Quebec lawmakers approve controversial language bill

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[JURIST] The Quebec National Assembly [official website, in French] on Tuesday adopted Bill 115 [materials], a controversial measure modifying English-language speakers’ access to English public schools in the provincer. The new provisions, which are expected to gain royal assent next week, will establish a vesting system whereby children of English-speaking citizens can accrue points toward legal entitlement to access to English public schools through early private education in English language schools and other means. The legislation also increases government fines on private institutions established to circumvent the principle instruction in French required by section 72 of the Charter of the French Langauge [text]. The bill, which passed on a 61-54 vote after the center-right Quebec Liberal [party website, in French] government invoked closure on debate, was enacted in response to the invalidation [JURIST report] of Bill 104 [text], which the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] declared unconstitutional for violating section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [official website]. Critics of Bill 115 denounce the points system for its general complexity and the uncertainty generated by the degree of enforcement discretion it vests government bureaucrats, saying that it will inevitably result in another lawsuit similar to the one that invalidated Bill 104. Proponents of the bill maintain that it represents a compromise that will protect the primacy of the French language without implicating the same constitutional issues its predecessor did. Leaders of the opposition Parti Quebecois [party website, in French] said [press release, in French] that the new system “[l]egalizes … buying the right to go to English schools” by allowing parents to vest their children’s eligibility by sending them to unsubsidized private English schools for three years. They have vowed to repeal the legislation should they regain the majority.

Bill 115 replaces Bill 103 [materials], which was introduced this summer [JURIST report] to reduce the number of students attending English language schools in the wake of Bill 104’s invalidation. Bill 104 was designed to plug a loophole in the language rules set forth under Bill 101 [text] that allowed parents to enroll otherwise ineligible students in English-language public schools by first sending them to private English school for a year. The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upheld [JURIST report] Bill 101 itself, which requires French-speaking parents to send their children to francophone schools. Under the bill, parents must have received the majority of their own schooling in English to be able to have their children educated in that language. Eight families had sought to prove that Bill 101 was discriminatory in precluding their children from receiving an education in English. The court found that members of the linguistic majority have no constitutional right to an education in English, the minority language in Quebec.

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