Demonstrators protest cuts to French-language services

Marie-Guylaine Briand surveys a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered outside Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey’s office on Saturday to protest cuts to French-language services in Ontario, including the cancellation of a French-language university. For more on the issue, please see page 11. Glenn Ogilvie

Journal Staff

More than 100 local francophones and supporters protested Premier Doug Ford’s decision to cut French-language services with a peaceful rally Saturday.

Those gathered outside the office of Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey are upset by Ontario’s decision to eliminate a planned French-language university and the independent office of the French-language commissioner.

“The francophone community is quite angry about it,” said Meghan RealeSmith, a spokesperson for Centre communautaire francophone Sarnia-Lambton, which organized the event.

“Not only is it our community here that’s angry, but the students themselves are angry because they see this as a big hit to their future.”

The cuts were unveiled as part of the Conservative government’s fiscal review on Thursday, Nov. 23, which has been dubbed ‘Jeudi Noir’ (Black Thursday) by Franco-Ontarians.

Faced with a growing backlash, the government has reversed its decision to axe the Ministry of Francophones Affairs and the French-language commissioner, instead putting the position under the ombudsman.

But the partial backdown hasn’t stopped protests from occurring across the province. The rally at Bailey’s Point Edward office followed one last week by students at École Les Rapides elementary school.

“We have four great French-speaking schools here and a number of French immersion programs here. So there’s a lot of parents of kids who themselves don’t speak French, but they’re raising Franco-Ontarians,” RealeSmith said.

“(Bob Bailey) really needs to push back with Premier Ford, that this is something that his constituents are very much against.”

There are about 622,000 francophones in Ontario, the largest French-speaking population in Canada outside of Quebec. About the same number of mother tongue anglophones live in Quebec.