tongue troopers

Charter of the French Language

The Charter of the French Language (La charte de la langue française, in French), also known as Bill 101 and Loi 101, is a law in the province of Quebec in Canada defining French, the language of the majority of the population, as the only official language of Quebec and framing fundamental language rights of all Quebecers. It is the central legislative piece in Quebec's language policy.

Proposed by Camille Laurin, the Minister of Cultural Development under the first Parti Québécois government of Premier René Lévesque, it was passed by the National Assembly, and granted Royal Assent by Lieutenant Governor Hugues Lapointe on August 26, 1977. The Charter's provisions expanded upon the 1974 Official Language Act (Bill 22), which was enacted under Premier Robert Bourassa's Liberal government to make French the sole official language of Quebec. Prior to 1974, Quebec had no official language and was subject only to the requirements on the use of English and French contained in Article 133 of the British North America Act, 1867.


The preamble of the Charter states that the National Assembly resolved "to make of French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business". It also states that the National Assembly is to pursue this objective "in a spirit of fairness and open-mindedness, respectful of the institutions of the English-speaking community of Québec, and respectful of the ethnic minorities, whose valuable contribution to the development of Québec it readily acknowledges". In addition, it states that the National Assembly of Quebec recognizes "the right of the Amerinds and the Inuit of Québec, the first inhabitants of this land, to preserve and develop their original language and culture".


The Charter of the French language consists of six titles and two schedules.

The nine chapters of Title I, pertaining to the status of the French language, declare French the sole official language (chapter I), define the fundamental language rights of persons (chapter II), and defines the status of French in the legislature and the courts (chapter III), the civil administration (chapter IV), the semipublic agencies (chapter V), labour relations (VI), commerce and business (VII), and language of instruction (VIII).

The five chapters of Title II, pertain to linguistic officialization, toponymy, and the francization of the civil service and enterprises.

Title III establishes the Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec Office of the French language), defines its mission, powers, and organization.

Title IV establishes the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (Superior Council of the French language).

Title V and VI define penal provisions and sanctions and transitional and miscellaneous provisions.

Status of the French language

To achieve the goal of making French the "normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business" and ensure the respect of Quebecers' language rights, the Charter contains a number of key provisions and various regulations.

Official language

In the very first article of the Charter, French is declared the official language of Quebec.

The French language became the sole official language of Quebec with the adoption of the Official Language Act in 1974.

Fundamental language rights

The fundamental language rights of every person in Quebec are:

  1. The right to have the civil administration, the health services and social services, the public utility enterprises, the professional corporations, the associations of employees and all enterprises doing business in Quebec communicate with him in French. (article 2)
  2. The right to speak French in deliberative assemblies. (article 3)
  3. The right of workers to carry on their activities in French. (article 4)
  4. The right of consumers to be informed and served in French. (article 5)
  5. The right of persons eligible for instruction in Quebec to receive that instruction in French. (article 6)

Legislature and courts

French is declared the language of the legislature and the courts in Quebec. Section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867 however requires that bills be printed, published, passed and assented to in French and in English in the Parliament of Canada and Quebec.

French or English may be used by any person before the courts of Quebec. Parties may request the translation in French or English of the judgements by the courts or decisions rendered by "body discharging quasi judicial functions".

The French text prevails over the English one in case of discrepancy for any regulation to which section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867 does not apply.

The first version of the Charter of the French language provided that bills be enacted only in French. In 1979, the related provisions (article 7 to 13) were rendered inoperative by a ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in Attorney General of Quebec v. Blaikie. Quebec responded by re-enacting the Charter of the French language in French and English, however leaving articles 7 to 13 intact.

In 1993, the Charter's provisions related to the language of legislature and the court were made compliant with the Supreme Court ruling.

Civil administration

The government departments, agencies are designated by their French name alone, all administrative documents are drafted and published in the official language. Are conducted in the official language, all communications by the administration with other governments and legal persons, between departments and internally inside departments.

Knowledge of the official language appropriate to the office being applied for is required.

