Credits: JEAN-FRANCOIS DESGAGNES/JOURNAL DE QUEBEC/QMI AGENCY
MONTREAL -- Quebec's new language bill would make it easier to strip thousands of anglophone Quebecers of their access to English-language municipal services.
Bill 14, if passed, would force the Quebec government to evaluate all of Quebec's 90 official bilingual municipalities and remove the special designation if "it considers it appropriate in light of all the circumstances."
The bill allows the government to remove bilingual status from a municipality if, according to the federal census, less than 50% of the town's citizens claim to have English as their mother tongue.
Bilingual cities offer their anglophone citizens the right to access services, such as tax bills, newsletters and other official city documents, in English. A city without such a status can only communicate with its citizens in French.
However, many of the 90 municipalities that are officially bilingual do not meet the current criteria to be designated as such.
Quebec's current language charter offers bilingual status to municipalities "of which more than half the residents have English as their mother tongue."
Kirkland, for example, a town of 21,000 on the island of Montreal, enjoys bilingual status even though fewer than 45% of its citizens have English as a mother tongue, according to the 2011 census.
Previous provincial governments have looked the other way, since removing the bilingual status of a city is a delicate issue, said Dan Lamoureux, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, an umbrella organization for 41 anglophone groups in the province.
"Before this government, no one wanted to touch this law with a 10-foot pole!" he said.
The current law states that the Quebec government may remove the bilingual status of a city if the city in question officially asks the province to do so. The law does not say how a city could officially make that request, however.
Bill 14 forces all officially bilingual municipalities to be evaluated every 10 years to determine whether they meet the bilingual criteria. The government would no longer need approval from cities to remove a bilingual designation.
Kirkland Mayor John Meaney said Saturday that the bill is "ridiculous."
"We will no longer be able to do anything in English," Meaney said. "I think the Quebec government is trying to make the law so clear that they can revoke bilingual status anytime they want."
A representative from the language office and the minister responsible for the charter of the French language were unreachable Saturday.