Minority Language Education in Quebec

GB Harding

Screen shot 2022-02-15 at 1.47.50 PM.pngQuebec parents have the right to educate their children in the language of their choice, in primary and secondary schools. These rights are immutable. Every child who attends English school will continue the rights for generations to come. Choosing an English school will stop the declining number of English schools in Quebec and ensure the survival of this important linguistic heritage.

Canada is a multi-cultural country where minority language rights instruction in education (English in Quebec and French in the rest of Canada) have been guaranteed under the law since the British North America Act.

History of Language-based Education in Quebec

The Quebec education system has a rich history, created by religious and political tensions. Originally, the Roman Catholic Church held great political and cultural control over the Quebecois and held a monopoly on French language schools in the province. Nonetheless, the minority Protestants were granted control over the English schools as far back as 1846.[1] However, some French Protestant schools did exist within the Protestant school boards. Similarly, some English Catholic schools existed (mainly for Irish Catholics) but a controversy arose in the fifties and sixties. Many Catholic Italians immigrated to Quebec but were denied access to French schools due to racial prejudice. When this group began to protest the poor conditions in English Catholic schools, the discussion about abolishing confessional and creating language-based school boards began. In 1999, the government in Quebec divided the religious boards into language boards, English and French.

History of Private Schools and the Non-Subsidized Private Schools

In 1968, the provincial government decided to give subsidies to private religious schools because the schools were facing a dramatic decline in enrolment. Many Quebecois identified, culturally with these Catholic schools and worked to maintain the system. This was surprising because the Church had lost its stronghold on Quebec society during the Quiet Revolution. Eventually, the government lent a helping hand to other private schools, as well. However, other nonsubsidized, private schools have maintained their financial independence and have played an important role in the controversy over eligibility to English language education in the province.

The Erosion of Minority Language Rights in Education

When the Part Quebecois rose to power in 1977[2], they passed Bill 101, asserting the supremacy of French language in Quebec, in the workplace, public places, and the education system. Despite entrenched rights to minority language instruction schools across Canada, this bill restricted English education to children whose parents attended English primary schools in Quebec.

In 1984, the Supreme Court of Canada held that children of parents educated in English in the rest of Canada were entitled to English education in Quebec.

Exceptions to mandatory French language instruction were made for families on temporary work visas, children with learning difficulties and students of nonsubsidized private schools.

This led to an interesting loophole to the law. A child who attended one year of English schooling in a nonsubsidized private school could transfer to a public English school. This phenomenon created what is now referred to as "ecoles passerelles," or "bridging schools." The purchase of one year at an "ecole passerelle" was seen as a quick way to access English instruction.

In 2002, the Parti Quebecois government passed Bill 104 to close the loophole of "ecoles passerelles," but the Supreme Court struck down the Bill.

The Current Situation

In 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned Bill 104 and gave the National Assembly in Quebec City one year to draft compliant legislation.

In October 2010, Premier Charest pushed through Bill 115, designed to tighten up the loophole allowing the "ecoles passerelles." The law requires that a student must attend three years at a English language, non-subsidized, private school in Quebec. A government official will judge each case on its merits. The bureaucrat will use an arbitrary, and, as-yet, unknown, point system to make the decision.

The number of English-language schools is declining:

      in 1971, Quebec had 250,000 students in English schools.

      today, there are 101,000.

      in Montreal, 15 English schools have closed since 1998[3].

The Future

Unfortunately, English language schools will continue to close in Quebec, as access is blocked to the majority of Quebecois. The English boards will see their enrolment numbers shrivel, which will devastate some of the smaller boards. Even though the Ministry of Education provides over $10,000 per student[4] to each board, there will not be enough pooled money to oversee common resources.

The global economy demands English language skills. It is imperative that all Canadians are bilingual in the two official languages of Canada. Immigration from other parts of Canada and other English speaking countries will be choked off in Quebec[5]. Fewer

immigrants will stay long term in Quebec[6], and may simply use the Quebec immigration system to land, then depart to other Canadian cities. They will not stay, if they see the prospects for their children decline in the global economy.


[1]Gagnon, Robert (1996) (in French). Histoire de la Commission des écoles catholiques de Montréal : le développement d'un réseau d'écoles publiques en milieu urbain [History of the Montreal Catholic School Commission: The development of a system of public schools in an urban environment]. Montréal: Boréal.

[2]Hudon, R. Bill 101The Canadian Encyclopediahttp://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA000074 (October 27, 2010).

[3] Press Release. (February 15, 2022). http://www.emsb.qc.ca/en/pressroom_en/pages/onepressrelease.asp?id=399 (October 27, 2010).

 [4] Ministry of Education, Sports and Leisure, Quebec. Education Indicators, 2009. http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/sections/publications/publications/SICA/DRSI/Indic... [pdf] (October 27, 2010).

[5] Sancton, Andrew (1985). Governing the Island of Montreal: Language Differences and Metropolitan Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[6] Levine, Mark V. (1991), The Reconquest of Montreal: Language Policy and Social Change in a Bilingual City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Prepared by Gaynor Harding for Jeanette Novakovich as Assignment #2: Backgrounder. English 216. October 27, 2010.

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