Quebec’s Jewish community is sounding the alarm after a provincial law was passed in May that declares French as the only official language and mandates its use to conduct affairs in government, education, healthcare and the justice system.
B’nai Brith Canada denounced “Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec” as legislation that is “detrimental to the interests of Quebec’s Jewish population.”
With the legislation now law, B’nai Brith noted that while Montreal once had the largest Jewish population in Canada – hitting a peak of 125,000 in 1971 – Jews have been leaving the city and province for decades, with only 90,000 left in Quebec.
According to the advocacy organization, this is due to being “driven out largely by the antagonism to minority rights by successive provincial governments.”
Noting that Quebec’s Jewish community is only 20 percent francophone, and that half is anglophone and large segments speak neither English or French, B’nai Brith stressed that all of the community will be negatively impacted by Bill 96.
“The Government has not made a case of how this law truly strengthens the French language. It simply throws petty roadblocks up for hundreds of thousands of ordinary Quebecers by reducing their access to important daily services," said Marvin Rotrand, B’nai Brith’s National Director of its League of Human Rights. "It calls on citizens to make anonymous denunciations. That isn’t Canada and in fact is isn’t even a reflection of how Quebecers see themselves."
B’nai Brith argued that the Bill 96 is a specific impediment to Quebec’s large population of Jewish immigrants, and especially elderly Jews from the former Soviet Union, who will be prevented by the new law from accessing essential services in English or their first language.
“How is French advanced by making it difficult for elderly people from Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere to receive the best health care possible? Those we serve speak English as a second language, often haltingly,” said Mark Groysberg, president of the United Community of Russian Speaking Jews of Quebec. “Is the French language advanced when a senior cannot make an informed decision? Why stop a doctor at the Jewish General Hospital from communicating to a patient in his or her native tongue? Does the Government want people to die?”