Quebec adopts Bill 96 to overhaul Charter of French Language

Quebec's majority government held a vote on its language bill and passed the contentious piece of legislation into law.

Parti Québécois, Liberals voted against Bill 96 — for opposing reasons

Quebec's majority government has adopted its contentious language bill overhauling the Charter of the French language, in a vote that lasted only minutes at the National Assembly this afternoon.

Dissent over Bill 96 had escalated in recent weeks with thousands holding protests, denouncing the bill for impeding the rights of anglophones, allophones and Indigenous communities.

The bill is large in scope, limiting the use of English in the courts and public services and imposing tougher language requirements on small businesses and municipalities.

It also caps the number of students who can attend English-language colleges, known as CEGEPs, and increases the number of French courses students at the colleges must take.

Two opposition parties voted against the law. The Parti Québécois said the legislation did not go far enough in protecting the French language in Quebec, while Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade denounced the bill's use of the notwithstanding clause, saying it goes too far.

The notwithstanding clause allows a province to override basic freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Instead of just applying the clause to specific parts of Bill 96, the government applied the clause to the entire bill, making every aspect of the far-reaching law immune to legal challenges based on the charter.

Québec Solidaire voted in favour, despite expressing unease about the clause in the bill which calls on refugees to learn French within six months of arrival, after which they can no longer access services in another language.

Pascal Bérubé, the PQ's language critic, said his party would have preferred to see the law extend the Charter of the French language to CEGEPS, meaning francophones and the children of people who did not attend English school would have to attend CEGEP in French.

Quebec Premier François Legault and Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language, defended the bill in wake of the protests, calling the demonstrators' fears unfounded and saying that Quebecers allowed to study in English will have access to services in their language.

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