On May 13, 2021, one of the most shocking and challenging news for Quebecers spread like wildfire. This is the controversial Bill 96 entitled, “An Act Respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec.”
The law was presented to the National Assembly of Quebec, which aims to modify the Constitution of Canada, to include French as the one and only official langue of Quebec as well as to declare Quebec as nation, among other measures. This legislative proposal would reinforce the 1977 law, known as Law 101.
Giovanni Bisciglia, a political activist that has worked in a campaign against this project states that it would greatly affect thousands of residents, immigrants and families forcing them to master the language in order to continue their livelihoods, workspace, and education.
In an interview for perlarico.com, Bisciglia explains his position against this proposal and how he seeks to raise awareness about the dangers it represents.
1. Thank you Giovanni for this interview. What is the project law 96 from Quebec, Canada?
Giovanni: Bill 96 called “An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec” is a law supposedly designed to protect and encourage the usage and application of the French language due to alleged decline of French in the province of Quebec in Canada. It has also been justified by the present political party (CAQ) as an update to the original bill 101 (The Charter of the French Language adopted in 1977).
This endeavor is done through two means in Bill 96: (A.) It affirm that the only official language of Québec is French. (B.) It also affirms that French is the common language of the Québec nation and (C.) It seeks to unilaterally change the Canadian Constitution.
From these two principles flows some of the most radical and extreme laws that have been seen in the history of Quebec. For more information, please see this document.
2. We know you are against this proposal, what is your personal take on this and why?
Giovanni: My plight against this bill stems from (A.) It’s approach and (B.) Its impacts on minorities.
Firstly, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) a centrist political party, has invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian federal government (also called Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) in order to pass Bill 96. In a nutshell, the nonwithstanding clause grants the provincial legislatures the right to override portions of the federal Canadian charter of rights and freedoms for a five-year term in order to pass laws (that would otherwise not be legal). So, essentially it is a law that would be legal that should be illegal. As a matter of fact, former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, defined the nonwithstanding clause as an act of discrimination. The provincial government does not need to justify its use, it simply exercises its right to do so.
This prevents contesting the law at the Supreme Court of Canada and is the second time the CAQ used it recently (Bill 21). This is abuse of the federal laws to impose its own provincial laws on its citizens.
Secondly, Bill 96 speaks to the predominant French population but ignores Montréal and the greater Montréal area (the business center of Quebec) which has the greatest concentration of anglophones and English speakers. As a matter of fact, the CAQ (led by a former separatists) sees the concentration of English as a threat to the preservation and continuation of the French language. So, this Bill 96 seeks to “correct” this situation with complete disregard to the financial impact and every day impact of this law. Francophones living outside Montréal will not feel this law as this area is mainly unilingual French, but the rest of us will suffer immensely because of it.
Imagine under Bill 96, only those defined as “historic anglophones” will have access to English health services. Historic anglophones is someone who was born in Quebec and went to English school all their lives in Quebec. Therefore, if an American immigrates to Quebec he will not have access to basic or any English-speaking health services.
In addition, doctors who do not speak French well enough will be accused of committing a derogatory act which is meant for doctors committing a sexually offend to their patients.
Not just that, the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF), aka the language police, will have the right to search without a search warrant, computers of business’ who have been reported as not properly using the French language. Under this Bill 96 companies who have 25 employees or more must operate in French. What would happen if an American feeling suicidal in Québec calls a suicide hot line for help? Will he be given the typical CAQ Québécois answer and be told in French, “Sorry, speak French we are in Quebec.”
3. How did you get involved in this matter?
Giovanni: I was raised in a family where on my father’s side it was common to speak religion and debate politics. In that sense, I’ve always been involved in politics. This particular bill hits home because I work as a case manager in a health facility where our house visits for the evaluation of autonomy of the elderly will be affected. We have many Italians who cannot carry a conversation in French. What will they do? Furthermore, a large segment of the population is clueless as to what is going on. Many supporters of Bill 96 are unaware as to how the CAQ will go about implementing this law, they are unaware that new immigrants will need to be fluent in French within 6 months! Even the French media says it makes no sense. I decided to create an awareness campaign and that’s how the Facebook page Our bilingual Quebec/Canada: No to bill 96&C32 started. I then had a video promo done which now has over 9,000 views.
