The French language is in decline in the Canadian province of Quebec of over 8 million people, the 2nd province of Canada in terms of population, and the regional government wants to protect it.
Despite a 4% increase in the number of people who speak French between the 2 last censuses of 2021 and 2016, their representation decreased from 79.6% to 78.9%.
If passed, Bill 96 would be the most important move since 1977 and the Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language, which declared French as the official language. Bill 96 emphasizes that there is only one official language and that “French is the common language of the Québec nation”, adding 201 articles of amendments and regulation for using protecting the use of French.
For instance, the government, dominated by the autonomist party of Coalition Avenir Québec, will cap admissions of the English-speaking CEGEPs, Quebec college system, to less than 20% of the total CEGEP population. It will become more difficult for French speakers to enroll in English CEGEPs, which expanded in the last years. The French CEGEPs will see a reduction of English-language programs.
The right to learn French will be installed, which will provide French courses for anglophones who want to improve their skills in French, including immigrants.
In the workplace, employees can sue their company if they believe their linguistic rights at not met.
The notwithstanding clause to avoid legal challenges
A customer in a store would have the fundamental right to be served in French, with the exception of a tolerated mixed greeting of “Bonjour-Hi”.
Some municipalities will be revoked the bilingual status. Quebec also wants the federal government to change the Canadian Constitution to make French the language of Quebec as a nation.
And to put all chances in its side and avoid legal objections, Quebec’s government invoked the notwithstanding clause.
The clause allows provincial or federal authorities to override sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for at least 5 years, which can be repeated indefinitely. Introduced in 1982 as a compromise from the federal state in the negotiation for writing amendments to the Constitution, governments can change laws dealing with freedom of expression or assembly, without being able to touch to more fundamental ones like those related to democratic rights. The reasons for invoking this clause, which usually comes after a court decision, are hard to be challenged.
“We have a duty to use the notwithstanding clause when the basis of our existence as a francophone people on the American continent is at stake”, Premier François Legault justified.
Media sources and useful links:
- Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, Quebec National Assembly, May 2021, Free access