Quebec Premier Francois Legault, centre, speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, May 11, 2021, at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec tables revamp of French-language law, toughens rules for businesses, schools

Quebec tables revamp of French-language law, toughens rules for businesses, schools

MONTREAL — The Quebec government on Thursday reasserted the right of Quebecers to live and work in French, as it tabled a major reform to the province’s signature piece of language legislation, known as Bill 101.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, minister responsible for the French language, said the goal of Bill 96 is to affirm that French is the province’s only official language and the common language of the Quebec nation.

Jolin-Barrette and Premier François Legault said they introduced the legislation in response to studies indicating French is on the decline, especially in Montreal. “French will always be vulnerable because of Quebec’s situation in North America,” Legault told reporters.

“In that sense, each generation that passes has a responsibility for the survival of our language, and now it’s our turn.”

The 100-page bill, if passed, would toughen sign laws and strengthen language requirements for businesses, governments and schools. It would create a new French-language commissioner and extend language requirements to businesses with 25 employees or more, down from 50.

Government agencies would have to use French exclusively in their written and oral communications, with few exceptions, while businesses would have to ensure the “net predominance” of French on signs that include more than one language.

Other provisions would cap enrolment at English junior colleges, grant new powers to the French-language watchdog and create additional support for new immigrants and businesses who want to improve their grasp of the language.

Jolin-Barrette said a “fundamental” element of the bill would further enshrine the right to work and be served in French, including by allowing citizens to file complaints with the language watchdog against stores that don’t serve them in the official language.

“What we tabled today is about the fundamental right to be served or to be informed in French,” he said.

The law, also known as the Charter of the French Language, was adopted in 1977 by the government of René Lévesque.

While Legault described the bill as the most significant step to protect the French language since Bill 101, he stopped short of including some of the most contentious demands from hardliners, such as banning French students from attending English junior colleges altogether or requiring commercial signage to be only in French.

The bill creates a mechanism to strip municipalities of their bilingual status if their populations fall below a 50 per cent threshold of English speakers. But the legislation also allows municipalities to maintain their bilingual statuses if their councils vote to do so.

The premier described these “compromises” as proof the bill is reasonable and does not infringe on the rights of English speakers.

Legault said the entire bill is covered by the notwithstanding clause, which shields legislation from court challenges over violations of rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He defended the use of the clause, which he described as a “legitimate tool” to balance individual and collective rights.

“We not only have the right, but we have the duty to use the notwithstanding clause, especially when the very foundation of our existence as a French-speaking nation is in play.”

Legault and Jolin-Barrette said the bill also proposes amending Canada’s Constitution to affirm Quebec forms a nation with French as its official language. Jolin-Barrette suggested Quebec has the right to unilaterally amend the section of the Constitution that outlines legislative powers of the provinces.

The premier said he would send a letter to the other premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain the bill.

The leader of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois accused Legault’s government of doing the “bare minimum” to protect French and said the bill fails to take action in several crucial areas.

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said Bill 96 takes no steps to control the entry of non-French-speaking immigrants, to bar French speakers from attending English colleges, or to ensure businesses don’t unnecessarily require English as a condition of hiring.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business expressed concern the law could create extra red tape and expenses for small and medium-sized businesses, which are already struggling with COVID-19. The organization said a majority of businesses it surveyed — 56 per cent — were opposed to additional language laws, with stronger opposition in Montreal and Quebec City.

The group, however, praised the bill for including a promise to create a body that would provide additional resources for French-language instruction to businesses and individuals.

In Ottawa, federal Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly said the government will study the bill carefully. “The situation of French in the country is special, and the government has the responsibility to protect and promote French not only outside Quebec, but within Quebec,” she said.

“Our government intends to do its part while continuing to protect the right of linguistic minorities.”

The bill, which contains about 200 amendments, will undergo a period of intense debate and scrutiny before it is adopted. Legault has said he’ll launch a series of consultations this fall on the place of the French language in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2021.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press


Just Posted

Shanna Lydiard complains that her mail hasn’t been delivered for over 10 weeks due to water main construction on her West Park block. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Residents of Red Deer street have no mail delivery for 10-plus weeks

Shanna Lydiard says she doesn’t trust the city’s promises

FILE - Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced that Albertans could start booking second dose shots of the COVID-19 vaccine starting Tuesday night. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Public measures will be lifted: Alberta will enter Stage 3 on Canada Day

Alberta will enter Stage 3 of its Open for Summer Plan on… Continue reading

A massive round dance, involving hundreds of people at Bower Ponds, was a highlight of Canada Day celebrations in 2000. (Contributed photo).
Fireworks without a Canada Day celebration is planned for July 1 in Red Deer

Many residents aren’t in a festive mood, with recent Indigenous graves discovery

Students’ Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says the government needs to be transparent about why RDC doesn’t have degrees yet. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Brittany Lausen earns RDC Outstanding Student Award

Student’s Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen has been named… Continue reading

Gabe Cuthand, Brandon McDonald, Dean Johnson and Dakota Dion drumming during a past Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at City Hall Park in Red Deer (Advocate file photo).
Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated online on Monday in Red Deer

National Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated in Red Deer on Monday… Continue reading

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner’s favor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in a presidential… Continue reading

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, left, and President Seiko Hashimoto attend the news conference after receiving a report from a group of infectious disease experts on Friday, June 18, 2021, in Tokyo. The experts including Shigeru Omi, head of a government coronavirus advisory panel, issued a report listing the risks of allowing the spectators and the measurements to prevent the event from triggering a coronavirus spread. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool Photo via AP)
Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — The safest way to hold the Tokyo Olympics is… Continue reading

FILE - In this June 12, 2021, file photo, Rajkumar Haryani, 38, who painted his body to create awareness about vaccination against the coronavirus poses for photographs after getting a dose of Covishield vaccine in Ahmedabad, India. Starting June 21, 2021, every Indian adult can get a COVID-19 vaccine dose for free that was purchased by the federal government. The policy reversal announced last week ends a complex system of buying vaccines that worsened inequities in accessing vaccines. India is a key global supplier of vaccines and its missteps have left millions of people waiting unprotected. The policy change is likely to address inequality but questions remain and shortages will continue. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)
How India is changing vaccine plan amid shortages

NEW DELHI (AP) — Starting Monday, every adult in India will be… Continue reading

Chief of Defence staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference to , in Ottawa Tuesday August 30, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces says it is making progress in the fight against sexual misconduct in the ranks, but much more work needs to be done. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Freeze promotions until military commanders are screened for misconduct: Committee

OTTAWA — A parliamentary committee has called for a freeze on all… Continue reading

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Hussen says he is looking to municipalities to reshape local rules to more quickly build units through the government's national housing strategy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Cities should redo planning, permitting to align with housing strategy, minister says

OTTAWA — The federal minister in charge of affordable housing says he… Continue reading

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. On June 1, NACI had said AstraZeneca recipients "could" get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for their second shot if they wanted, but Thursday went further to say an mRNA vaccine was the "preferred" choice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

When Gwenny Farrell booked her second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine… Continue reading

Brooklyn Nets' James Harden, right, is guarded by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center, during the first half of Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Bucks bounce back to defeat Nets 104-89 and force Game 7

MILWAUKEE — Khris Middleton scored 38 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 30 and… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) brings the puck up the ice against the New York Islanders during the third period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinals, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. Tampa Bay won 2-1.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Point scores again, Lightning beat Islanders 2-1 in Game 3

Lightning 2 Islanders 1 (Tampa Bay leads series 2-1) UNIONDALE, N.Y. —… Continue reading

Most Read