The national response to Quebec’s French-language preserving Bill 96

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: January 6, 2023

The turn of the calendar to 2023 (January 1) marked exactly seven months since Quebec’s divisive Bill 96 received royal assent and was officially passed into law on June 1, 2022.

This law was designed, in the words of former Quebec language minister Simon Jolin-Barette, “to promote [and] protect the French language.” This is according to a statement he gave to the Montreal Gazette back in May 2022.

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Of the many ways that this law has and will change the lived experience for people in Quebec, one of the most potent is that this law will effectively require all immigrants to learn French in six months (but more on this later) so they can receive government services.

Note: A full breakdown of all areas where Bill 96 will alter language services in Quebec is available here.

Just a couple of months ago, Jolin-Barrette’s sentiment was reinforced by Quebec’s newest language minister, Jean-Francois Roberge, who articulated the following in November.

“I think Bill 96 is necessary. It’s really important to implement Bill 96 [and] it’s not my plan to delay anything.”

Despite the firm stance taken by Quebec’s government officials regarding Bill 96, the national response to this law has been significantly more varied dating back to the months preceding its official assent.

Support exists for Bill 96 among some residents of Quebec

Several reports from the weeks and months following its official passing as law showcase that Bill 96 had sizable support from different civilian groups in Quebec.

For instance, a study published in late June 2022 by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) reported the following results regarding Quebecers’ support for Bill 96. According to a Montreal Gazette story from July, “62% of [all ARI study] respondents who identified themselves as Québec solidaire supporters said they were in favour of the law.”

As the same ARI study was further broken down by a different online source, it was revealed that “Bill 96 currently [carries] 65% support among Quebecers with a high school diploma, and 54% among CEGEP/trade school graduates. [Less than half of] Quebecers (45%) with university degrees support Bill 96. [Meanwhile,] Bill 96 has 43% support among Quebecers [aged] 18-34, 52% among those aged 35-54, and 63% among” people over 55 years of age.

Finally, the Montreal Gazette shared that most people involved with one “association, whose members are French teachers in elementary and high schools in Quebec” also desired to see the rules of Bill 96 expanded to French CEGEPs.

Currently, “only students [with] at least one parent who was educated in Canada in English, or who have themselves been educated mainly in English in Canada, have the right to go to an English-language public school in Quebec. Others, including immigrants, must attend French schools. That rule applies to elementary and high schools but not CEGEPs or universities.”

However, in November 2022, one high-profile member of “Regroupement pour le cégep français” said the following about extending Bill 96’s reach to all CEGEPs around Quebec.

“If 43 CEGEPs out of 44 who have (spoken out on this issue) have come out in favour, it’s because it’s solid,” said Jean-Francois Vallée, indicating some level of added support for the Bill among French teachers in the province.

National onlookers, as well as some locals to Quebec, worry about Bill 96’s long-term impact

On the other hand, several groups — ranging from writers for American news outlets like the Washington Post to actual recent Quebec immigrants— have shared concerns about how this law will impact the public, but especially immigrants, over time.

Washington Post contributor J.J. McCullough, who is based out of British Columbia, noted in an article last May that the law “will see [immigrants] lose their ability to communicate with the province in English after six months.” McCullough also noted that Bill 96 means immigrants will no longer have access to an education in English.

To a similar end, CBC Montreal reporter Verity Stevenson opened her story from May by saying: “groups helping immigrants, migrant workers and refugees in Montreal say their clientele will struggle to have their basic rights respected under Quebec's revamped language law.”

Further reinforcing the flipside of the above-outlined support for Bill 96 are stories like those of Alena Matushina, a 27-year-old Russian native who immigrated to Montreal via China in 2021. Matushina said, plainly, that “the passing of Bill 96 [is making her reconsider] whether or not [she] would be able to build [her] future here.”

In her Maclean’s story, which was published in late May 2022, Matushina added: “it takes years to learn a language. Six months — the amount of time the provincial government will give new immigrants before making them communicate solely in French — is not enough.”

Looking ahead to the future of Bill 96

Evidently, the reaction to Quebec’s Bill 96 has been mixed, which is to be expected. Another thing that should be expected is more reaction to this Bill as Quebec continues its phased roll-out of Bill 96 over the next few years.

In fact, one source outlines that businesses throughout Quebec will see the new impacts of Bill 96 as different sections of the law are enacted progressively until June 2025.

Until then and even beyond that date, it is important that consumers, businesses, and immigrants alike pay close attention to how this law continues to impact everyday life for those living in the province, as changes brought upon by Bill 96 will significantly impact any and all individuals living in Quebec.

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