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English-rights activists worried about proposed Quebec language law

Protesters opposing Bill 14 demonstrate outside the office of Quebec Premier Pauline Marois in Montreal on Feb. 17, 2013.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

English-rights activists in Quebec are raising concerns about a proposed new language law they say infringes on their rights.

The new law is intended to build on Quebec's landmark language legislation, Bill 101, to protect and strengthen French in the province.

But protesters say they feel under attack by Premier Pauline Marois' Parti Québécois government.

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They are concerned about new rules designed to encourage French in small businesses, municipalities and post-secondary education.

Christopher Rose, a 27-year-old Montrealer, says the law takes away the rights of English-speaking Quebecers.

He says Montreal is a multicultural city and people should be able to make their own decisions about language.

"We still belong to the country of Canada and we still have our rights," he said.

"There shouldn't be any quarrels here in Quebec... There's nothing wrong with being bilingual, there's nothing wrong with English, and there's nothing wrong with French either."

Language tensions bubbled to the surface during last summer's provincial election campaign when the PQ vowed to toughen Quebec language laws.

The unrest reached a twisted climax in a shooting at the PQ election victory party in September that left one person dead. A man arrested at the scene declared that anglophones were waking up as he was led away.

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The law that eventually got tabled is considerably milder than the ideas it campaigned on. It will be subject to a public consultation in March.

Still, some of the measures have English-language defenders concerned.

Bill 14 would make it more difficult for municipalities with an English population under 50 per cent to maintain bilingual status.

The PQ's law would also extend rules for French in the workplace to small businesses with between 49 and 26 employees, and make it harder for students from the French education system to attend English junior-colleges.

Antoinette Mercurio, who runs a Montreal travel agency, said the rules will make it harder to run her agency and hurt her bottom line.

"Everything will have to be in French now, and it'll be very costly for small businesses here in Quebec," she said.

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Colin Standish, a 26-year-old law student from Quebec's Eastern Townships, said the rules for municipalities would be especially harmful in his home region, which has pockets of English-speakers that have lived there for generations.

Standish said there's a growing resistance from young, anglophone Quebecers upset about developments under the PQ.

"We want to be involved in the civil society," he said.

"We're not going to leave Quebec. We're not going to be like our parents' generation that might have moved to Toronto or the United States."

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