On December 5, 2012, the Quebec government tabled Bill 14, An Act to amend the Charter of the French language, the [Quebec] Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other legislative provisions to improve yet again the eminence of the French language in Quebec. The Bill focuses on the enhanced use of French at work, in schools, and when transacting business to prevent the decline of its use in Quebec. The Bill also contains measures to ensure an improved integration of immigrants in Quebec by providing better access to learn the French language and the culture.
In support of the Bill, Diane De Courcy, the minister responsible for the Charter of the French language, stated,
Since the creation of the Charter of the French language 35 years ago, Quebec has changed profoundly. The Charter should be modernized to reflect these changes. In a context where the presence of English is increasing in the Quebec environment not only on the island of Montreal but also in the suburbs and area, it is our duty to ensure the vitality and sustainability French."
The preamble of the Charter of the French language makes it clear that everyone has the right to live and work using the French language, and that it is the official language of Quebec in government, law, work, education, commerce and business. This preamble is now elaborated to acknowledge that
a common language constitutes a strong vector for social cohesion in a diversified society, conducive to developing that society and maintaining harmonious relations among its various components."
It also affirms that the French language constitutes the foundation of Québec’s identity and of a distinct culture that is open to the world.
The Bill works to better integrate newcomers to Quebec and speakers of French as a second language by replacing the term “the ethnic minorities” with “cultural communities”.
Much of the proposed measures in Bill 14 are already in place or implicit, but are now being inserted or clarified into law. Below are highlights of the proposed changes in various sectors of Quebec society found in Bill 14.
Language of the government
- The Government, its departments, agencies, municipalities, schools, health facilities, and social services must set the standard by making French the chosen and everyday language of communications; ensuring the promotion of opportunities for all those who wish to live in French; and making French the language of public use.
- The Government may require municipalities to adopt a language policy stating that French is the official language, the language of public use, and an essential tool for social cohesion. The government will give itself the right to revoke a municipality's bilingual status if they feel that it is no longer required.
Language of business and commerce
- Businesses must respect a consumer's right to be informed and served in French, taking all necessary measures (adequate staffing, documentation in French) to enable and enforce this right.
- Require companies to take reasonable steps to hire and maintain employees able to adequately provide information and services to French speaking consumers.
- Companies that distribute brochures, catalogues or other documents to their customers must provide their availability in sufficient numbers in French.
French in the workplace
- Currently, Quebec law requires companies with more than 50 employees to use French in the workplace and obtain a government certificate showing that they have met all French-language requirements under the Charter. Companies with more than 100 employees must in addition, set up committees to oversee the use of French in the workplace. Smaller companies with fewer than 50 employees are less strictly regulated by law, but are encouraged to use French in the workplace. The Bill proposes to extend the obligation imposed on workplace with 50 or more employees to companies with 26 to 49 employees. As a result, an employer with more than 26 employees will be responsible for drafting in French communications that he or she addresses to his or her staff, and in particular when these communications concern the operation of the business and the conditions of employment including workplace policies and procedures and training. Written communications must be in French when they are addressed to personnel, and when they concern, for instance, the operation of the business and/or labour relations.
- The Bill adds that in addition to written communication to staff, job applications, job offers and employment contracts must be written in French, unless the parties have expressed their intention to do otherwise.
- The requirement of the use of French in collective agreements and communications with members will be expanded. Currently, this requirement applies expressly to associations certified under the Labour Code, or associations recognized pursuant to another law.
- Currently in Quebec, section 46 of the Charter of the French language prohibits employers from making the obtaining of an employment or office dependent on knowledge, or a specific level of knowledge, of a language other than French, unless the nature of the duties requires such knowledge. If the latter is the case, the employer can invoke the argument that performance of the duties requires knowledge of a language other than French, but the employer will have the burden of proving that this is true and valid. The Bill proposes to continue prohibiting employers from requiring an employee to know English, unless his task requires it. However, an additional exercise is now required. The employer must thoroughly evaluate the actual linguistic needs relating to that position, and the employer must subsequently review such needs periodically. The evaluation must consider, among other factors, the linguistic skills already required of other personnel members to satisfy the needs of the enterprise. The same prohibition applies for the purposes of hiring, transfers and promotions.