A non-official language may be used on signs and posters of the administration for health or public safety reasons.

Semipublic agencies

Public utilities and professional orders must provide service in the official language and use it for their internal and general communications. Professional orders may issue permits only to persons who have a knowledge of the official language appropriate to the practice of their profession.

Labour relations

10 articles of the charter provide for the general goal of making French the language of labour relations.

Employers are to draw up written communications to their staff and publish job offers or promotions in the official language.

An employer cannot dismiss, lay off, demote or transfer a staff member on the sole account of his being exclusively French-speaking or of possessing insufficient knowledge of a non-official language, or because that member demanded the respect of his right to work in French. Knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French is prohibited, unless the nature of the duties require it.

The Commission des relations du travail (Commission of Labour Relations) arbiters in case of disagreement over the necessity of knowing a non-official language to perform a given work. The burden of the proof is on the employer.

Commerce and business

Product labels, their instructions, manuals, warranty certificates as well as restaurant menus and wine lists must be in the official language. Other languages may be used, provided the official language has greater prominence.

Must also be in the official language, catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories and other such publications, computer software.

Signs and posters must be in the official language and they may also be in another language provided the official language be markedly predominant.

A number of exceptions to the general rules for commercial products, signs, and advertising:

  • Products destined exclusively for export;
  • Educational products for the teaching of a language other than French;
  • Cultural and ideological companies, groups, signs, and literature (including non-French broadcasters, newspapers, etc.);
  • Companies (usually multinational corporations) that sign an agreement with the OQLF permitting an exemption from the francization requirement. (However, the rules regarding the right of a worker to work in French still apply.)

Language of instruction

The language of instruction from kindergarten to secondary school is French. (The instruction language is the language in which the classes are taught. Learning of English as a second language is mandatory for all children attending French school beginning in elementary school.)

Articles 87, 88 and 89 provide for the use of Amerindic languages and Inuktitut as language of instruction. The rate of introduction of French and English as languages of instruction is left to school committees and parents' committees.

At the request of parents, the following may receive instruction in English:

1) a child whose father or mother is a Canadian citizen and received elementary instruction in English in Canada, provided that that instruction constitutes the major part of the elementary instruction he or she received in Canada;

2) a child whose father or mother is a Canadian citizen and who has received or is receiving elementary or secondary instruction in English in Canada, and the brothers and sisters of that child, provided that that instruction constitutes the major part of the elementary or secondary instruction received by the child in Canada;

3) a child whose father and mother are not Canadian citizens, but whose father or mother received elementary instruction in English in Québec, provided that that instruction constitutes the major part of the elementary instruction he or she received in Québec;

4) a child who, in his last year in school in Québec before 26 August 1977, was receiving instruction in English in a public kindergarten class or in an elementary or secondary school, and the brothers and sisters of that child;

5) a child whose father or mother was residing in Québec on 26 August 1977 and had received elementary instruction in English outside Québec, provided that that instruction constitutes the major part of the elementary instruction he or she received outside Québec.

The original 1977 Charter provided for the English instruction not on the basis of a parent having received his or her instruction in English in Canada, but in Quebec only. This came to be amended following the adoption of the Constitution Act 1982, which defined the educational right of French and English minorities in all provinces under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Office québécois de la langue française

The Office québécois de la langue française is the commission responsible for conducting the policy pertaining to linguistic officialization, toponymy and francization of civil administration and enterprises. It also has the mission of "monitoring the linguistic situation in Québec", promoting the official language, and conducting research. In 2005-2006, the budget of the OQLF was of $18.5 million CAD.

Conseil supérieur de la langue française

The Conseil supérieur de la langue française (Superior Council of the French language) is an advisory council whose mission is "to advise the minister responsible for the application of the Charter of the French language on any question relative to the French language in Quebec. It works in close collaboration with equivalent bodies in France, Belgium and Switzerland.

