Legal challenge against Bill 96 coming, Montreal lawyer says

Civil rights lawyer Julius Grey says there will be a legal challenge against Bill 96, Quebec's proposed law to protect the French language in the province. It's expected to pass in the National Assembly this week. 

Julius Grey says he’s confident some sections of the law could be challenged despite notwithstanding clause

Civil rights lawyer Julius Grey said Quebec's existing language law, Bill 101, is already effective when it comes to protecting French and the rights of French speakers in the province. (CBC)

A leading constitutional lawyer in Montreal says there will be a legal challenge against Bill 96, Quebec's proposed law to protect the French language in the province.

The controversial law is expected to pass in the National Assembly this week. 

Civil rights lawyer Julius Grey says he expects to take part in the legal challenge, but couldn't say which groups will be taking part yet. 

"I hope to be part of the challenge all the way to the UN as we did with Bill 178," said Grey, who said the bill goes too far and violates constitutional and fundamental rights.

"This battle will not be over until the highest courts internationally have spoken."

The bill would reform several pieces of Quebec legislation, including the Charter of the French Language, touching everything from education and health to the rights of immigrants to be served in other languages.

It has been criticized on several fronts, in particular for its use of the notwithstanding clause, which allows a province to override basic freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Rather than applying the clause to specific sections of the bill, the government has applied the clause to the entire bill, making every aspect of the far-reaching law immune to legal challenges based on the charter.

There is a large crowd in the street.
Crowds of protestors flooded downtown Montreal streets on May 14 in a show of opposition against the bill. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Despite the roadblock, Grey says he's confident parts of the proposed law could be challenged on other grounds. 

The Quebec Community Groups Network has criticized the bill for many reasons, in part for infringing on citizens' privacy rights, greatly reducing the ability to receive public services in English and for issuing fines for speaking languages other than French at work. 

"Make no mistake. The complexity of Bill 96 is by design," the Quebec Community Groups Network wrote in a statement about the bill. It links English-language groups across Quebec.

"This controversial legislation amends the Charter of the French Language, 24 other provincial statutes, one regulation, and the Constitution Act, 1867," the network wrote. "The government, it appears, is hoping that Quebecers are not paying attention to the details."

The minister responsible for the French language in Quebec, Simon Jolin-Barrette, has vigorously defended the bill in the face of criticism, calling it a reasonable, balanced and necessary "to assure the adequate protection of the French language" in the province. 

The law not only discriminates against Anglophones, but Francophones as well, Grey said. 

If passed the law that would cap the number of French students permitted to study at English CEGEPs. Young Francophones looking to learn English, often for professional reasons, will be at a disadvantage, he said.

"Francophones are the big losers," Grey said.

The proposed law would also force those in English CEGEPs to take on more French courses than are currently required.

"There's absolutely no rationality behind this law. The whole explanation given that French is in danger is false," Grey added.

With files from Shuyee Lee