Quebec Premier François Legault berated the opposition parties in the National Assembly at a press conference on Wednesday and accused them of trying to score "points" by asking him whether he would accept the Joyce Principle in Quebec.
Legault was also upset that the leaders of the opposition parties, Liberal leader Dominique Anglade and Québec Solidaire spokesperson Gabriel-Nadeau Dubois, brought up the issue of systemic racism at a National Assembly question period when "they are very aware of my position."
The Joyce Principle calls on the Quebec government to "recognize the systemic racism faced by Indigenous people when attempting to access social and health services, particularly in relation to rights of equitable access without discrimination."
Legault has said time and again that he will not recognize systemic racism.
"I'm not the one who tried to link the death of Joyce Echaquan with Bill 21 and Bill 96 and with the fact that we don't recognize there is a system of racism in our networks in Quebec," Legault said Wednesday.
"All Quebecers agree that there is some racism and that we have to fight against that."
Legault also reasserted his position that he doesn't believe there is systemic racism in the province and that assuming so is an "insult to Quebecers."
Anglade, meanwhile, demanded that Legault should apologize for not accepting the fundamental request as presented in the Joyce Principle.
"What we wanted to hear from the premier is whether or not he was in favour of the principle and whether it should be adopted. [...] He did not answer the question, voted against the motion and talked about a different topic. [...] I'm asking Mr. Legault to apologize to the Atikamekw community."
Québec Solidaire spokesperson Manon Massé echoed the Liberal leader's comments, saying that "it's at the center of Joyce's principle, and to withdraw from it as a white person who does not live in this situation — there is something odious about that."
"I am [...] with the efforts that have been made by our administration to promote the French language in recent months, completely at odds with a position such as that of a current mayoral candidate."
Plante was invited to speak at the National Assembly hearing on Bill 96 on Tuesday evening and was asked by Minister Responsible for the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette what she thought of a candidate's plan to make "the city of Montreal become bilingual and multicultural."
The candidate in question, Balarama Holness, would move to officially recognize Montreal as a bilingual city and promote multiculturalism.
In a statement of support for the principles in Bill 96,Plante said she hopes French becomes the "social glue" of the metropolis.
"We have to promote the French language by giving ourselves the means and tools to bring people together."
The Montreal bar association has been looking into elements of Bill 96 and is raising concern that certain articles could "infringe on the principle of access to justice which is at the heart of Quebec's democratic society," particularly for English speakers and bilingual people.
The association has pointed to five articles in the Bill that could affect "access to justice:" 9, 12, 13, 55, and 208.6.
Article 9 of the Bill, for instance, states that "a certified French translation shall be attached to any pleading drawn up in English that emanates from a legal person. The legal person shall bear the translation costs."
The association says that "requiring a party to bear the costs of a translation" affects access to justice and that there could be delays with processing a translated case report.
"In addition," the association continued, "there is reason to wonder about the availability of a sufficient number of legal translators in private practice."
Article 12 of Bill 96, meanwhile, relates to the appointment of judges in Quebec, stating they "shall not be required to have knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than the official language unless the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the French Language consider that the exercise of that office requires such knowledge."
For the association, this is troubling because the provision doesn't "take into account the reality of litigants in Montreal, where the percentage of cases in which English is required alone justifies the presence of judges or administrative judges who are bilingual or who have sufficient knowledge of English."
In a statement, the president of the Montreal bar, Junior Laguerre, said that "it is important to guarantee all citizens access to justice without hindrance or barrier, whether linguistic, economic or temporal."
"We, therefore, ask Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette to make the necessary amendments to the bill, so that it achieves its objectives without harming access to justice for all," Laguerre concluded.
The report recommended that Quebec acknowledge systemic racism. It also said racism and prejudice played a role in Echaquan's death.
"The only place where I don't agree is when we say that there's a 'system' because for me a 'system' is coming from upstairs, coming from the top people, and I don't see this in the health care network, for example," Legault said at a press conference on Tuesday, following the release of the coroner's report.
"What happened to Mrs. Echaquan is terrible [...] and few employees, not only one, didn't deliver the right services to her."
He reiterated that people who believe in systemic racism in Quebec don't have the same definition that he does.
"We don't have a system [of racism], top to bottom, and it's a question of fact," he said.
He emphasized the need to "stop dividing Quebecers" with arguments about systemic racism.
"Even [the coroner who wrote the report] Mrs. Kahmel, she's saying that we have not to put all the emphasis only on words. We have to put emphasis on actions to change the situation and, on that, I fully agree," said Legault.
"I'm not sure what it's like to see your daughter, your sister, your mother, your friend, your lover disappear from one day to the next without a trace. And on top of that, to have the impression that your government doesn't really care, or at least not enough. No one should have to go through that in Quebec," Legault continued.
"I'm convinced that the vast majority of Quebecers are ready to fight racism."