- Expressly provide that a worker is entitled to a workplace that is free from vexatious, discriminatory or harassing acts or behaviour because he or she does not know how to speak, or speaks little of, another language other than French, or claims his or her right to speak and work in French.
- Companies with more than ten workers in its employ must post the government poster in a conspicuous place in the workplace informing workers of their right in the use of French at work.
- Non-unionized workers who claim their right to work in French has been violated may consult and file a complaint with the Commission des Normes du Travail (Quebec's Employment Standard Branch).
- The Bill will allow a company a period of two years to identify and, where appropriate, implement measures of Frenchification applicable to his or her situation.
- Currently companies with more than 100 employees must set up committees to oversee the use of French in the workplace. The Bill will ensure that a company with 100 employees or more may, with the approval of the Office de la Langue Francaise, substitute the committee de francization with another consultation scheme and staff participation.
- Companies will be required to name the person who is responsible for the Frenchification within the company and mechanism for handling complaints..
Language of education
- Anyone studying in English has the right to learn French at a level that will allow him or her to interact in French, to flourish in Quebec, and to participate in its development.
- The teaching of French will be heightened, from preschool to college, in both the francophone and anglophone sector.
- The issuance of a high school and college diploma is conditional on the successful completion of French courses established by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. This means students will need to demonstrate a knowledge of spoken and written French at a level deemed appropriate to function in a French-speaking Quebec society.
- Eligibility for English schools will be subject to restriction for the offspring of parents who have studied French but could have been declared eligible for instruction in English. However, paths or illegally-based schemes that can make a child eligible for English primary and secondary schooling will not be tolerated (i.e., closing a loophole that allows students who aren't otherwise eligible to attend English public schools to do so by first attending a private school.)
- The educational program of daycares will allow children to gradually learn the French language.
- The language requirements for the issuance of a license by a professional order are enhanced.
- The language policy in anglophone colleges will establish the criteria and priorities that can be used for the selection of anglophone speaking students.
Immigration and the French language
- The use of French by new immigrants contributes to the vitality of the French language in Quebec, as well as promotes the involvement of newcomers in the culture. Thus, Quebec should promote Frenchification and the economic, social and cultural integration of immigrants, considering it is a shared responsibility between the immigrant and the host society.
- Anyone who settles in Québec has the right to learn French and to benefit from measures that will introduce and integrate them into the French culture and language.
- The government selects immigrants who have features for a successful integration into Quebec society with a focus on their knowledge of French.
- The Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities will implement a new weighting selection grid for skilled worker that will add value and more in-depth knowledge of French.
Changes to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other laws
The Charter of the French language makes it clear that everyone has the right to live and work in French and that the official language of Quebec in government, law, work, education, commerce and business is French. It is imperative that this right is also ingrained and solidified in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other appropriate laws such as Quebec's Civil Code.
As a result, language will be added to the Charter stating that the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes that: French is the official language of Quebec and is a fundamental element of social cohesion; the rights and freedoms shall be exercised in respect of public order, general welfare and values of Quebec society, including its commitment to democratic principles, the importance of a common language and the right to live and work in French.
It will also clarify that the right provided for any person to receive a free education includes the right to receive it in French.
A provision will specifically be added to the Quebec Charter to recognize that everyone residing in Quebec has the right to live and work in French as provided in the Charter of the French language. Anyone who settles in Québec has the right to learn French and to be received and integrated into Québec society.
Enforcement of the law
The Bill brings some clarification to the mission of the Quebec Office de la Langue Française, making its powers of inspection and investigation clear and current. The Bill designates the minister responsible for language matters, planning, and policy.
While the Bill is being debated in the National Assembly, the government intends to hold public hearings to obtain comments and feedback from the public and interested stakeholders.
French is the official language of Quebec, and one of two official languages in New Brunswick and for the federal realm – the other is English. While this mandate makes clear sense for the province of Quebec, it would be interesting to consider what it might mean to increase the opportunities to live and work in French in other provinces. Most students in Canada must study French in school until grade nine. However, it is also true that after learning some French in school, many Canadians do not have much incentive or opportunity to use French afterward. Would you be interested to see opportunities to learn and to use French with greater prominence in the rest of Canada?
I know I would! I wish when I said I am French Canadian instead of a Quebecer… it really meant something.