Bill 96: Quebec public servants to rely on ‘good faith’ of people seeking service in any language but French

With Quebec’s new law to protect the French language poised to come into effect June 1, the government has sent provincial agencies a list of criteria clients must meet in order to be served in a language other than French.

CBC News has obtained the instructions the ministry responsible for the French language has given to those agencies and institutions on how to apply the law, known as Bill 96.

The law’s wide scope limits the use of English in the courts and by civil servants, and imposes stricter language requirements on small businesses, municipalities and CEGEPs.

Provincial civil servants — including those working for institutions such as the Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec (BanQ) or agencies like the provincial automobile insurance board (SAAQ) — have been told to check if a client meets at least one of the conditions on a ministry list of criteria before offering service in any language other than French.

Services in English, or any language other than French, can only be provided to a client if:

  • The person is eligible to go to an English-language school.
  • The person is Indigenous.
  • The person has a history of communicating with the institution in question in English prior to May 13, 2021.
  • The person receives services outside of Quebec.
  • The person is a new immigrant to Canada who arrived in Quebec within the previous six months and is learning French.

The rules do not apply to municipal agencies.

How exactly civil servants are to determine who meets these criteria on a day-to-day basis is unclear. The ministry has said they will have to rely on clients acting in good faith.

One of the law’s more controversial clauses is the one giving immigrants six months from the time of their arrival to learn French, after which they can no longer access most public services in another language.

“The administration has a duty to act as a leader in order to protect and promote French. It must also use the official language exclusively,” the ministry said in a statement to CBC earlier this week.

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