Language Laws

Christine Fournier


laws.pngAccess to an education in English through the public system should be a right and not a privilege in Quebec. However, that is all about to change.  A recent development in the National Assembly of Quebec, regarding language of instruction, has lead to the creation of Bill 115. This bill will block access to public English education unless someone has considerable means to pay for entry into the system. Bill 115 should not be received with open arms because it is rather unnecessary and the legislation is confusing, unconstitutional and unfair.

Language Legislation History


The province of Quebec has always been considered a French province. Bill 22 made sure of that. In 1974, French was made the one and only official language used by the provincial government and eventually led to the formation of the Charter of the French Language, also known as Bill 101, three years later (A Look Back at Language Laws). This began Quebec's long, and somewhat oppressive, language legislation. From that point on access to the public English school system became more difficult and the future is even bleaker.


Immigrants and those who received a French education in Quebec or in another province are denied access to English public schools (The Charter of the French Language). But, if a parent meet certain requirements, a child and any of their siblings, could be educated in English. However, some crafty parents found that if they sent their child to an unsubsidized English private school for their first year of elementary school, they could then transfer into the public system by using a loophole created by Bill 101. Since the bill stipulated that a child who received the majority of their elementary education in English would not be forced to transfer to the French public school system (Dougherty, Bill Introduced to Determine Admission to English Schools).

Bill 115 is a piece of legislation that was passed through the National Assembly in October 2010 and is meant to close this backdoor. Originally, Bill 104 was meant to do that by not allowing the children of Francophone and immigrants to attend English schools altogether (EMSB). However, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it was unconstitutional, because it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Quebec was sent back to the drawing board (CBC News). Bill 103 was supposed to be the replacement for Bill 104 but essentially served as a rough draft for Bill 115 since it failed to solve the aspects that were deemed unconstitutional. Bill 115 states that a child must attend an unsubsidized English private school for a minimum of 3 years. An application is then submitted to a review board. A new point system has been put in place and an applicant needs to receive 15 or more points in order to be approved (Macpherson).



Confusion Over Legislation


Several critics have labeled this new system as confusing because it allows the review board members to seemingly add or subtract points somewhat at will and over situations that should carry no weight on a decision to approve or refuse an application, such as what kind of private school the child attends or whether or not a sibling is already in the English public system (Macpherson). Those 15 points can be acquired by spending 3 years in a private school; the point system may work against them.  The point system itself is hard to understanding and as of yet is not readily available to the general public. Because of this parents will have a hard deciphering what conditions apply and whether or not it will make it worth their while to pay for three or more years of private school.



Debatable Constitutionality


Bill 115 attempts to rectify where Bill 104 and 103 failed to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but many still believe that it is unconstitutional (Howarth). This bill, along with several of previous incarnations and predecessors, is discriminatory. The Charter of Rights and Freedom as well as it's Quebec counterpart, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, says that no one should be discriminated against because of language but that is exactly what any language legislation in Quebec does (Department of Justice) (Canadian Legal Information Institute). This is evident in Bill 103. The provincial government was trying to amend the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms so that it would fit the proposed legislation (Dougherty, Quebec Government Pushes through Controversial Language Law).  What other reason would there be to change the charter if the proposed bill was constitutional?



Fairness Questioned


Bill 115 is also unfair for two reasons, it benefits the rich and it does not allow access to English schools for those who really want it. Jean Charest, Quebec's premier, has said that this bill was created to make access near impossible to the English public school system (Branswell). And it will be. The requirements are enough to turn away many people because of their complexity and the uncertainty surrounding whether or not an application will actually be approved. Moreover, is the fact that many parents cannot afford the three years tuition at a private school (Howarth). The Quebec English School Board Association (QESBA) has noted that in many cases, parents rich enough to afford that hefty price tag will likely keep their children in the private system, rather than making the transfer (Howarth).  Essentially this means that the right that grants access English public system must be bough though we are taught that rights are guaranteed and should be free of charge.


One would think that the reason Bill 104 was originally enacted was to prevent a large number of people from benefitting from the loophole in Bill 101, right? No. Taking a look at the statistics will make it that much more apparent that the government is making a mountain out of a mole hill.  There are about a million students in elementary and secondary schools in Quebec (Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport).  The number of students who attend an English-language school is approximately 110, 000 (CNW Group) or 11%. It is estimated that that roughly 500 to 800 children enrolled in English schools using the back door provided by Bill 101 per year (CNW Group). A rather minuscule amount of students, as they represent less than 0.1% of the students enrolled in schools in Quebec.


Passing a law that will affect less than 1% of students is preposterous and rather extreme. This does not constitute a threat to the French language in any way, shape or form. Most Anglophones students can currently enroll in English schools under the legislation provided under Bill 101, so Bill 115 will not affect t hem. Immigrants are made aware of the fact that their children must attend a French school and most do not object, even if their second language was English prior to immigrating (No Dogs or Anglophones).  In fact, most children who attend English schools are usually more bilingual than those who have received a French education. This is also generally true about children who learned English as a second language and then French as a third, having been required to attend a French school (No Dogs or Anglophones). So when you think about it, the legislation is a gross misuse of the government's time and taxpayers dollars.


Then there's the group of parents, both of whom are Francophone, who wish to send their children to English school because they want their children to be bilingual and know that the English being taught in the French public system is far from adequate (Faguy).  While many English schools will offer French as a second language, advanced French course, French immersion or a program that combines French and English instruction, the same cannot be said for French schools. That is not to say that the English public system offers high-quality French course, because it doesn't, though it is superior in quality to the English classes offered by the French system. It is not unusual for a student to graduate from a French school, without having grasped the minimum basics of English (Faguy).



Protecting the French Language


The goal of language legislation in the province of Quebec is too protect the use of French language. Denying access to the miniscule amount of people who want English education is certainly not the appropriate way of achieving that goal. The government, and the French language, would be better served by finding alternatives that do not focus on forcing a sub-par French education on everyone.


Both English and French schools would immensely benefit from a stronger and improved French curriculum.  Not only can students in an English school benefit from receiving a French education that at par with the French system but French students should be offered the same advantage. In a world that is beginning to be highly globalized, speaking more than one language will soon be a necessity rather than luxury. The educational system would be better if it produced students that were proficient in two languages rather than one.


Furthermore, offering French classes, at no cost, would be another way to encourage people to speak French. While there are programs in places to help immigrants learn French, the classes are not offered for free and are open mainly to immigrants. There are plenty of people, who are not immigrants, whom would appreciate the opportunity to improve their French if given the right situation presented itself.


By wanting to protect the French language, the government has been overzealous in their mandate and Bill 115 was created unnecessarily. The lack of clarity in Bill 115 perpetuates confusion for its complexity; interpretation may hinder its application. As well, there is much debate regarding its constitutionality and fairness. Overlooked, are solutions that would serve the purpose much better than current proposed legislation.



Photo Credit : dszpiro



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CBC News. "Quebec gets support in bid to overturn language-law ruling." 27 August 2007. CBC News Ottawa. 12 November 2010 <>.

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Macpherson, Don. "No Threat to the French Language." 21 October 2010. Montreal Gazette. 26 October 2021 <>.

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