Quebec non-French speakers brace as Bill 96's Language Law takes effect
English-speaking residents of Quebec are preparing for the impact of key provisions from Bill 96, a recent language law in Quebec. These provisions, now in effect throughout the province, have the potential to greatly affect the daily lives of non-French speakers by increasing the difficulty of accessing services in English. This has caused unease within English-speaking and bilingual communities, who worry that the harmonious equilibrium they have established could be disrupted. Meanwhile, the Quebec government has portrayed the legislation as a balanced response to the perceived decline in the use of the French language, particularly in Montreal.
Under the new law, employees of most government agencies that interact directly with the public are required to serve clients in French, unless those clients have acquired English-language rights, are Indigenous, or are new immigrants who arrived in the province within the last six months. The acquired rights include the ability for an English speaker to receive education in English due to their family's Anglophone history. While some individuals are relieved that government employees will rely on the "good faith" of people seeking services in a language other than French, concerns have been raised about potential conflicts arising from the burden placed on individual employees.
Another significant aspect of the law is that businesses employing between five and 49 people will be required to disclose the number of employees who cannot fluently communicate in French. The proportion of French speakers in these businesses will be listed publicly on the province's business registry. While this requirement adds another administrative task for businesses, the policy is aimed at appeasing those who supported the government and sees it as a challenge to the Anglophone population.
Furthermore, the law introduces a provision requiring new immigrants to learn French within six months, which could potentially make hiring more difficult for businesses. International students in Quebec are also affected, as draft regulations propose that those enrolled in one-year intensive programs will have to achieve a certain level of French proficiency before graduating.
In addition to these provisions, adhesion contracts, such as signing up for a new cellphone or gym membership, must be in French under the new law. Francisation Québec, a new platform for signing up to learn French, is also being launched. Concerns have been raised among English speakers about potential difficulties in accessing health services. However, the law specifies that it does not alter the provision of health and social services in English for "English-speaking persons," and designated institutions are required to provide services in English.
"Bill 96 contains several restrictions on the rights of certain citizens, obviously the English-speaking community, but also First Nations and immigrants," said André Fortin, Member for Pontiac and representative of the Quebec Liberal Party. "There will be major changes in the way certain services are delivered by the State and by certain municipalities, in the obligations of businesses, for the future of Cegep Héritage and for many others. The Quebec Liberal Party is the only party in the National Assembly to have voted against Bill 96 because it goes beyond the rights of certain Quebecers. Yes, we can and must protect and promote the French language, but not by attacking the rights of certain citizens."
Lamenting the potential consequences of the proposed changes to the Official Languages Act, Eva Ludvig, President of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), expressed concerns about the diminishing relationship between the minority community and the Canadian government. Ludvig stated, "There is a realignment underway that will reshape the Official Languages Act in ways that we feel will diminish our community’s long-standing relationship with the Government of Canada and leave us vulnerable." The QCGN is advocating for equal language rights for their community, which comprises approximately 1.1 million people. Ludvig emphasized, "The QCGN is fighting hard to make sure our minority community of 1.1 million people is also extended these new rights."
In addition to their efforts regarding the Official Languages Act, the QCGN is closely monitoring the implementation of Bill 96. Ludvig affirmed, "Meanwhile, the QCGN is closely following the implementation of Bill 96 and will be documenting the impact it is having on individual Quebecers."