AFNQL strikes wait-and-see attitude on Bill 96

By: Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase
Quebec’s most recent attempt to strengthen the Charter of the French Language will seek to make the language even stronger in small businesses and in communities across Quebec, but respect for Indigenous languages is also paramount and must also be protected, said a Quebec Indigenous leader.
Bill 96, which was tabled in the National Assembly in Quebec City last Thursday, will seek to tighten access to English CEGEPs, limit the number of English courses taught at French CEGEPs, further limit non-French signage on commercial signs, allow shoppers to complain formally if they are not served in French, and allow Bill 101 to be extended to businesses with 25 to 49 employees. Previously small businesses with under 50 employees were exempt.
Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard said last week his constituency recognizes Quebec’s desire to protect the French language and culture, but said he would wait to see how the changes would shake out on the ground before criticizing the move, as many small businesses have already done – particularly in and around Montreal, where the controversial ‘Bonjour-Hi’ greeting would not be considered a violation of the law, government officials said.
‘The AFNQL is in a very good position to understand the merits of the linguistic initiative launched by the Government of Quebec through its Bill 96 on the official and common language of Quebec, but it warns that the survival and development of one language must never be at the expense of another language and must never be based on coercion,’ the AFNQL said in a statement.
Picard said he needed time to reflect on the new law and the changes it would engender in day-to-day life in the province.
“Following the tabling of this bill, the AFNQL is committed today to a process of reflection that will allow us to maintain our achievements and to make gains in the debate that is beginning,” Picard said, adding that he and his association would continue to be vigilant. “The wisdom of our ancestors present in our languages will inspire us. While we will exercise constant vigilance, I wish the entire population concerned a respectful and productive reflection and discussion,” he said.
The AFNQL wanted to remind observers that Indigenous people know better than most the importance of protection of historical languages and the sacrifices made in the name of that protection.
‘First Nations understand better than anyone the importance of preserving the language passed down to us by our parents. Our languages are the bearers of our traditions, our cultures, and our values. Some of our First Nations have lived through sad historical episodes whose asserted goal was to eradicate their culture and language. They had the resilience to survive, not without pain.’