The municipality of Havelock is part of an alliance of 23 bilingual municipalities that is challenging aspects of Bill 96 in court. A lawsuit filed on June 6 at the Superior Court of Quebec asks that parts of the legislation be suspended while the municipalities contest the law.
The Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec, amends the Charter of the French language. Several measures came into force on June 1 that affect municipalities and their ability to provide services to citizens in English.
The lawsuit specifically challenges provisions in the law concerning “contracts and communications which have to be exclusively in French, the obligation to adopt a resolution in order to renew bilingual status, the requirement to enforce disciplinary measures against employees who violate the charter, the possibility for the government to unilaterally withdraw grants, the unfettered power of the government to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant, and bilingual signage for shared services on the territory of a municipality with bilingual status.”
The municipal council in Havelock unanimously passed a resolution on May 4 to join the 22 other municipalities contesting Bill 96, and Mayor Gerald Beaudoin was present virtually during the June 7 press conference in Côte-Saint-Luc announcing the court challenge.
“When it was brought up at the table, the council said it was something we can get behind,” says Beaudoin. “The search and seizure power without a warrant is something not even the police have, which is very disturbing,” he notes, while pointing out the fact that grants can be withheld could negatively impact municipalities, and especially small municipalities. He says this is concerning as it places municipalities and their funding at risk, in the event a complaint is sent to the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).
The list of municipalities challenging Bill 96 also includes Baie d’Urfé, Beaconsfield, Côte Saint-Luc, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Kirkland, Pointe-Claire, Senneville, and Westmount, as well as municipalities in the Gaspé and the North Shore. Combined, the municipalities represent a population of over 212,000 people.
According to Beaudoin, all municipalities with bilingual status were approached about participating in the lawsuit. To date, Havelock is the only Valley municipality involved.
“I am hoping other municipalities will join,” he says, suggesting he would also like to see some without bilingual status come forward. “It is so egregious. These are basic rights. It is not even a language issue anymore!” he exclaims. “It is important for as many people as possible to demonstrate to the government that this is not acceptable for a democratic society.”
Beaudoin says the financial implications for the municipality becoming involved in the lawsuit are relatively small due to the population size, and he concludes, “The principle is certainly worthwhile.”