(Ottawa) Twenty-four hours before tabling Bill 96 in the National Assembly aimed at strengthening French in Quebec, the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, sent a letter to Justin Trudeau informing him that his government intended to invoke the notwithstanding clause.
The notwithstanding clause, also known as the notwithstanding clause, is part of the Constitution and allows a government to exempt a law from the application of certain sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for five years.
In this courtesy letter to his federal counterpart, François Legault also sings the praises of Bill 101, which he says is now considered a “great Canadian law” by several Canadian politicians and experts.
And he also informs him that he will amend the Constitution Act, 1867, as permitted by section 45 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to decree that Quebec “forms a nation” and that “French is its language. official”.
The same approach had been taken previously in the case of Bill 21 (on secularism). “We knew the Trudeau government wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything, but we wanted to avoid misunderstandings,” it said.
Initially, this approach seems to have paid off. A few days after the tabling of Bill 96, in May 2021, Justin Trudeau had indicated that he would not oppose the will of the Legault government to include in the Constitution the recognition of the Quebec nation and the fact that the French is the only official language of Quebec.
But in recent months, Mr. Trudeau has been tough on the use of the notwithstanding clause by the Quebec and Ontario governments. Mr. Trudeau raised the possibility of asking the Supreme Court of Canada to regulate its use in a preventive manner, as Quebec did in the case of the Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French ( 96), and the Secular State Act (21), and Doug Ford’s government to prevent education workers from going on strike last year.
La Presse obtained this letter from the Privy Council Office – which is sort of the Prime Minister’s department in Ottawa – through the Access to Information Act. In the approximately 100 pages of documents obtained there was also an analysis of the political and legal consequences of “Law 96”. Several of the passages of this analysis have been redacted.
In his letter to Justin Trudeau, sent on May 12, 2021, François Legault maintains that his government “is preparing to take an important step to ensure the future of the French language in Quebec”.
“French is at the very foundation of our identity and our culture. Quebec is the only French-speaking state in North America. Protecting the French language is one of the most important, if not the greatest, responsibility of a Premier of Quebec,” Mr. Legault states at the outset in the letter.
Mr. Legault then explains the main lines of Bill 96 on the official and common language of Quebec, which was introduced the next day, May 13, 2021, by the Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette.
Among other things, Mr. Legault specifies that the bill aims to strengthen the status of French as the official language of the Quebec state. It emphasizes that it intends to achieve this objective by ensuring that the Government of Quebec uses French in all of its communications with legal persons and other governments, by strengthening education in French from elementary to college, by increasing funding for francization programs for immigrants, and establishing French as the language of work for businesses located in Quebec and governed by federal laws.
Mr. Legault also maintains that the reform of Bill 101 will respect the rights of the English-speaking minority.
“At the time of its passage in 1977, Bill 101 caused much controversy in Canada, but a few decades later, Canadian politicians and observers did not hesitate to call it ‘great Canadian law'” , argues Mr. Legault in his letter.