Montreal

Quebec's proposed language law shakes English CEGEPs

CEGEP is traditionally seen as a time for young Quebecers to broaden their horizons. But Quebec's English colleges and francophone high school students say the provincial government's proposed language reforms threaten to block their way forward.

'As institutions of higher education, we believe in the principle of freedom of choice,' CEGEPs say

Montreal's Dawson College is among the English-language CEGEPs that raised concern about the province's new language bill. (Jérôme Lafon/CBC)

CEGEP is traditionally seen as a time for young Quebecers to broaden their horizons. But Quebec's English colleges and francophone high school students say the provincial government's proposed language reforms threaten to block their way forward.

If the bill passes, only 17.5 per cent of students will be allowed to be enrolled in English CEGEPs — a move intended to maintain the status quo and prevent more students from French-language schools from switching over to the English stream.

The minister responsible for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, said Thursday that anglophone students — and those with English-school eligibility — will be given admission priority over francophone students applying to English CEGEPs.

In a statement issued Friday, Dawson College, John Abbott College and Vanier College said they were still studying Bill 96, which totals 100 pages, and trying to determine the "application of the French exit exam to our students as well as how enrolment caps will actually be applied."

But the colleges also noted "the ongoing desire among many young Quebecers to attend our institutions." Several colleges, including Vanier and Dawson, have seen a surge in applications. 

"Many Quebec parents want their children to become bilingual in a French Quebec. Limiting our ability to serve these students in the public sector will push more students to study out-of-province," the statement said.

"As institutions of higher education, we believe in the principle of freedom of choice, which provides young adults with the opportunity to shape their own future, as well as admissions based primarily on academic qualifications."

French students want choice

While the specifics have yet to be determined, many francophone high school students say they're being unfairly targeted and their choices limited by the proposed changes.

"I feel like everyone should have the same chance to go to anglophone CEGEP if they want to," said Raphaëlle Lebeau, a student at Collège Jean-Eudes, a high school in Montreal.

High school students Florence Martel, left, and Karlanne Dusablon say enrolment caps on English-language CEGEPs are unfair to francophone students. (CBC)

Florence Martel, another student at the school, said CEGEP students are old enough to decide their preferred language of study.

"Personally, I think, at the age we're at, it's our choice to decide where we're going to go," she said. "I don't think we're going to lose our French if we go to an anglophone CEGEP."

Karlanne Dusablon plans to take English literature when she starts CEGEP next year. She said she wouldn't be able to study that subject at a French-language CEGEP, and she's not concerned about losing her ability to speak French.

"We won't lose French just because we go to an English school. At home, I speak French. My parents speak French. They don't speak English."

Axel Bernard, another student, supports the CAQ's plan to limit English-language CEGEP enrollment.

"I just feel like (French) is going to disappear in not so long," said Bernard.

High School student Axel Bernard supports the CAQ government’s plan to limit English CEGEP enrollment, and plans to go to a French-language CEGEP. (CBC)

'The absolute minimum,' according to the PQ

The Parti Québécois would have liked a tougher approach, and has been calling for Bill 101 to extend to CEGEPs. That would require the vast majority of students who go to elementary and high school in French to go to a French CEGEP.

PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said the 17.5 per cent enrollment cap on English CEGEPs is insufficient to stop the spread of English in Quebec, particularly in Montreal.

"Unfortunately, the CAQ gave us the absolute minimum."

WATCH | Simon Jolin-Barrette says the proposed law is a balancing act:

Quebec's minister responsible for the French language explains his reform of Bill 101

8 months ago
Duration 5:55
Simon Jolin-Barrette is Quebec's minister responsible for the French language 5:55

With files from Louis Pavlakos and Cathy Senay

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