Five Reasons Quebec’s Language Law Reform Is Stirring Controversy

A protest against Quebec’s proposed revision of its language law drew a large crowd in Montreal on Saturday. The government says Bill 96 is a moderate reform that will improve protections for French and preserve services in English, but critics say the bill will limit access to health care and justice, cost them jobs for college teachers and will increase red tape for small businesses.

Here are five reasons why the bill, which is expected to pass before the summer, is under fire:

Health care

Marlene Jennings, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, an Anglophone advocacy group, says the law could prevent hundreds of thousands of English speakers from accessing health care in their language. The bill requires government agencies, including health services, to communicate with the public in French, except “when required by health, public safety, or principles of natural justice.”

There are also exceptions for people who are entitled to education in English in Quebec, those who have previously communicated with the government in English, and immigrants who have lived in the province for less than six months.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister François Legault offered assurances that the law will not affect access to health services in English, but Jennings is skeptical. “We already have problems, when language has not become a problem, in accessing quality health services in a timely manner. Bill 96 is going to compound those problems,” he said in an interview.


The bill would require all English college students to take three additional courses in French. Students with English education rights (those who have a parent or sibling who was educated in English in Canada) will be able to take courses in French, but other students will have to take other subjects, such as history or biology, in French. .

Adding French classes at English language institutions will be a challenge, said Adam Bright, a professor of English literature at Dawson College in Montreal. Because the law would require students without English education rights to take a French exit exam, Bright predicts that few of those students will choose English literature courses, making it harder for them to be successful in their other classes.

He said his union hopes the changes will lead to job cuts in the English department. “My wife is also an English literature professor at Dawson, so if this bill passes, we’re both going to lose our jobs,” she said in an interview.

bureaucracy for companies

The bill would expand provisions of the province’s language laws, which previously only applied to businesses with 50 or more employees, to those with 25 or more.

François Vincent, Quebec vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, estimates that complying with the law after it takes effect will involve 20 to 50 hours of paperwork for business owners. Some companies may have to hire consultants to help. While Vincent said it’s important to help people learn French, he doesn’t think the extra bureaucracy will do it.

“Asking a small garage or a small restaurant in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean that works 100 percent in French to fill out the paperwork for the Office québécois de la langue française to say ‘Congratulations, you work in French,’ doesn’t change a thing. “, he said in an interview.

access to justice

The bill would require all company court filings to be in French or translated into French and empower the minister of justice and the minister responsible for the French language to decide which provincial court judges should be bilingual.

It calls for amending pieces of legislation, including the Quebec Charter of the French Language, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Consumer Protection Act and the charter of the city of Montreal.

Pearl Eliadis, a Montreal human rights attorney, said the complexity can make it hard to see the scope of the changes being proposed. “Access to justice is not just going to court and being able to get there, it’s also being able to understand the law,” she said.

Search and seizure without warrant

The bill would proactively invoke the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to protect it from constitutional challenges.

Among the elements of the bill that would be protected is a provision that gives language inspectors the power to engage in search and seizure operations without a warrant. Eliadis said inspectors are not required to show reasonable cause or reasonable suspicion before conducting a law enforcement search.

“It’s more than a bunch of administrative rules designed to enforce French, because they’ve deliberately gone into every part of the law where constitutional rights can be invoked and, essentially, with a single stroke of the brush… an entire swath of our constitutional protections, leaving us without a remedy,” he said. “I am concerned that the rule of law is being diminished.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 19, 2022.

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