-known in Quebec. However, “cultural communities” does not follow any accepted international usage, nor does it draw on human-rights principles and norms. “Cultural communities” have no rights. Minorities do.
Canada ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1976, and it specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of language. It guarantees equality before the law and “equal and effective protection” against discrimination on the ground of language. Article 27 says that where such a linguistic minority exists, “persons belonging to such a minority shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of the group, to enjoy their own culture… or to use their own language.”
Today, the definition of “minority” is inclusive and would, in my view, include Anglophones. In 2010, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “It is now commonly accepted that recognition of minority status is not solely for the State to decide, but should be based on both objective and subjective criteria.” The subjective criteria now include how minorities decide to identify and define themselves. In Quebec, this argument is particularly compelling since Quebec has defined itself as a “nation” – and that brings with it certain responsibilities.
Bill 14 fails to affirm the realities and rights of English speakers as an historic minority community. It fails to accord meaningful affirmation, let alone protection, to English speakers in contemporary Quebec. Protecting the French language in Quebec is essential, but not at this price.