Called Bill 96, Canada’s Québec province passed into law its fiercely fought French language bill last month. The new law will impose penalties on businesses and organizations that don’t switch exclusively to the French language when they provide services in Québec.
Refugees are fearful over the clause that says if they don’t learn French within six months of arrival in Québec, their access to government services will be cut. Québec is a popular first destination for thousands of refugees streaming across forest paths from the US into Canada. In 2019, up to 50,000 entered Québec via forest crossings from the US, and up to now they have been able to receive public health, welfare, and education services in English if they wish. Bill 96 stops this.
On the education front, English-speaking Canadians fear that the total enrolment of English students to CEGEPs, which are junior English schools in Québec, will be vastly curtailed. Last weekend, the English Montréal School Board in Québec’s largest city voted to launch an emergency court challenge of Bill 96.
Montréal is a magnet for international students and was voted the world’s most desired student city in 2017 and 2018. The passing of Bill 96 has prompted exit plans among some international students in Québec.
Perhaps the most dramatic effect of Bill 96 will be its impact on businesses in Québec. Every company with 25 workers or more must now transact in French or face the wrath of the language enforcement police.
In Montréal, a major business hub in North America, those doing transnational trade, especially with the US, say the law is so damaging that it may force them to relocate their offices from Québec. Any French speaker in Québec who sees prices, say at a KFC restaurant, written in English has a right to sue such a business for thousands of dollars for “violation of his/her rights,” says the bill.
The bill further demands that companies draft worker contracts in French and establish Francization committees to switch the workforce into French. This could be impractical, expensive, and ruinous for international companies doing business from Québec, warns Michel Leblanc, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal.
Indigenous Languages Violations
First Nations communities in Québec vow to defy Bill 96, which they claim forces them to learn French, a third language, as they already speak their native languages and English. Bill 96 is an egregious violation of First Nations human rights, says the Mohawk Council of Chiefs in Québec, which plans to ignore the law and drag Québec’s government to justify the move to the UN.
However, supporters of the bill are jubilant and even say the new law does not go far enough, asking that it also demand that Canada designate French Day a national holiday.
The implementation of Bill 96 will be phased over three years, according to Québec’s government. Ray Mwareya, Ottawa, Canada