04/09/2013 16:42 EDT | Updated 06/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Public hearings on Bill 14 create polarized debate

As the public hearings on Quebec’s controversial Bill 14 continue, there is no lack of opinion coming from all sides of the language debate.

Bill 14 proposes to amend Quebec's language charter by tightening restrictions around the use of English. If passed, the bill would give language inspectors the power of search and seizure, and it would allow the government to remove the bilingual status of some municipalities.

One of the province’s largest labour federations, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), called on the government to send a strong message that French is the one and only official language of Quebec.

Jacques Létourneau, president of the CSN, spoke during Tuesday's hearing.

In order to highlight French's decline in the province, Létourneau pointed to Montreal, where people can work in English, shop at the local dépanneur in English and even be served at a café in English.

“The signal we are sending to the world is not only that in Quebec we live in English first and in French second, but also that, in the end, one can live here in English only,” Létourneau said.

Jean-Paul Perreault, president of Impératif français, agreed the province should do more to promote French language and culture.

“Citizens who choose to live in Quebec must learn French,” he said.

Perreault criticized the government for contradicting its own policies by offering services such as health care in English, all the while claiming French as the province’s only official language.

Montreal's Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society was also represented at the hearings. President of the society, Mario Beaulieu, blamed the anglophone media for “sensationalizing” the debate.

He said the French language is in a precarious situation.

“Today French is in quick decline in Montreal and it constitutes a threat to the French people in all regions of Quebec,” he said.

Beaulieu said even stricter language legislation will eventually be needed in order to preserve the language.

Protester says bill is 'discriminatory'

But on the other side of the table, some groups say stricter language laws in Quebec attack the human rights of English-speaking Quebecers.

Unity Group, an anglophone-rights group made up mostly of Montrealers who are against Bill 14, says the proposed amendments are “discriminatory.”

Antoinette Mercurio, a member of the group, says the bill is “basically trying to erase the English language."

Minister for anglophone relations, Jean-François Lisée, has a less polarized view of the bill. He says Quebec’s English-speaking population is a valued part of the province’s culture and history.

“At the creation of the Parti Québécois there was a great debate, and René Lévesque was very clear that the anglo community in Quebec had rights, historic rights, that needed to be protected forever," Lisée said.