Public hearings on Quebec's controversial Bill 14 wrap up

After a month of polarized discussion on where the direction of language laws should be headed, public hearings on Quebec's controversial Bill 14 wrap up today.

CÉGEP officials call proposed language law amendments discriminatory

Quebecers are waiting to see if Language Minister, Diane De Courcy, follows through on her promise to listen with an open mind to public input on Bill 14. (CBC)

After a month of polarized discussion on where the direction of language laws should be headed in the province, public hearings on Quebec’s controversial Bill 14 wrap up today.

When the hearings began, Language Minister Diane De Courcy, said she was prepared to listen with an open mind. Now that Quebecers have had their say, the government will have to decide whether or not to proceed with the bill that would strengthen the Charter of the French Language.

Yesterday, officials from English-language CÉGEPs took the floor.

Richard Filion, the director general of Dawson College, told a special committee at the national assembly that the bill was discriminatory.

"Anglophones … don't want to be kept away from rest of Quebec society. They want to interact with them, to live together," he said.

If passed, the bill would require English-language CÉGEPs like Dawson to give priority to anglophones over francophones.

Filion said that would only create divides between francophones and anglophones in the higher-education system. He says it wouldn’t be fair to favour one group of students over another.

Dawson's students voiced concerns as well.

"It seems like a very slippery slope," said director of external affairs for the Dawson Student Union, Nicholas Di Penna.

"They’re creating unnecessary tensions based on linguistic preferences that aren’t fair," he said.

Another part of Bill 14 would only grant CÉGEP diplomas to students living in Quebec who have a government-approved level of spoken and written French.

Filion says that would set up a double-standard by forcing English-speaking students to take an extra test. He is asking the government to retract that part of the bill.

'Official language is not a human right'

On Tuesday the government also heard from the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

The commission criticized the bill’s proposed changes to Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which would designate the use of an official language as a "human right."

The commission’s president, Gaétan Cousineau, told the committee that official languages are not considered human rights around the world.

He said both Quebec’s charter and the Canadian Constitution already cover language rights, and that most of the rights Bill 14 is meant to protect are already addressed in existing legislation.

"The official language is not a human right," he said.

Cousineau said Bill 14 would, in some instances, replace "democratic values" with "Quebec values" — a small change that would prompt big questions.

"Are democratic values and Quebec values similar, or identical?" he asked.

As a minority government, the Parti Québécois will have to gain support from at least one of the opposition parties in order to pass Bill 14.

The Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec have both said they plan to oppose the bill in its current state.