Quebec National Assembly politicians vote to 'reaffirm' academic freedom after N-word controversy

Members of the CAQ government as well as the three opposition parties of the National Assembly voted Tuesday to pass a motion asserting the importance of freedom of expression in academic settings. 

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge presented the motion, which was supported by opposition parties

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge submitted a motion to the National Assembly Tuesday calling on members to reaffirm the importance of freedom of speech in schools. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Members of all four parties of the National Assembly voted Tuesday to pass a motion asserting the importance of freedom of expression in academic settings. 

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, of the Coalition Avenir Québec, presented the motion.

It was supported by Marwah Rizqy, Liberal MNA for Saint-Laurent, Christine Labrie, Québec Solidaire MNA for Sherbrooke, Véronique Hivon, Parti Québécois MNA for Joliette and Catherine Fournier, the independent MNA for Marie-Victorin. 

It states that members of the legislature are reaffirming their trust in educators and their expertise. It also says it's important that Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms be respected in the education process.

It says the National Assembly "invites school boards, service centres and private schools to rely on teachers' professional judgment."

Last week, the trustee for the English Montreal School Board did not mince words at a council meeting, saying a textbook containing the N-word that is in use at several schools should not have been there in the first place.

"When I hear or see that word, I am filled with such pain because I know what my ancestors lived through as slaves," Marlene Jennings, a former member of Parliament who is Black, told the board last Wednesday.

The N-word appears in the textbook Journeys through the history of Quebec and Canada. The English version of the book was published three years ago. 

Teachers and parents have called for the book to be removed from class.

The EMSB is printing out stickers to cover the word, and others to add context. It is also drafting a lesson plan for teachers to contextualize its use by the Quebec author Pierre Vallières. 

Students have been calling for systemic change in wake of the N-word controversy at University of Ottawa where a professor is accused of using the full word in class.

The Quebec government reacted to that controversy by saying the university had violated a professor's freedom of expression by suspending her for using the word.

Premier François Legault has said he doesn't understand the university's decision and warned of a "slippery slope."

And late last month, a Henri-Bourassa high school teacher, Vincent Ouellette, was suspended after a video surfaced showing him using the N-word repeatedly during an online class. 

With files from Cathy Senay and Isaac Olson