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The Charter of the French Language, revisited

A recent Journal de Montréal report has reignited the evergreen debate about the use of English in Quebec’s businesses. Even more than that, it has reignited the flood of articles crying shame upon those whose primary language isn’t French, and has even initiated talks in the provincial parliament to bring reforms to the controversial Bill 101.

This report, aimed at exposing how prevalent English is in the city’s establishments, stated that one out of every two businesses don’t greet customers in French, and some even have workers who are unable to speak it. This conclusion, of course, fails to note that the downtown area’s high concentration of immigrants, tourists, and international students have heavily skewed their results.

Don’t get me wrong — contrary to many who attend anglophone universities, I don’t disagree with the concept of imposing the teaching of French on those who grew up here. I’m not totally opposed to the idea of preserving a part of our culture that makes us stand out from the rest of the country. Learning French is incredibly useful, and I find myself lucky that I was raised in a country that promotes multilingualism in this way.

Further than that, I don’t think English should become an official language of our province. We have built a culture around our language, which still represents a core part of our heritage — and I’m saying this even though both my parents are immigrants. To me, Quebec wouldn’t be Quebec without the dominance of French.

This being said, the war between languages can still be quite problematic in some aspects. I’ve conveniently compiled some definitions of commonly used terms to help you navigate all the articles you may come across when reading up on this debate.

Loi 101


Also known as Charte de la langue française, this legislation asserts French as Quebec’s sole official language. Its articles outline specific rules, such as:

  • the use of French on product labels, packaging, and instructions manuals (Article 51);
  • the use of French on advertisements, public signs, coupons, receipts, and job application forms (Articles 57 and 58);
  • the requirement of sending children to primarily francophone schools, with the exception of those who have at least one parent who is a Canadian citizen and who has received most of their education in English (Article 73).

Many articles of this bill have been challenged on grounds of xenophobia and racism. Not only has it been widely used to assimilate children from ethnic backgrounds and discourage them from speaking their parents’ mother tongue, some consider it to create a lot of division among newly arrived immigrants.

Office québécois de la langue française


Provincial organization that aims to enforce the use of French as the official language in Quebec. Over the past year, it has processed 3665 complaints relating to the observance of Bill 101, and whose inspectors ensure the proper punishment of offenders, such as a small bakery owner who used the word ‘espresso’ and a family restaurant named Kitchen 73, which contains an English word.



Greeting used by many service workers to ensure the representation of both languages in their workplace. Also the root of a continuous debate about the prioritization of French in businesses that has caused many to support making English greetings illegal in the province, a decision which was ruled out in favour of public awareness campaigns.

I hope these definitions will help as you scroll through the Journal’s home page and find yourself impressed with their pro-Charte rhetoric. Though important, Quebec nationalism isn’t as ideal as they make it out to be.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Student Life

The bigger picture of “Bonjour, Hi”

Panelists discuss the importance of preserving French in Quebec and how to do it

“This is very Montreal, braving a snowstorm to come talk about language,” said the panel mediator, CBC web journalist Jonathan Montpetit to the crowd of attendees.

Indeed, Montrealers powered through the storm on the evening of Tuesday, Mar. 14 to attend the School of Community and Public Affairs (SCPA) panel on the changing landscape of language in Montreal.

The panel featured Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson of Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), Catherine Leclerc, McGill professor from the department of French language and literature, and Ariane Cayer, the former president of the Conseil National des jeunes du Parti Québécois.

The panelists discussed Montreal’s identity in terms of language, and ways the French language could be further protected in the province and across the country.

Nadeau-Dubois described Montreal as the “North American capital of the French.” He said, while the anglophone community has a historical and future role in contributing to the city’s culture and politics, Montreal’s culture is first and foremost francophone. Nadeau-Dubois was involved in the 2012 Maple Spring student protests, and is now entering politics, running for Québec Solidaire for the Gouin riding.

Leclerc, whose thesis focused on plurilingualism in literature in Canada, said while there are perceivable tensions between anglophones and francophones in Montreal, having coexisting languages “has a potential for incredible creation. Montreal is one of the rare places where you see reciprocity between these linguistic exchanges.” She views the two languages as complementary rather than battling each other.

Attendees braved the Tuesday storm to take part in a panel on language tensions in Montreal, and French preservation in the city and in Quebec. Photo by Alex Hutchins

Nadeau-Dubois argued that, at the individual level, speaking and mixing many languages is an advantage. Not only does it open more opportunities in the workplace, but it will also open up the individual to more cultures, he added. On the other hand, he said, at an institutional level, it is important to use one language to unify the institution for democratic reasons. Democracy is not simply about following the same laws—it also deals with the “sharing of a common public space and a common language,” said Nadeau-Dubois.

Leclerc argued that a language dies when faced with two elements. The first element is when it is only spoken in private realms. The second element is when people refrain from using a language because they don’t believe it’s being used properly. Leclerc argued as long as public institutions function in the language that needs to be preserved, there is no real threat of losing that language.

Nadeau-Dubois said a common misconception about French Quebecers fighting to promote their language and culture is that they are the only ones fighting that battle. He said a large number of cultures around the world are facing the same battle, that are also “in a position of vulnerability vis-à-vis the American culture.”

The panelists also explored the tough labour market in Quebec for non-bilingual residents. Cayer and Nadeau-Dubois agreed when it comes to the international labour market, speaking English is easier. But, “in Montreal, the language between an employer and an employee is French,” said Cayer.

Nadeau-Dubois and Cayer said francization, the process of integrating newcomers into Quebec by teaching them French and about Quebec’s culture, should be more accessible and accommodating, as a means of integrating immigrants into Quebec’s labour market.

The panelists also discussed the controversial Bill 101, also known as the Charter of the French Language. The bill, whose goal is to promote French culture and language, made French Quebec’s official language 40 years ago. Students must attend elementary and secondary school in French, unless at least one parent completed their education in English. When it was first introduced, the bill was controversial. Leclerc argued “it’s still referred to as Bill 101, not law 101 … It shows that, if it was authoritarian in intention, it never succeeded at being authoritarian, and to me that is not a problem. It works probably better not being authoritarian, but being simply the rebalancing of powers.”

“In the context of cultural pluralism, the use of a common language is of essence. Globalization does not make the bill obsolete. In fact, I think it makes it more pertinent than ever,” said Nadeau-Dubois, commenting on the usefulness of the bill today.

Cayer said federal law should further protect the language rights of francophones because, while francophones are the majority in Quebec, they are a minority in the rest of Canada. She suggested making Bill 101 quasi-constitutional to give it more significance.

While Montreal has come a long way in accepting Bill 101 and protecting minority languages, the panelists agreed there is still a lot of work to be done. They said Bill 101, today, is a safeguard against a global culture and new platforms like social media. Fighting to protect a minority culture is not a weakness Leclerc concluded. Rather, it translates into a “specific way of life and solidarity.”

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