The CSEM contests an interpretation of the OQLF on “common French language”

Quebec’s largest English-language school board announced Wednesday that it would challenge in court “strict” language rules that require almost all of its written communications to also be written in French.

Joe Ortona, president of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), argued that it was absurd that employees of an English-speaking establishment were obliged to also communicate in French with each other in writing.

He added that the EMSB planned to file a motion in Superior Court on Wednesday to obtain a stay in the application of certain provisions of the new language law and the Charter of the French language.

“If a teacher approaches parents about a problem with their child, he or she is expected to write [aussi] in French ; if a director writes to his staff, he must write [aussi] in French ; if [les membres du conseil] write to each other about anything – an upcoming meeting, agenda items – they are supposed to [aussi] in French,” Mr. Ortona said.

Although the use of English – in addition to French – is permitted, Mr. Ortona argues that these rules would force employees to waste time writing emails in two languages. Furthermore, some CSEM teachers and employees may not be proficient in French, he pointed out.

“It is a veiled way of hindering and preventing the use of English within an English-speaking school board,” he argued.

“Irreparable harm”

Mr. Ortona explained that the request in Superior Court followed a warning that the CSEM recently received from the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) regarding its internal communications.

The EMSB wishes to argue in Superior Court that these requirements violate the constitutional right to instruction in the language of the minority, and that if they are not immediately suspended, they will cause irreparable harm to the functioning of the school board.

“We operate in English and I don’t think we should be ashamed of it in any way,” argued Mr. Ortona. We are an English school board. We promote bilingualism and we teach French, of course, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that internally we operate in English. »

There is an exception to the new law that allows English-language school boards to use only English in “educational communications.”

But this exception is very limited, Mr. Ortona argued: it does not apply, for example, to communications about a student’s behavior in class, extracurricular activities, information sessions or special events at school .

The “Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French”, considered as a “reform of Bill 101”, was adopted in May 2022. Most of its provisions came into force last June, notably the one which provides that “an agency of the Administration uses the French language in an exemplary manner”.

The law also gives the OQLF broad powers of search and seizure. Mr. Ortona believes the EMSB risks being fined if it does not comply.

” Nothing new “

However, Chantal Bouchard, spokesperson for the Office québécois de la langue française, clarified in an email Wednesday that the requirements set out in the Charter of the French Language regarding the internal and external communications of an English-speaking school board had not not changed in the new law. “The Office’s interpretation of these requirements has not changed either,” assures Bouchard.

School board communications with its staff and other English-speaking school boards — as well as general communications with parents — may therefore contain English if they also contain French. However, messages addressed directly to a particular parent can be in both languages, or only in French or English, depending on the parent’s preference, indicates the OQLF spokesperson.

“When it comes to educational communications intended for members of staff or students, they can be done in the language of instruction without having to use French at the same time,” writes Mme Bouchard.

The EMSB is part of a constitutional challenge to certain provisions of Quebec’s new language law. Challenges were also filed by bilingual municipalities, a group of lawyers and an indigenous organization.

A spokesperson for the Minister of the French Language, Jean-François Roberge, refused to comment on Wednesday, since the case is being taken to court.

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