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View Mario Beaulieu Profile
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for having us here.
As I indicated in my letter to you, the subcommittee may have found my Bill C-421 clearly unconstitutional, but it did not specify which section of the Constitution or the Charter it was alleged to have violated. In the absence of a clear indication, I will provide an overview of all the provisions that may be relevant. I hope this will answer your question. Otherwise, I am at your disposal to answer any questions you may have.
As you mentioned, I am accompanied by Marc-André Roche, the assistant to my colleague, the member for Joliette. Since we don't have a research team, he gave me a hand.
As you know, the standard used to assess whether a bill is unconstitutional is not very high. On page 1143, Bosc and Gagnon state:
Bills and motions must not clearly violate the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I emphasize the words “clearly violate the Constitution Acts”. It has long been established that a disagreement on the constitutionality of a bill is not enough to make it non-votable. I have a feeling that you will not have difficulty in making your decision.
Right now, permanent residents must meet a number of criteria to become Canadian citizens. These include passing two proficiency tests: a general knowledge test about their host society and a language proficiency test, where they must demonstrate that they have adequate knowledge of English or French.
Bill C-421 is quite simple. It amends the Citizenship Act to ensure that permanent residents who ordinarily reside in Quebec must demonstrate that they have an adequate knowledge of French.
The first constitutionality criterion is the division of powers. Citizenship falls under federal jurisdiction under section 91.25 of the British North America Act, 1867, which specifies that naturalization and aliens fall under the jurisdiction of Parliament. Clearly, my bill meets that condition.
That leaves the Charter. Since the subcommittee has not indicated any specific provisions to support its decision, I will go through it as quickly as possible.
First, there are mobility rights. Subsection 6(2) of the Charter states that citizens and permanent residents have the right to move anywhere in Canada, to take up residence in any province and to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province. Whether or not Bill C-421 is passed, nothing would prevent a permanent resident residing in another province from moving to Quebec, settling and working there. Nothing would prevent a permanent resident residing in another province from obtaining Canadian citizenship there, then moving to Quebec and enjoying all the rights and privileges associated with Canadian citizenship.
Since Bill C-421 has no impact on mobility rights, I gather that this is not why the subcommittee found the bill to be “clearly unconstitutional”.
Then there is the language of communication with federal institutions. Subsection 20(1) of the Charter states that the public may communicate with the federal government in either English or French at their discretion, and that the government must be able to provide services in English or French where numbers or the nature of the service warrant it.
Bill C-421 has no effect on the language of communication between the public and the federal administration. Whether or not this bill is passed, a permanent resident will still be able to communicate with the federal government in either English or French.
Similarly, the oath of citizenship may continue to be administered in either French or English, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. I might have preferred it otherwise, but that would have made my bill unconstitutional. That's why I did not propose it.
Bill C-421 simply requires that permanent residents residing in Quebec demonstrate that they have an adequate knowledge of French, the official language and the normal language of communication in Quebec.
Let me remind you that there is already a degree of asymmetry in the application of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In Quebec, the Government of Quebec selects and supports immigrants and implements integration programs. Knowledge of French holds a prominent place in all those stages.
Bill C-421 supports Quebec's efforts and extends the granting of citizenship, which already exists at the previous stages, namely selection, support and integration. The selection, reception and integration of immigrants, as well as the granting of citizenship are four elements of the same process. I have difficulty seeing how knowledge of French would be constitutional in the first three steps, but unconstitutional in the fourth. In any event, Bill C-421 has no effect on the language of communication between the public and federal institutions, which resolves the issue of its compliance with subsection 20(1) of the Charter.
There are still the provisions on official languages.
Subsection 16(1) of the Charter states:
English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.
I emphasize the words “equal rights and privileges as to their use”. Bill C-421 contains no provisions or requirements regarding the use of English or French. It only refers to the knowledge of French. Knowledge and use are two completely different things. In addition, subsection 16(3) clarifies the scope of the Charter:
Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality of status or use of English and French.
That subsection of the Charter refers to the “equality of status or use of English and French” in Canada. The Supreme Court even recognizes that French is the minority language in Canada. It recognizes that, for English and French to progress towards equality in Canada, French must be predominant in Quebec. In the 2009 Nguyen decision, it ruled as follows:
...this Court has already held... that the general objective of protecting the French language is a legitimate one... in view of the unique linguistic and cultural situation of the province of Quebec...
This allows the court to conclude that:
... the aim of the language policy underlying the Charter of the French Language was a serious and legitimate one. [The materials] indicate the concern about the survival of the French language and the perceived need for an adequate legislative response to the problem...
I am talking about a constitutional judgment.
