What you need to know about Bill 96

Eva Baldi

Pontiac July 28, 2021 

Bill 96, a new amendment to the Charter of the French Language is likely to be passed in the fall. The 100 page long bill is surrounded with much confusion and many misconceptions. What do we actually know, and what is this historical significance of French language laws in Quebec? 

History 

Bill 101, the original Charter of the French Language, was first proposed in 1970. Firstly, Bill 101 made French the “normal and everyday language” of Quebec. Among other things, the bill targeted commercial signs. The law prohibited all commercial signs in Quebec from featuring any other language besides French. This received extensive backlash from English and minority communities. This issue was brought to the Supreme Court and successfully challenged. The premiere of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, decided to override the supreme court’s decision by enacting the notwithstanding clause. This clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows provinces the ability to override certain sections of the charter at the provincial level, without the ability to be argued in the Supreme Court. The bill was eventually brought before the United Nation’s International covenant on civil and political rights, which overturned the law under the pretense of freedom of expression. The province obeyed the ruling of the United Nations and changed the laws on signage to have the French simply be more visually significant on commercial signs. 

Another legacy of this 1977 bill are laws imposing mandatory French schooling on children and teenagers. This is well known throughout Quebec, as the only way for a child to not attend school in French in the province is if at least one parent attended school in English somewhere in Canada. This prevents parents, especially immigrant parents from choosing the language of their child’s schooling. 

Objectives 

The newly proposed Bill 96 was referred to by the current premiere of Quebec, François Legault, as “the new bill 101.” The objectives, as stated in the bill are to protect Quebec culture through the preservation of the French language within the province. The bill states “whereas Quebec is the only French-speaking State in North America and shares a long history with the Francophone and Acadian communities of Canada, and whereas that confers a special responsibility on Quebec, which intends to play a leading role within La Francophonie.” 

This bill was created in response to the declining rates of Francophones in Quebec, more specifically Montreal. A recent census showed that despite 78 per cent of people in Quebec referring to French as their first language, only 48.6 per cent of people in Montreal refer to French as their first language. According to Simon Jolin-Barrette, Minister of the French Language, the bill also aims to increase the amount of linguistic transfer for new immigrants. Simply put, linguistic transfer is the adoption of a new language upon arrival to a new country. Jolin-Barrette hopes that this bill will result in rates of linguistic transfer to rise from the current 53 per cent to 90 per cent. For reference, the rates of linguistic transfer for all other provinces in Canada is currently 99 per cent. The bill will also provide more French lessons to newcomers. 

People who are in favour of the bill believe that it is the best way to preserve French language and Quebecois culture. This has been a longstanding and historical issue in Quebec, with many major players in the province and a good portion of the population being in favour of Quebec separating and becoming an independent country. 

Opposition 

Though Quebec is still officially a province in Canada, many critics of this language bill feel as though they are attempting to change the very nature of the Canadian constitution. Given that the Canadian constitution officially states Canada as a country where both English and French are the official languages, Quebec negates this statute by indicating that within the province French is the only official language. 

The bill will create a new provincial ministry for the French language, and a French language commissioner. This implies the likelihood of the instatement of a language police. Through this ministry, people will be encouraged to report businesses for disobeying laws.

Those opposed to the bill  point out the many new obstacles that will be given to small businesses and the anglophone population of Quebec. Most of the clauses in the Bill 96 will affect business and education choices.

Impacts and changes

The bill being instated would mean a few large changes for Quebec residents. 

• Commercial signage: French must be twice the size of any other language on a sign or be more visually impactful.

• Customer rights: It is now mandatory for customers to be served and informed in French, failure to comply may lead to official complaints to the office of the French Language. 

• Provincial courts: All court proceedings must be filed in French or be officially translated into French. No exemptions are provided for court proceedings where both parties prefer English. Those who prefer their proceedings to be in English can request a translation, payed for by the state. 

• Government: All provincial government proceedings are to be done in French. 

• Education: The bill will put a cap of 17.5 per cent on Francophone and Allophone Quebecers attending English CEGEPS. 

• Small business: French is now the only language needed for employment, and the only language needed for businesses. Businesses with 25-49 employees will now be required to follow the same language rules as businesses with 50-99 employees. This means that those businesses will be subject to Francization in the workplace, a process which ensures the use of French in the workplace involving internal communications, hiring and other business-related activities. 

• Punishments for non-compliance: Fines for  non-compliance to Bill 96 are increasing. Whereas a first offence under Bill 101 would result in a charge of $1,500-$20,000 would now be a change of $3,000-$30,000 under the new Bill 96. 

Conclusion

This bill is likely to deeply affect the English and minority communities in Quebec. As the bill states, businesses may face fines if they are unable to properly serve customers in French, it is possible that this bill can impact one’s ability to obtain work as an Anglophone in Quebec. 

Bilingual municipalities with under 50 per cent English speaking residents will lose their bilingual status, however they may be able to regain their status if they request it. Bilingual communities with over 50 per cent English speaking residents will be able to vote on whether to maintain their bilingual status within 120 days of the bill becoming law. 

Similar to the situation in 1977, Legault will be enacting the notwithstanding clause on all portions of the bill passed in the provincial legislature. This means that those opposed to the bill or anyone negatively affected by it will not have the possibility to challenge it in court. The notwithstanding clause does, however, have a “sunset provision” meaning that any bill passed using this clause will only be in effect for five years.

Though it has not been explicitly been said by Premiere Legault and his team, most experts predict that because of the use of the notwithstanding clause this bill being passed is just much a matter of time.

The Regional Association of West Quebecers will hold a meeting at the Shawville fair grounds on August 3 at 7 p.m. to discuss Bill 96 and its effects on the citizens and businesses of West Quebec.

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