Students at one of Montreal’s English CEGEPs had a chance to air their issues with Bill 14 directly to Quebec Language Minister Diane De Courcy today, but many of them said they felt their opinions went unheard.
De Courcy visited Dawson College on Monday for a town hall on the proposed language law. She spoke with students about the controversial bill, which could force English CEGEPs to give priority to anglophone students over francophones.
Dante Andrada, a first-year law, society and justice student who attended the conference said he didn’t feel De Courcy listened to the students’ concerns.
Andrada grew up speaking English, French and Spanish. He says the Parti Québécois government’s language policies seem counter-intuitive.
"We’re living in an era of globalization," he said.
'Bill 14 is not an anti-English bill" —Diane De Courcy, Language Minister
"Most people in Quebec, especially people of different cultures, they’re going out of their way to learn multiple languages because that gives you the best opportunities."
De Courcy said she was at the school with an open mind.
"Bill 14 is not an anti-English bill," she said.
"It's a bill for a common language and that's what I wanted to show."
While the public hearings on Bill 14 ended last week, students at Dawson saw a personal visit from De Courcy as a unique opportunity to voice their views.
One student group, called Bienvenue, handed the minister a petition with 300 signatures against Bill 14.
But Daniela Barrera, one of the students behind the petition, said they were told it was too late.
"I feel like she kind of disregarded my petition and the work we’ve been doing inside of Dawson to get students to understand Bill 14.
"Everyone — allophones, immigrants, anglophones, and francophones — should have the right to attend and choose what language they study in."'—Daniela Barrera, Dawson College student
Barrera said most students are not well informed on Bill 14 and how it could affect English CEGEPs.
De Courcy was invited to Dawson College by Dereck Doherty, the president of the Dawson Law Society and Justice Students' Association. Doherty said he thought the event went well.
"I think we need a speech, an open speech … where people are willing to listen to each other and that’s what we had today," he said.
"It’s not a bad [bill] in and of itself. It might have to have a few tweaks and amendments to it, but generally it’s acceptable," he added.
But Barrera says she still has concerns.
"Everyone — allophones, immigrants, anglophones, and francophones — should have the right to attend and choose what language they study in."
Bill 14: Next steps
The minister responsible for Quebec's anglophone community, Jean-François Lisée, spoke with CBC Radio Noon on Monday about the next steps for Bill 14, now that the five weeks of hearings have wrapped up.
"This is a particularly interesting juncture in the debate on Bill 14," he said.
"We are going to discuss amongst ourselves on precisions … how to remove some of the irritants."
He said the PQ has faced a lot of criticism over the bill’s proposal to remove the term "ethnic minorities" from the language Charter. He told CBC the amendments regarding bilingual municipalities could also be changed.
The Liberal MNA for Jacques-Cartier, Geoff Kelley, said the PQ shouldn’t be criticized for going out to meet with anglophones as De Courcy did at Dawson.
But he added the language debate is "a tired debate from another decade."
According to Kelley, Quebec doesn't need a new language law. He said in order to improve French instruction all you need is increase the budget, not create a new law.
The national assembly will decide this week whether to send Bill 14 on for further study. The minority government will need the support of at least one of the opposition parties in order to pass the amendments.
The provincial Liberal party has already said it will not support the bill and the Coalition Avenir Québec says it would only support the bill if there are significant changes.