The Quebec government has introduced a bill seeking to change the Canadian constitution, which includes a specific section reiterating Quebec’s French language rights.
If it sits as the most stringent law to elevate the status of the French language in Quebec since Bill 101 was passed in 1977, it is part of a new bill.
The latest bill, called Bill 96, includes the following proposed measures:
- Opening the Canadian Constitution, it added clauses to say that Quebec is a country and that its official and common language is French.
- 25-49 Use of Bill 101 for Businesses with Employees and Federal Workplaces.
- All trademarks, including non-French trademarks, must include the “main” size French in all identities.
- The number of students in English CEGEPs is 17.5 percent of the student population.
- Providing access to French language training for those who are not legally required to go to school in French.
- If the census data shows that English is the first language for less than 50 percent of the population, the elimination of the bilingual status of the municipality will result in the municipality deciding to maintain its status and enforcing the resolution to retain it.
- Creating a French language ministry and the post of French language commissioner, as well as enhancing the role of the French language watchdog Office Quebecois de la Langu Fran ஃபois (OQLF).
- Judges appointed by the province do not have to be bilingual.
- Six months after arriving in Quebec, all provincial contacts with immigrants must be in French.
Simon Jolin-Barrett, the provincial minister in charge of the French language, introduced the bill this morning.
Both he and Prime Minister Franois Legalt have expressed concern over the decline of the French language in Quebec.
“For centuries, we know that preserving the French language is essential to the survival and development of our nation,” Legalt told a news conference after the bill was introduced.
Despite the rule
The new bill puts forward provisions to protect Canadian rights and freedoms from the legal challenges of the Charter.
Section 33, officially known as Section 33, allows provincial or federal officials to overwrite certain sections of the charter for a period of five years.
“However, the rule is a fair tool for balancing between individual rights and collective rights,” Legalt said.
“When the basis of our existence as a Francophone people on the American continent is in danger, we have a right, yet we have an obligation to use the rules.”
This is the second time the Legal government has used the term. The CAQ government used this to protect the law that prevents some civil servants from wearing religious symbols known as Bill 21 from legal challenges.
French fall in Quebec
The proposed law comes after a series of studies by the Quebec’s French language watchdog, the Office Quebecois de la Long Franாங்கois (OQLF), found that it was declining in the French – speaking province.
A 2018 study predicts that the percentage of French-speaking Quebecs at home will drop from 82 percent in 2011 to 75 percent in 2036.
The second study, completed in 2018, examined the language spoken in the workplace.
A quarter of the Montreal staff surveyed said they use French and English equally at work, and only 18.7 percent speak French exclusively at work.
Quebec’s opposition has backed strong language reforms.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, president of the Quebec Solidarity Forum, said the reforms were aimed at preserving and promoting the French language – not the Anglophone communities.
“The debate around the French is not a divisive debate,” Nadeau-Dubois said.
“It could be a debate that unites the Quebec community. I know a lot of young Anglophones in my generation fully agree with the spirit of Bill 101.”
Bill 101 is a ‘watershed’ moment
The original law, adopted by Renென Leveck’s party Cubacois government in 1977, was an attempt to promote and preserve the French language in Quebec.
Bill 101, or the French Charter, makes French the only official language of the Quebec government, courts and workplaces.
This includes restrictions on the use of English in external trademarks and compels all children in Canada to study in French, except adults who have studied English.
Quebec historian Lorraine O’Donnell, who runs the Research Network for Quebec English-Speaking Communities, said the original bill 101 had a lasting impact.
“Bill 101 is seen as an irrigation moment in Quebec history,” he said. “It marked the consciousness and perspective of English-speaking Quebec.”