Photo Credit: Ahmed Neji (via Unsplash)
The Introduction of the New Language Law
The tension between the French and English has been a part of Canadian history since our nation was first established. Particularly in Quebec, there has always been an underlying fear for many francophone Quebecers that their language and culture will eventually be drowned out by the influx of anglophones in their province.
While Quebec is the only French province in Canada, our country is still bilingual, and so there are many residents who speak English either as their first or second language.
With tensions continuing to build in the province throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been some nervousness amongst many English-speaking Quebecers that their right to speak their language would be taken away from them. Due to the recent amendments made to the French language charter and, more specifically, Bill 101, many anglophones in the province feel that their worst fear has come true. But this is only one side of the story, the controversy surrounding this topic is intense, and the division between the two cultures is only getting worse.
The adoption of Bill 96
On May 24th of this year, Bill 96 was officially adopted by the Québec legislature. It was adopted as an update to Québec’s original language law, Bill 101, which was passed back in 1977 by the René Lévesque government.
What has the Bill changed?
The intention of the original language law, Bill 101, was to protect the French language and culture in Quebec. They aimed to reinforce the right of the French residents to speak and receive services in their own language. As well as, to protect Quebec’s french heritage and status as the French province of Canada.
The amendments made by Bill 96 have proven extremely controversial within the province. Especially for English-speaking and international CEGEP students, which has resulted in many of these students forming walkouts and protests.
The frustration from English CEGEP students has resulted from the Bill’s aim to put a new cap on enrolment levels of English-language CEGEP colleges. Making it much more difficult for students to get accepted into these institutions.
Further changes were made for English-language CEGEP colleges, including,
- The introduction of a french-language exam that students must pass in order to graduate.
- The requirement for students to take certain core courses in French
- Unilingual English students now being required to take more courses in French, in order to learn the language
For many francophones, these changes are seen as minor adjustments that in no way infringe upon the rights of the students. The belief is that as an English Quebecer, it is your responsibility to make the effort to learn the official language of the province and promote the French culture.
The Bill’s effect on immigrants and international students
The most controversial topic that has been raised by the Bill is its effects on immigrants and international students moving to the province. Bill 96 has made it so that all new immigrants have six months to learn the French language. After six months, all government services will be provided to them in French only.
The controversy surrounding this topic is due to the fact that many immigrants entering the province only speak a foreign language and perhaps a bit of English. So, they will then have to rely on their knowledge of the English language to learn french. On top of that, they are more than likely moving to the province to find work and will have little time to commit to learning a new language, all within six months.
The opinion of some is that it is more than understandable to expect English-speaking Quebecers to learn French when growing up in a French province. Where they believe the Bill has gone a bit too far is its 6-month requirement placed on immigrants.
While it’s true that there are many other provinces that English-speaking expatriates can immigrate to. We must also consider that many people are not given a choice when trying to give their family a better life.
Can you be against Bill 96 and still for the promotion of French culture?
It’s difficult to say. There are so many divided opinions. Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade has stated that her party is not against the Bill in its entirety but is opposed to certain components. Her belief is that people can be against the Bill and still be for the promotion and protection of the French.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself has stated that he will be closely watching the effects of the new Bill to see how it plays out.
On the flip side, many other government officials and lawyers within the province have continued to reaffirm that all Anglophones in Quebec will continue to have access to healthcare, Cegeps, universities, and hospitals in English.
It’s difficult to predict how the introduction of this new Bill will affect the province of Quebec and its residents in the long term. But it’s safe to say that with the divide between the French and English growing already, there is going to be much more to come.