The Legault government has revealed its lengthy Bill 96 legislation after months of discussions and hints of the proposed changes. The Minister responsible for languages, Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled Bill 96, which is called “An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec,” on Thursday in the National Assembly. The long-awaited bill proposes extensive measures to protect and strengthen the French language in Quebec.
Bill 96 includes changing parts of Bill 101, The Charter of French Language (more on Bill 101 below). There are over 200 articles mentioned in the proposed bill including: French in the workplace, limiting access to English Cegeps, regulations for small business, and notably changes to municipalities with bilingual status (see chart below). It also includes making modifications to the Canadian Constitution – defining Quebec as a nation with its official and common language being French. In addition, the bill proposes that Quebec appointed judges will not have to be bilingual, and immigrants will be communicated with, in French only, starting six months after their arrival in Quebec.
Municipalities with Bilingual Status
Bill 96 stipulates that a municipality’s bilingual status will be revoked if census data shows that less than 50% of the residents speak English (mother tongue).
The following is a list of municipalities in the region that are currently recognized by article 29.1 of the Charter of the French language. In the second column is the results of the most recent census (2016). Two of the municipalities would no longer be recognized under the reform since their anglo population has declined below 50%.
Bill 101, a law with many consequences
In 1977, the first ever Parti-Quebecois government led by Réné Levesque made language a priority and enacted the Charte de la langue française, Bill 101. At the time the goal was to allow Quebecers to live and assert themselves in French, in the province. In 1977 approximately 85% of Quebecers spoke French, but it wasn’t the main language of business in Quebec.
That same year, Camille Laurin, the “father of Bill 101,” introduced an additional law bestowing upon Quebec institutions such as the Conseil de la langue française and the Commission de surveillance. The latter eventually became the Commission de protection de la langue française in 1984.
Bill 101 involves matters such as restricting language on signage and advertising, French in the workplace and forcing all children to be educated in French (two exceptions allow for English eligibility). Although the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) already existed, it was given a greater role as part of Bill 101. Often referred to as the Language Police, it is interesting to note that the OQLF was given that title by a 60 Minutes episode involving an in depth investigation into Quebec language laws.
French signage laws remained in place and it wasn’t until Robert Bourassa’s Liberal government relented in 1993 passing a law allowing English to be included on outdoor signs (only if French lettering was twice the size).
Over the years, several of the bill’s articles were either modified or struck down, some as a result of Supreme Court judgements deeming the legislation violated both the Canadian and Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill 101 is often credited with the mass exodus of anglophones who left Quebec between 1977 and 2015. A Fraser Institute study estimated 600,000 people moved out of Quebec during that period.