MONTREAL—Is living and working in French a human right? No, according to Quebec's Human Rights Commission.
On Wednesday, the commission appeared before a National Assembly committee tasked with the Parti Quebecois’ update to Quebec’s language law: Bill 14. The new law attempts to make French equal to other fundamental rights such as free speech and gender equality.
“The words they use are ‘Common values,’ actually les ‘Valeurs Quebecoises,’ but there's danger in trying to put these things as add-ons,” said Gaetan Cousineau, speaking for the commission.
The independent commission believes Bill 14 puts new rights and new obligations in the wrong places. It says it's fine to make French a right, but that right belongs in the French language charter, not the human rights charter.
“They're adding new wording in there, again adding confusion to the application of these rights so that could bring a lot of fighting in front of the tribunals,” said Cousineau.
The commission does agree that immigrants should have the right to French lessons, but it says this too should be contained in the French language charter.
Language minister Diane de Courcy was surprised by the commission's complaints, but she is taking it in stride. She said other groups, including those for immigrants and refugees, are backing Bill 14.
Also at the hearing on Wednesday: the federation of CEGEPs.
Bill 14, the group said, limits the access of Francophones to English CEGEPs and that can hurt their chances in the workplace.
“They will no longer be able to get that level of mastery of English as a second language and it will be detrimental to them,” explained Richard Filion, speaking for the federation.
Filion added that Bill 14's requirement of a French-proficiency test for English students is unfair.
“We would create another standard for graduating from colleges,” said Filion.
With more than 65 groups appearing before the hearing so far, balancing various people's rights puts the minister in a tough spot. That’s an even greater challenge for a minority PQ government that needs to please its core supporters.