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June 13, 2022 2:53 pm

Quebec Jewish Leaders Denounce New Law Imposing French Language

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Protestors in downtown Montreal at a rally opposing Bill 96, a law imposing the French language. Photo: Reuters/Christinne Muschi

A new law passed in Quebec imposing the French language is drawing pushback from Jewish leaders.

Passed on May 24 by the National Assembly of Quebec, “Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec,” declared “that the only official language of Quebec is French” and mandated that workers in civil administration, education, healthcare, and justice, use only French to conduct official business. The law also limits the amount of non-French instruction public school students can receive and forbids employers from making fluency in a non-French language a job requirement.

On Monday, B’nai B’rith Canada described Bill 96 as “detrimental to the interests of Quebec’s Jewish population” for violating English language rights — a contentious topic in Quebec politics since the 1970s, when the Parti Quebecois (PQ), a separatist movement, emerged to oppose the increasing everyday use of English and demanded that the province become a sovereign state.

“The government has not made a case of how this law truly strengthens the French language,” B’nai B’rith Canada director Marvin Rotrand said in a statement. “It simply throws petty roadblocks up for hundreds of thousands of ordinary Quebecers by reducing their access to important daily services. It threatens good Samaritan civil servants who might try to help a senior by speaking a few words of English. It calls on citizens to make anonymous denunciations.”

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“That isn’t Canada and in fact isn’t even a reflection of how Quebecers see themselves,” he added.

Other Jewish leaders have noted that many Quebec Jews are immigrants who speak “neither French nor English” as a first language and that Bill 96 could prevent them from making and receiving counsel on critical health care decisions in the language they know best.

“How is French advanced by making it difficult for elderly people from Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere to receive the best health care possible?” said Mark Groysberg, president of the United Community of Russian Speaking Jews of Quebec. “Is the French language advanced when a senior cannot make an informed decision? Why stop a doctor at the Jewish General Hospital from communicating to a patient in his or her native tongue? Does the Government want people to die?”

B’nai B’rith warned that similarly nativist laws like 2019’s Bill 21, which outlawed any wearing of religious apparel by civil servants to enforce “religious neutrality,” have been driving Jews out of Quebec and into Toronto.

“Banning overt and conspicuous religious headwear including turbans, hijabs and kippahs, prevents observant Jews from being employed as civil servants, judges, doctors, nurses, police officers and teachers,’ B’nai B’rith said, pointing out that “no other jurisdiction in North America has a law like Bill 21 that so overtly discriminates against Jews and other religious minorities.”

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