Montreal

Quebec's aim to restrict English services worries those who won't make the cut

A new policy that is expected to limit English-language government services in Quebec to certain groups of people is worrisome news for immigrant business owners.

English-speaking business owners say proposed policy will make it hard to operate in Quebec

Ian Parris is a business owner who may soon be restricted to communicating in French because he is not part of Quebec's 'historic English minority,' the government says. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

When Ian Parris moved to Montreal from the English-speaking island of Saint Kitts, he quickly learned French because he's always believed immigrants should adopt the local tongue.

He enrolled in a French-language university and eventually opened a restaurant in the city.

Parris may be fluent in Quebec's official language, but he still prefers to receive bills and other business communications in English.

"I think if I choose to speak English, I should have that option and I think that applies to a lot of immigrants who come to this country," he said.

"I am more comfortable in English because it's my first language."

But soon he may lose that choice because he doesn't have the right credentials under the provincial government's plan to prohibit certain residents from receiving services in English.

Restricting services to family lineage

The new policy will be unveiled in the coming weeks, covering communications ranging from Hydro bills to driver's licence renewals, said Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

It will apply to businesses as well, he said, and that worries business owners like Clifton Wilks, who operates Coiffure Unisex. 

Clifton Wilks, who is originally from Jamaica, is frustrated to hear he may soon lose his right to some English services in Quebec. (CBC)

"I do a lot of business so I got a lot of bills," said Wilks, who moved to the province from Jamaica more than a decade ago.

"I pay taxes as well, so it makes sense to do them in English."

On Tuesday, Jolin-Barrette said the new policy will have exceptions for Indigenous people in Quebec and what he called the "historic English minority."

Premier François Legault later defined that group as those with parents who went to English school in Canada. That's in accordance with Quebec's French language charter, he said.

However, constitutional lawyer Julius Grey says that part of the law only applies to those seeking access to Quebec's English public school system and it has nothing to do with government services.

Critics challenge language restrictions

There are thousands of immigrants in Quebec who come from English-speaking nations, like Wilks and Parris. Grey also pointed to immigrants from the United Kingdom and the United States, who've lived and worked in the province for decades.

He and other critics say it's unclear where the Coalition Avenir Québec will draw the line in history.

"Are we going to have to have a test to see what an historic anglophone is?" asks Liberal language critic Gregory Kelley.

Test or not, Grey predicted the policy would get struck down in court for discrimination and breach of freedom of expression. 

Dorian Williams, owner of New Style Barbershop in the city's west end, says Quebec is 'losing culture' by enacting certain policies that push people to Ontario. (CBC)

"There is no beneficiary," he said. "Nobody is better off, but you're creating a situation which divides society and you make some people feel they're the subject of discrimination."

Dorian Williams, the owner of New Style Barbershop in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, says he sees how it's affecting people.

"They're running everybody out of Quebec," Williams said. "Quebec used to be the place that everyone wanted to be. Now everyone is in Ontario. They're losing the culture here."

With files from Lauren McCallum

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