The measures to ensure the primacy of the French language in Quebec effectively promote the equality of status or use of French in Canada. It could even be argued that the government's current practice with a view to making Quebec bilingual contravenes this, since by making French weaker in Quebec, it does not promote the equality of the two languages in Canada. That being said, there's no need to debate this here.
I had to show you that my bill is not “clearly unconstitutional”. I think I have.
I am at your disposal to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
Essentially, I think it would encourage them to learn French in order to have an adequate knowledge of it. That would be a very good thing, because it would make it even easier for them to integrate into the labour market.
In Quebec, it is vital that French be the common language to ensure its own future. Quebec is the only predominantly francophone province, the only province where we can successfully ensure that newcomers know French. This does not mean that they cannot speak English.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
In fact, French is in decline almost everywhere in Canada. All linguistic indicators demonstrate it. The objective is to ensure linguistic diversity in Canada, and therefore the survival and the equal status of French. That is what my bill is about.
French, not English, is the language being threatened in Canada. You are raising a political issue. I think that, as far as the Constitution is concerned, it is not unconstitutional to raise this issue.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
This doesn't mean that you don't know English if you speak to me in French, no more than it would mean that I don't know English if I communicate with you in French.
This is intended to encourage newcomers to learn French. I think it's perfectly legitimate. Quebec is the only province where French is the language of the majority and it's sort of the primary home of francophones in North America. So it is necessary to encourage the use of French and to make it the common language. This doesn't mean that the rights of the anglophone minority are not recognized; that's not the issue at all. If French isn't the common language in Quebec, however, it will not be the language that will enable newcomers to integrate and facilitate exchanges between all Quebeckers.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
By that reasoning, the selection criteria for newcomers to Quebec would be unconstitutional, just as would any form of asymmetry. Basically, between the weak and the strong, it is said that the law protects the weak. In practice, the two languages do not have equal status. The law is used to establish this equality of status to promote French as a common language in Quebec. The Constitution recognizes that the situation of French deserves and justifies legislative measures to protect it and ensure its development throughout Canada.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
I want French to be spoken across Canada. We defend all the francophone and Acadian communities. Quebec is in some way the primary home of the French language.
I don't want to get too involved in the political debate. I think it's better to keep with the constitutional debate. Around the world, regimes based solely on institutional bilingualism, wall to wall, always end up seeing the assimilation of minority languages.
There are several countries where more than one national language is spoken. In Belgium, Switzerland and Cameroon, for instance, there is a common language for a given territory. This doesn't prevent people from knowing five or six second languages very well, but it does protect their language. If you go to Flemish Belgium, you will find that Dutch, which is hardly spoken in the world, isn't threatened in this part of Belgium, where it is the common language.
In general, the Constitution is based on the principle of protecting linguistic duality. In Canada, the endangered language is French. This language must continue to exist and flourish in our country, which explains the additional powers granted to Quebec, particularly through the Cullen-Couture agreement on immigration.
Quebec's Charter of the French Language, which some have said is a great piece of Canadian legislation, aims to make French the common language in Quebec to allow francophones to work and live in their language. I don't think it's unconstitutional.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
If we only disagree, then the bill is votable and it is up to the House to deal with it. Just because we don't like a bill doesn't make it unconstitutional. All bills contain an element of constraint. Your spouse probably could have passed the French test. Requesting that people with sufficient knowledge of French be favoured is not an exaggerated requirement.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
No. I don't think my bill is unconstitutional, let alone meets the test for deeming a bill to be non-votable. I don't think it violates the Constitution. What you are raising is more about the political aspect than the constitutional aspect, and it is up to Parliament to make a decision about the political aspect.
View Mario Beaulieu Profile
I think it is constitutional. The arguments you've raised are more political in nature. You gave the example of your spouse, who is one specific case, but the Constitution applies to the entire community and the Canadian population as a whole.
Based on your reasoning, you would be against all the measures that Quebec has taken to promote French because you would consider them unconstitutional. You would say that the criterion related to knowledge of French to select immigrants to Quebec is unconstitutional. It's the same thing.
We don't prevent people from communicating with the government in English or French. All we want is an incentive. We want people to demonstrate that they know French. The Citizenship Act already requires knowledge of English or French, and if a person does not have knowledge of either language, their application is rejected.
We believe that in Quebec, knowledge of French should be required of immigrants because it is the common language. This doesn't mean that it's not important to know English or to be bilingual on an individual level. In Quebec, French must be strengthened. I don't want to get into a political debate, but in Montreal, French is on the decline. The indicators show that there is a decline in French because newcomers are not sufficiently francized. It's not a far-fetched requirement that we want to use to crush anyone; it is a requirement that aims to ensure the future of French in Quebec.
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