Over two-thousand demonstrators assembled in front of Premier Jean Charest’s Montreal office on Monday to protest Bill 115, legislation that would allow students who spend three years in an unsubsidized English private school to transfer to the public school system after receiving permission from government officials.
The Liberal government suspended National Assembly rules to call in MNA’s Monday to vote on the bill. After 15 hours of impassioned debate, the motion was adopted with a vote of 61 to 54. Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois vowed to repeal the law once her party came into power.
Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, Bill 101, specifies that only students whose parents were educated in English in Canada are automatically permitted to attend English public schools. In response to this law, many non-anglophone families enrolled their children in private “bridging schools,” allowing them to transfer to public English schools after a year.
In 2002, the government passed Bill 104, blocking access to bridging schools. However, the Supreme Court deemed this unconstitutional in 2009 and gave the Quebec government one year to find a way to limit access to English schools without violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court set Friday, October 22 as the deadline for the adoption of an alternative bill.
Protesters were outraged by both the bill’s content and the manner in which it was passed.
Mario Beaulieu, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal – the Quebec nationalist group that organized Monday’s protest – told The Daily in French that the government pushed the bill through “at the very last minute…to do this as discreetly as possibly.”
Members of the francophone community consider the bill a threat to the French language in Quebec, as it will likely reduce enrolment in French schools.
“This bill will weaken French because schools are what is most important to the [perpetuation] of a language and a culture,” said Beaulieu.
On the other hand, proponents of English schooling are generally satisfied with the bill. Jonathan Goldbloom, a spokesperson for the Quebec Association of Independent Schools, told The Daily that he believes the bill is “a step in the right direction” toward following the Supreme Court’s guidelines. However, he feels that “too much discretionary power [is] being given to bureaucrats” and that the regulations “should be clarified and simplified.”