Explanation: What will the new Quebec law on the French language mean for businesses, hiring?


MONTREAL, May 27 (Reuters) – Supporters of Quebec’s sweeping new law to promote the use of French in the Canadian province hail it as the most important measure in nearly half a century to protect the language in a predominantly English-speaking North America.

But the law passed by a majority of Quebec lawmakers on Tuesday faces stiff opposition from minority Anglophones, businesses, health sector advocates and Indigenous peoples just as the province heads to the polls in october.

Drafted by the nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, Bill 96 requires students to take more French courses in English-language colleges and affects areas ranging from hearings to hiring.

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Language remains a sensitive issue in a predominantly French-speaking Quebec, where dissatisfaction with the dominance of English fueled the rise of the Parti separatiste québécois (PQ) in the 1970s.

In 1977, the passage of Bill 101 made French the language of day-to-day business in Quebec and forced the children of immigrants to attend primary and secondary school in French, which led to the departure of many English speakers.


Bill 96 opens the door to lawsuits against stores that do not serve customers in French, according to an expert. Previously, Quebecers refusing service in French complained to the province’s language watchdog.

Alexandre Fallon, a partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, said the law would also apply to e-commerce sites operated by companies outside of Quebec, and the increased risk of liability is causing some companies to consider stop service for Quebecers.

“A lot of companies looking at this are saying okay, OK, I’m going to stop serving Quebec customers because I can’t serve them 100% in French, so I’m not going to take the risk of being sued,” he said. Fallon said.


Employers must now make a reasonable effort to avoid making languages ​​other than French a job requirement. This could make it more difficult for hospitals, for example, to offer services to patients in another language.


Contracts would have to be provided to consumers in French even if the parties wanted them in English, which would increase translation costs. Court proceedings should now be in French for businesses, Fallon said.


Immigrants could not access most government services in a language other than French six months after their arrival. The Quebec government has said health care will be exempt from the new law.


Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week he has “concerns” about Bill 96 because the federal government is responsible for protecting the rights of linguistic minorities.

CAQ leader and Quebec premier Francois Legault has said he is prepared to invoke the so-called notwithstanding clause, which allows a provincial government to override certain aspects of the Canadian Charter of Rights in intervals of five years.

This week, Justice Minister David Lametti did not rule out challenging the law in court.

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Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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