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Quebec clarifying Bill 96 directives amid uproar over French-only presentation for parents

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Quebec's education ministry says it is working on clarifying directives on when officials can communicate with the public in a language other than French.

The directives come amid an uproar from parents of special needs children who were left confused and upset because two ministry officials refused to deliver a presentation in English due to the province's language law.

Reacting to the parents' concerns on Tuesday, Interim Quebec Liberal Party leader Marc Tanguay said this was yet another negative consequence of Bill 96, the new law that revamped Quebec's Charter of the French language.

During a Zoom presentation last Thursday organized exclusively for English parents, one of the officials told about 65 parents participating in the session that, "I would like to do it in English, but the law will not allow me to. We were able to translate the slides but I don't recall being told that we could verbalize it in English. It doesn't bring me pleasure to do this but we aren't allowed to give the presentation in English."

Sara Hossaini, whose 14-year-old son with autism attends an English school in Montreal, said in an interview that the way she was treated was "discriminatory" and that she felt "ignored" by the government. She said many of the terms used were complex or difficult to understand and that everyone was expecting the oral part to be in English.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Education (MEQ) told CTV News that under provisions of the language charter, government officials have a duty to use French in an exemplary manner in written and oral communications.

While the PowerPoint slides of the Zoom presentation for the parents were in English, the approximately 20-minute explanation of the various programs available for special needs students was all in French, which led to confusion for the parents who signed up. The two special education coordinators later answered questions in English.

The ministry said in an email that in some cases, exceptions can be made, and in this case, the exception was the English slides.

"In order to clarify practices, the future MEQ directive currently in preparation will clarify the conditions and circumstances allowing staff members to use languages other than the official language in this type of situation," wrote Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson for the education ministry.

CTV News has asked the ministry to clarify whether the oral portion of a presentation could also be given in English in the future, pending the new directive, but did not yet receive a response.

Information 'should be understandable': Liberals

Education Minister Bernard Drainville did not comment on the issue on Tuesday, but the Liberals' interim leader did. Tanguay criticized the government's language law, saying that important information about the wellbeing of their kids "should be understandable."

Interim Quebec Liberal Party leader Marc Tanguay responds to questions from the media on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (CTV News)

"So if it means that you have to answer the questions or to perform your presentation in English, I think it should be done. Because at the end of the day, it's to provide very key information for our kids," he said during a press scrum in Quebec City.

"It's now the part of the government to say if the interpretation [of the language law] was the right one. 'Oh, we cannot do it because of Bill 96.' Really? If it's the case, add this on the pile of the very bad, bad and negative effects of Bill 96 — one of the many, many reasons why we voted against this bad Bill 96."

Katherine Korakakis, president of the Quebec English Parents' Committee Association, was equally as disappointed by how the presentation was handled. She said she helped organize it for several months and said she was assured that the presentation would be completely in English, since there was a previous session held for parents of francophone students.

She said the ministry should have made that clear from the beginning that the coordinators were not allowed to deliver the presentation in English.

"The devil is in the details as they say. If having a PowerPoint was the be all and end all and that no additional information was needed then why even organize these types of events? The sad part in all of this was that parents didn’t have the opportunity to get the information, and this makes me super sad," she told CTV News.

"It's just very disappointing and the thing is a lot of parents felt discriminated against and felt let down and it's just hard to manage that. At the end of the day, they still need access to the information."

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