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First Nations organizations going to court over Quebec’s French language reforms

Bill 96 infringes on their right to self-determination, groups argue

A woman holding a sign above her head during a protest.

A protest in Kahnawà:ke against Bill 96 in 2022. Many First Nations expressed concern from the start that Bill 96 would be a setback for communities struggling to keep their languages alive.

Photo:  (CBC)


Two First Nations groups are going to court over the reforms passed last year to Quebec's French-language law, with lawyers filing a request for a judicial review on Thursday.

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and the First Nations Education Council are asking Quebec Superior Court to look at 14 articles in the Charter of the French Language, which was amended by Bill 96 last June.

They have argued the provisions infringe on their rights to self-determination and to teach children their ancestral languages, as stipulated in the Constitution Act of 1982.

The provisions reinforce, perpetuate and accentuate the disparities between Indigenous students and non-Indigenous people in education, deepened by policies and assimilationist laws implemented historically by the state and the education system towards Indigenous Peoples, read the request for judicial review.

The groups have accused the government of failing to consult them before adopting the law, which reinforces the use of French across several institutions, including the education and justice systems.

There is no nation on the planet that is going to impose legislation on another nation and their language, said Chief John Martin, of the Mi'kmaq community of Gesgapegiag and a member of the education council.

Martin said First Nations are best suited to choose which measures are necessary to ensure culturally appropriate education.

He said the province's language law reform promotes the exodus of our learners outside of the province.

The provisions, which include more stringent French requirements at the junior college level, create another obstacle for those Indigenous communities where the most common non-Indigenous language spoken is English.

The culture in our communities is not francophone, Martin said. Indigenous languages are very present and the second language is English (so) when we face a language that we do not hear, to which we are not exposed, it is extremely difficult for our students.

A request from First Nations and Inuit communities to be exempt from the language law (new window) was refused by the Quebec government.

Ghislain Picard

Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations likens Bill 96 to methods of assimilation used in earlier times.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

'No choice but to assert our rights'

Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador said the Quebec government is using methods of assimilation that date from another century.

In the face of the offhand treatment by the government of Quebec, and its indifference to our concerns about a law that will have significant medium- and long-term impacts on several spheres of our development, we have no choice but to assert our rights before the court, Picard said in a statement.

Sipi Flamand, chief of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, said the law is a direct attack on the languages and cultural identities of the First Nations and Inuit and that it creates multiple systemic and discriminatory barriers in the educational pathway of Nations youth and jeopardizes the transmission of our languages.

The Quebec government has said it wants to introduce a law protecting Indigenous languages, but Martin said that is unacceptable.

These are our inherent rights, these are rights that are protected in the Constitution and we do not accept the fact that another government is going to impose legislation on Indigenous languages here, he said.

Pierre Saint-Arnaud (new window) · The Canadian Press

With information from The Canadian Press.