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Quebec legislature adopts Bill 96 language law, Legault calls reform ‘moderate’

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Quebec Premier François Legault sought to reassure anglophones that his government’s language law reform, adopted on Tuesday, won’t prevent people from accessing health care in English.

The law, known as Bill 96, passed by a vote of 78-29, with the Opposition Liberals opposing it on the grounds that it goes too far and the Parti Québécois opposing it on the grounds that it is too timid.

Legault told reporters after the vote that the law introduced by his Coalition Avenir Québec party is “moderate,” striking a balance between the positions of the Liberals and the PQ. He accused critics of the law of “adding fuel to the fire” by saying health services could be threatened.

“We are committed to protecting your access to health care in English. It’s a historical promise that we will keep,” Legault said at the legislature. “I know of no linguistic minority that is better served in its own language than the English-speaking community in Quebec. We are proud of that, and we are also proud to be a francophone nation in North America, and it’s our duty to protect our common language.”

Legault said he believes most Quebecers support the law, and that while “a few people” want the province to become bilingual, the majority of anglophones accept that French is Quebec’s common language.

“We’re unique in North America, we speak French,” Legault said. “Montreal is a place where people have fun in French, but the services are (available) in English in schools, in hospitals.” Anglophones, he said, “have the best of both worlds.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier in the day that he is concerned about the effect of the bill on Quebec’s English-speaking minority and that he was waiting to see the final version of the bill before saying whether the federal government would support a court challenge.

“We have concerns about the latest version of Bill 96,” Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver. “We continue to watch very, very carefully what final form it will take, and we’ll make our decisions based on what we see is the need to keep minorities protected across this country.”

The law proactively invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to shield it from charter challenges.

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said a legal challenge to the law is already being planned.

“There would never be a law of this importance and, I would say, this inequity that would not be challenged,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Among the elements that concern Grey is the powers it gives language law inspectors.

“It’s very peculiar to know that Quebec is a jurisdiction in which the police, in investigating a murder, must follow the charter and they can’t come in and grab your computer in your home, et cetera, but the Office de la langue française investigating the use of English, or another language, can come in and just grab,” he said.

Grey said an ongoing legal challenge to Quebec’s secularism law, which also proactively invoked the notwithstanding clause, could establish what elements of the language law can be contested.

Some elements of the bill are not covered by the notwithstanding clause and could be challenged regardless, Grey said, including elements that restrict the use of English in the courts and a change to the Canadian Constitution establishing that “Quebecers form a nation” and that French is Quebec’s official language.

Quebec’s second largest opposition party, Québec solidaire, voted in favour of the bill, despite expressing concerns about a provision that requires immigrants to communicate with the government in French after they’ve been in the province for at least six months.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade told reporters after the vote that her party opposed the bill for “many reasons,” including concerns it will limit access to health care in English, cap enrolment at English-language junior colleges and circumvent the provincial and federal rights charters through use of the notwithstanding clause.

The PQ had called for the bill to prevent most immigrants and francophones from attending English-language junior colleges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 24, 2022.

— By Jacob Serebrin in Montreal, with files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Jocelyne Richer in Quebec City.

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International

People planning to attend AIDS conference in Montreal still struggling to get visas

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MONTREAL — International AIDS organizations say people from Africa, South America and Asia who are planning to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal are still struggling to get visas from the Canadian government.

The groups say a growing number of activists — including some who were scheduled to speak at the conference which begins at the end of the month — are having their visa applications denied, often on the grounds that the Canadian government doesn’t believe they’ll return home after the event.

Tinashe Rufurwadzo, the director of programs, management and governance at Y+ Global, an international organization of HIV+ youth, said the chair of his organization’s board and another of its employees, who are based in Malawi and Kenya, are among the young activists who have been denied visas to attend the conference.

He said both have travelled extensively to speak at AIDS-related events.

“Personally, I’m sick and tired of seeing young people from Africa mostly portrayed on PowerPoint slides as pictures, as photos on banners, as footnotes on case studies. Why can we not have them at conferences to share their lived experiences of what exactly is happening?” he said in an interview Friday.

