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No to Bill 96 in Park Extension

Parents and teachers say the new language bill will have a chilling effect on Park Ex schools

Park Extension has long been known as a landing ground for immigrants. Successive waves of newcomers have brought with them their culture, their cuisine and their language, including English, French, Greek, Hindi, Punjabi and many other languages. 

But with the recent approval of the CAQ government’s updated language law Bill 96, many residents in Park Ex are worried about the negative effects it will have on education, especially among the anglophone and allophone communities. 

On May 18, a group of Park Extension parents and teachers published an open letter to Justice and French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette and the François Legault government to voice their opposition to the bill and their concern about how it will affect the neighbourhood. 

‘Shocked’ by Bill 96

Co-signed by several school staff and Park Extension parents, the letter says the bill will create increased obstacles to children in the neighbourhood and will prevent the economic and cultural integration of their parents. 

“As mothers, caregivers, school personnel and residents of Montreal’s Park Extension neighbourhood, we are shocked by the short time provided in Bill 96 to master French for newcomers to Quebec,” read the letter.

“We who know so well the multilingual realities of education in Park Extension are apprehensive about the effects of Bill 96 on school life in our neighbourhood,” it continued.

The letter specifically demands the government repeal articles  6, 7 and 15 of the bill which specifically regulates language use in education and the administration of organizations. 

A common third language

Rachel Shugart is a Park Ex resident, an English as a second language teacher and a co-signatory of the letter. She immigrated to Québec from Pakistan when she was 12 and took French language training to better integrate.

She loves the French language and feels it should be protected, but feels the new bill will do more harm than good in Park Extension and will create a chilling effect in local schools. 

“Right now the school sends out a lot of translated communication so that parents can read important information about the school,” said Shugart. “If it’s only in French, a lot of parents just don’t have the language skills to get the information,” she explained. 

Although not officially used in francophone schools, English is often used to make communication with parents of various backgrounds easier. “It happens to be the most common third language and so is a really useful tool if the teacher happens to speak English as well,” she added. 

Punishing those who are already vulnerable

But with Bill 96’s recent adoption, the use of English by school staff will no longer be permitted and will only be able to communicate in French, regardless of the parent’s linguistic ability. 

“At parent-teacher meetings, there would be no legal way for a teacher to explain to a mother that a student is finally doing well in reading or that a student needs to practice their multiplication,” wrote Laura Wills, a parent and member of the École Barthélemy-Vimont governing board. 

“Bill 96 will make all such multilingual interactions suspect while school personnel who assist parents in crisis could be prosecuted,” continued Wills. 

“The purpose of Bill 96 seems mainly to punish and discourage people who are already in a vulnerable position,” Wills added in the letter, explaining this would decrease academic achievement among youth and make it more difficult to access higher education.

The only French state in North America

As the only majority French-speaking jurisdiction in North America, the CAQ government has defended its bill as a necessary measure to protect the French language in Québec. 

“It’s our duty to protect our common language, and I invite all Quebecers to speak it, to love it and to protect it,” said Premier François Legault at a press conference last week. 

“If Quebec becomes a bilingual state, it’s a matter of time before we lose the presence of French in Quebec,” added the Premier. 

Since the bill was passed into law on May 24 with the support of Québec Solidaire, the English Montreal School Board indicated it would institute legal proceedings to challenge Bill 96. The Federal government has also hinted that it would contest it. 

Promoting the French language

For Shugart, the bill falls short of accomplishing its intended objective. “I love French, I really do, I fell in love with it when I was doing my own program,” remarked Shugart adding that she would like to see the French language promoted rather than see other languages discouraged or banned. 

“Improving access to language training and giving people more time and acknowledging how long it can take for people to clearly understand a second language and to function in different situations is really important,” remarked Shugart. 

The 6 month period that the CAQ government is offering for newly arrived Quebecers to learn French is not enough added Shugart. “You need years and years to build on that vocabulary and that complexity of a language to fully function as a full citizen,” she explained. 

“We need to acknowledge that and we need to make it easier for people to spend the time taking French classes,” explained Shugart, adding that for many newly arrived and vulnerable residents in Park Ex, Bill 96 will only discourage that. 

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Pullquote: “We who know so well the multilingual realities of education in Parc-Extension are apprehensive about the effects of Bill 96 on school life in our neighbourhood,”

Photo1: École Barthélemy-Vimont is one of several Park Extension schools that will be subject to the new law. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

Photo2: In Park Ex, it comes as no surprise to hear people speaking English, French, Greek, Hindi, Punjabi or many other languages. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

Photo3: Justice and French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette’s Bill 96 was voted into law on May 24. Photo: François Legault via Facebook