For many years, Quebecers have heard about the Charter of the French Language, sometimes called Bill 101. But not everyone knows exactly what rights and obligations this law creates or how it impacts society.
In this article, Éducaloi explains some of the main parts of this law.
What is the Charter of the French Language?
The Charter of the French Language is a law that was adopted by the Quebec government in 1977. The goal of the law is to preserve the quality and status of the French language. The Charter makes French the province’s official language when it comes to the government, education, commerce and the workplace.
Can I insist on being served in French in a store?
Yes. The Charter says that consumers have the right to be informed and served in French in Quebec.
Do decisions of Quebec courts have to be in French?
No, these decisions – called “judgments” – do not have to be in French.
However, if a decision is in English, you have a right to a French translation free of charge. Also, if the decision is in French, you have a right to an English translation.
See our article Language Rights in Court in Quebec for more information.
What are the rules regarding signs?
The general rule is that public signs and commercial advertising must be in French. Another language can also appear as long as the French is clearly predominant.
However, in certain situations, signs and advertising can be exclusively in a language other than French. This might be the case, for example, for signs announcing a conference aimed at a specific or limited group.
There are also situations in which French does not have to be predominant. For example, a public sign regarding public health or safety can be in both French and another language, provided that the French is equally as prominent as the other language.
Finally, the Charter of the French Language says that the government can decide that, in some situations, public signs and commercial advertising must be in French only.
What are the rules on access to English schools in Quebec?
The restrictions on access explained here apply to kindergarten, elementary and high schools.
The restrictions do not apply to colleges and universities, or to private schools that do not accept government subsidies.
As a general rule, only these children can attend an English school in Quebec:
- a child has a parent who is a Canadian citizen and the parent received most of his or her elementary schooling in English in Canada
- a child has a parent who is a Canadian citizen and the child received most of his or her elementary or secondary schooling in English in Canada
- brothers and sisters of a child mentioned above
- a child whose mother or father attended school in Quebec after August 26, 1977 and this parent could have been declared eligible for English school at that time
There are several exceptions to these rules. For example, children living in Quebec temporarily, children with learning disabilities and children experiencing serious family or humanitarian situations can ask to attend English school even if they would not normally qualify.
The rules are also different for schools where the language of instruction is an Indigenous language.
To enrol a child in an English school, the parent or legal guardian of the child must file an application with the school board or private school where the child wants to attend school.
See our article Access to English Schools in Quebec for more information.
To find out more about the eligibility rules and applications, check the website of the Quebec ministry of education.
Is there a complaint process for rules under the Charter of the French Language?
An agency called the Office québécois de la langue française is responsible for enforcing the Charter of the French Language. Complaints must be filed with the Office.
If the Office decides that the complaint is valid, it can order the person who has not respected the law to correct the situation. If the situation is not corrected, this person might have to pay a fine.
What is the role of the Office québécois de la langue française?
The Office québécois de la langue française has a leading role regarding linguistic terminology, among other things. It makes sure that French is the main language of work, business and government. It is also responsible for enforcing the Charter of the French Language.
More specifically, the Office does the following:
- handles complaints about rules under the Charter. If the Office finds that a rule has not been followed, it can order the person involved to respect the Charter by fixing the situation
- helps businesses respect the rules on French in the workplace
- creates language tools such as a the Grand dictionnaire terminologique, a free dictionary available on the Web (interface in French only)
- publishes reference book on the French language
- manages special libraries
- offers a telephone consultation service for specific language questions
- tests the language abilities of professionals required by law to have a knowledge of French