Quebec scraps Bill 96's 3 French core courses requirement for CEGEP students

An amendment to the Legault government's language bill, Bill 96, which overhauls the Charter of the French language, will be tabled in the coming days at the National Assembly.

Amendment to be tabled in coming days

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the Minister responsible for the protection of the French language initially rejected the Liberals' amendment, only to compromise two weeks later. (Sylvain Roy-Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Students in English CEGEPs in the province will not be forced to take three core courses in French, as originally proposed, though they would need to take three additional French courses instead.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government is amending its proposed Bill 96, which aims to overhaul the Charter of the French Language, stepping back from a controversial suggestion initially made by the province's Official Opposition.

The news was first reported by the French-language newspaper La Presse, and confirmed Tuesday evening by Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec's minister responsible for the French language.

"There are significant shortcomings with regard to mastery of the common language in the English-speaking network," read a statement obtained by Radio-Canada. "The amendments we plan to table address these shortcomings."

The bill had previously proposed that all students in English-speaking CEGEPs take three of their core courses in French and pass a standard French test to graduate. The requirement had been added at the request of Liberal MNA Hélène David, Official Opposition critic for the protection of the French language.

However, the Liberal Party later walked back its proposal after facing backlash from English-speaking CEGEPs, which felt the measure would increase students' failure rate — or at the very least, lower their grade average — and asked for an amendment to accommodate students who had studied in English elementary and high schools.

Despite Jolin-Barrette agreeing to their request, Liberal leader Dominique Anglade said the bill is unacceptable, and her party would vote against it. 

"They finally came to the same conclusion as us when we told them we couldn't let students fail," she said."But it doesn't solve all the problems related to Bill 96."

John McMahon, director general of Vanier College, said the amendment is an improvement to what was initially proposed, though his questions about implementation remain unanswered.

"The college system has been pretty uniformly applied across Quebec to both anglophone and francophone colleges for over 50 years, and now, our concern is that two college systems may in fact be created," he said.

If Bill 96 is adopted, changes to the CEGEP curriculum would take effect in the fall of 2024.

The three French courses will be added to the two French second-language courses that English CEGEP students must already take, for a total of five courses. (CEGEP for students enrolled in the pre-university program usually lasts only four semesters.) 

However, that option is only available to students who were allowed to study in English elementary schools and high schools. Francophone and allophone students who were not eligible will need to take three classes required for their program in French.

Anglophone students who prefer to take the three core classes in French instead can do so.

Additional workload

Tiawentinon Canadian, co-ordinator of Dawson College's First Peoples' Centre, said even with the amendment, the bill presents a "fortified barrier" to students who are currently struggling. 

"Framing this new amendment as a compromise, well that's not true because they're still going to require students to take an additional three courses," she said. 

Tiawenti:non Canadian, who is a coordinator at Dawson College's First People's Centre, says Bill 96, and the requirement for English CEGEP students to take more classes in French would have a negative effect on the morale of Indigenous students. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

She worries about Indigenous students entering CEGEP without sufficient French-language instruction.

Many of them have to take several non-accredited French courses in order to get ready for the ones which will affect their R-score —  a grading system used for university admissions. 

"They may lose sight of the bigger picture and decide that getting through French is too much of a barrier for them to go after their goals," she said. 

"I don't think they're trying to keep the province welcoming to the people who have originally been here."

Katherine Korakakis, president of the English Parents' Committee Association of Quebec, said she's been overwhelmed by the hundreds of emails a day she's received from students anxious about the bill affecting their university admissions. 

"Students [are] saying … 'I can pass the [French] course, but I'm not confident I'll get a 90 or 95," she said.  "When you try to get into competitive programs, this is what you need to aim for … low 60s or 70s are not going to cut it."

She says the government should be holding consultations with subject-matter experts and the wider anglophone and francophone communities. 

"This is people's futures, these are people's careers," she said. "This is not a time to be playing politics with our children, and this is what it sounds like again."

In the coming days, the new amendment will be tabled at the National Assembly, specifying that the compulsory French classes will have to amount to 45 hours and that the grades will count toward students' R-score.

"Our objective has always remained the same: to allow French to regain its rightful place in Quebec and to give Quebecers, regardless of their mother tongue, all the tools to flourish and participate fully in Quebec society," the minister's office said in a statement on Tuesday evening.

with files from Chloë Ranaldi, Holly Cabrera, Josh Grant and Radio-Canada's Jérôme Labbé