Plus, I started a petition that will be sent to Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister. It is called, “Canada is supporting an anti-human rights provincial law: Bill 96” in light of the fact that the federal government is supporting this law and all provincial parties are supporting it. The 1 million + bilingual population now have zero representation at the municipal level, provincial level and federal level. So, with no representation, a clueless population and laws that are downright dangerous I got involved.
5. Very interesting and who is in favor?
Giovanni: The short answer, is a large segment of the French population. You don’t hear about the francophones who are against it though. Not just that, the French media is very biased and in favor of it.
6. Who is against it?
Giovanni: The business community, the English school system, those in my field who know the law, and francophones who want to keep sending their children to English schools are also against it. Furthermore, many doctors state it’s going too far.
7. In the event it gets approved, who would be the most affected?
Giovanni: It is not “if” but when it will be approved. It has unilateral support from all provincial and federal parties. It will highly affect the health system for English speakers and many service areas, Montréal will be traumatized.
8. Under this project, if law 101 gets implemented indicated by the Charter of the French Language of the Constitution of Canada and makes it mandatory to speak and write in French in all federal institutions in Quebec including, small businesses, will this force workers from other nationalities to speak French as principal language and if not possible, would they lose their job?
Giovanni: The law will affect all aspects of Montréal, specifically non French speakers. Chinatown will be devastated. All the Chinese writing will need to be translated into French or suffer stiff fines. The shops typically operate in English and Chinese. That will almost be against the law, we are almost there.
9. How many immigrants will be affected?
Giovanni: All immigrants coming to Quebec after Bill 96 will need to be fluent in French within 6 months which is ludicrous. Finding a job in any other languages will be impossible. Quebec even tried to get the power to control the family class entry (which is federal jurisdiction the provincial only controls the business class entry). My wife is Japanese and is being told to back to her country, “go back to China”. This is pre Bill 96, the systemic racism is not recognized by the provincial government as an actual problem here. it’s been a huge issue for years.
10. How incredible, despite the fact racism cases are on the raise not only in the US but around the world. Evidently, would you consider this an act of racism from the people who are promoting this proposal into law?
Giovanni: Yes, I would consider it an act of racism because (A.) It discriminates by default with the nonwithstanding clause (B.) It rejects systemic racism and (C.) It divided the population into classes along linguistic lines which goes much farther than language. The label historic anglophone goes way beyond language as it rejects an American as a historic anglophone. It’s not simply language but language being used by a segment of the population over time. It speaks about social functioning.
11. As a social service technician, you have worked closely with Quebecers about their health and how they have been affected psychologically by not knowing French. In the event this law gets approved, will this make mental health worse for younger generations?
Giovanni: Imagine being 85 years old having immigrated to Quebec during WW2 from Italy. You find out, after 60 years, that overnight you can no longer have medical services in English or Italian both of which are not French! This will be the fate of the Italian community, Greek community, etc. When you add the isolation and life changes of the pandemic and add this law, I can assure you that it will have a profound negative impact on health!
12. Would you consider this as a step back from the fight of equality?
Giovanni: It isn’t simply a step back for equality, it is a redefinition of equality. You have all rights if you are French speaking but are limited if you are not.
13. Where would you like to go with your movement against project law 96?
Giovanni: I would like to see my movement curb the provincial vote in 2022 and perhaps convert it to a political party so that I can run for premier of Quebec or mayor of Montreal.
14. What is your message to the members of the parliament that participate in favor of this proposal?
Giovanni: You have no clue how this is going to negatively impact business in Quebec. Your fight for French is noble but your methodology is dangerous and concerning.
15. How can people support you?
Giovanni: Vote against the CAQ, talk to people about Bill 96, write to parliaments, join our Facebook page, protest, and please help our billboard campaign.
Thank you Giovanni for giving us panoramic view about this particular law that is currently up in the air and that can effect negatively to many Quebecers. We wish you the best in your endeavors as an activist and politician and hope our readers get a clear understanding of your stand in this issue.
To support Giovanni please follow his journey over at his Facebook group.