Rufurwadzo said representatives of populations most at risk of HIV — such as people who inject drugs, transgender women, sex workers and gay men — need to be able to participate, as do adolescent girls, who are increasingly affected by HIV.

If people from the most affected countries aren’t able to attend, he said he doesn’t know how realistic the learning at the conference will be.

While those whose applications are denied will be able to attend the conference virtually, Rufurwadzo said that won’t allow the same level of participation. He also said young people, especially those from rural areas, may not have consistent access to the internet.

Last week, almost 250 organizations from around the world sent a joint letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser calling on him to take action to ensure participants can attend the International AIDS conference.

Aidan Strickland, a spokesman for Fraser, said in response to earlier questions from The Canadian Press that the department has been working closely with event organizers and that applications “have been assessed in a timely manner.”

“While we cannot comment on the admissibility of any particular individual, we can say that, in general, all visitors to Canada must meet the requirements for temporary residence in Canada, as set out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” Strickland said in an email. “All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.”

Javier Bellocq, an Argentine who runs a community journalism project called the Key Correspondent Team which focuses on people living with HIV and high-risk groups, said from the stories he’s heard, it seems like each Canadian consulate is applying different rules.

In some places, he said, applicants have been required to pay for medical examinations as part of the visa process.

“The conference, in theory, arranged with the Canadian government that there will not be medical examinations, but there are, there are many medical examinations.”

Of a group of 40 Argentines, including Bellocq, who are planning to participate in pre-conference activities, only two have received visas so far, he said.

Tumie Komanyane, who runs programs for international NGO Frontline AIDS in South Africa, said groups she works with were planning to help more than a dozen young people attend the conference, but decided not to even bother applying for 10 visas after the first four applications were rejected.

Komanyane said she’s aware of other young people from the region, including some who had scholarships to attend the conference funded by the Canadian government, who have had their visa applications denied.

“It’s incoherent,” she said in an interview Saturday. “With the strides that Africa is making in the HIV field, all the lessons and evidence that could be coming from the beneficiaries directly is going to be lost.”

While she works with young people, she said, she doesn’t want to speak for them.

“They have agency, they have voice, and they shouldn’t be represented by people like me. They should be able to go and share what this work means for them,” she said.

Bellocq said he’s not worried about himself, noting the Argentine passport is relatively powerful and he’s a professional who has been travelling internationally form more than 30 years. But he worries about people  from countries with less passport privilege and members of marginalized groups who are at high risk of HIV.

With pre-conference events starting in just over three weeks, he said, “time is not on our side.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Crime

B.C. RCMP identify twin brothers as B.C. bank shooting suspects

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Victoria – Twin brothers in their early 20s were responsible for the shooting that injured numerous police officers at a bank in Saanich, B.C., earlier this week, RCMP alleged Saturday.

Mounties spokesman Cpl. Alex Bérubé named the men as 22-year-olds Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie from Duncan, B.C.

Six officers were shot and the brothers were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday outside the Bank of Montreal branch.

Bérubé said officers have spoken with the twins’ relatives, who are co-operating with the investigation.

Investigators are looking into the suspects’ backgrounds, and he said neither man had a criminal record or was known to police.

“We understand that the release of the names of the two deceased may answer the who, but there are still many outstanding questions and investigation efforts that need to take place in order to fully understand what took place and why,” Bérubé told a news conference.

“The motive behind the armed robbery and subsequent exchange of gunfire with police has not yet been determined.”

Police have also confirmed that the twins are associated with a white four-door 1992 Toyota Camry that has two black racing stripes over the hood and roof, Bérubé said.

The car was found with multiple explosives, which were removed and destroyed last week

Bérubé said the investigation has so far determined that there were only two suspects in the bank.

“However, we are continuing to look into whether anyone else was involved or associated to the events on Tuesday.”

An update on the condition of the injured officers wasn’t given.

Earlier, Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie had said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care while another will require more surgeries.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.

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