Legal dispute

Language in Canada is defined federally by the Official Languages Act since 1969 and is part of the Canadian Constitution since 1982. Parts of the Charter of the French language have been amended in response to rulings by Quebec Courts which were upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Before 1982, the only part of the Charter of the French language that could be challenged constitutionally was that of the language of legislation and the courts. It was challenged in 1979 by Peter Blaikie, Roland Durand and Yoine Goldstein (Attorney General of Quebec v. Blaikie).

In 1982, the patriation of the Canadian constitution occurred as the British Parliament passed the Canada Act 1982. This act enacted the Constitution Act, 1982 for Canada (including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) whose section 23 introduced the notion of "minority language education rights". This novelty opened another door to a constitutional dispute of Quebec's Charter of the French Language.

Alliance Quebec, an Anglophone rights lobby group was founded in May 1982. It is through this civil association that various anglophone lawyers challenged the constitutionality of Quebec's territorial language policy.

Opposition and Support

The Charter of the French Language, though popular among a majority of Quebecers, has been poorly received by many anglophones and allophones.

Political opposition to the Charter and earlier language laws have been ineffective because a large majority of Quebecers support the law. Due to such support, both the Parti Québécois and Quebec Liberal Party have upheld the legislation. After Bourassa passed the Official Language Act, opponents turned their support to the Union Nationale in the 1976 election, but despite that short resurgence of support, the party collapsed in the subsequent election. Court challenges have been more successful, many of the key provisions of the initial language legislation having been rewritten to comply with rulings.

Despite compliance of the Charter with the Canadian constitution since 1993, opposition to the Charter and the government body enforcing it has continued.

The enforcers of the Charter were widely derided in English media as the "language police" or "tongue troopers". The fact that they are able to levy fines of up to seven thousand dollars per offence to punish legal persons who contravene the Charter's provisions or regulations has been criticized. The charter is claimed by opponents to have caused up to 244,000 people to emigrate from Quebec to other provinces since the 1970s. Because many anglophones relocated outside of the province, several English-language schools in Montreal closed their doors after the introduction of the Charter in the 1970s. Many companies most notably Royal Bank and Bank of Montreal (which even considered removing "Montreal" from its name), are said to have moved their major operations to Toronto as a consequence of the adoption of this law. Many have alleged that the Charter has hindered Montreal's economy.

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) provides several warnings before resorting to any legal sanctions. Alleged abuse of its power has led to charges of racism and harassment being levelled against them by members of minority groups. The OQLF urged stores to remove imported kosher goods that did not meet labelling requirements, an action perceived in the Jewish community as an unfair targeting that coincided with a high-profile case against the well-known delicatessen, Schwartz's. In 2002, media reported cases of harassment of allophone merchants who refuse to speak French.

The 2004 annual report of the OQLF was criticized by a columnist of The Gazette who complained of a "totalitarian mindset in the bureaucracy". The columnist believed the report contained sections describing the continued prevalence of languages other than French in two-thirds of Montreal's households as an "alarming" trend, because it would present a formidable challenge to francophones in Montreal. In reality, the report judged alarming the fact that adoption of English as home language by allophones grew faster than the adoption of French as home language.

The use of the notwithstanding clause in the 1990s to circumvent the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms also drew a Francophobic reaction in other Canadian provinces; the syndrome de Sault Ste. Marie was a series of symbolic but divisive resolutions by some municipalities outside Quebec declaring their towns unilingually English in protest of this supposed infringement on the rights embodied in the charter.

Aside from the allegation of civil rights infringement, the Charter has faced legal challenges because the restricted education opportunities have hindered many unilingual anglophones' employment. Although the Charter made French the official language of government and civil administration, the same cannot be said of the private sector. The francization programs for businesses were largely successful in the 1980s; however, the 1990s saw the return of bilingualism and the exclusive usage of English in a number of new economic sectors that did not exist in Quebec before, for example the hi-tech industry. Despite nearly 30 years of the Charter, it has never been applied as rigorously as intended. English is still often made a requirement by employers in Montreal and, to a lesser extent, in Gatineau and Quebec City. Montreal's workforce is largely bilingual (French and English), unlike that of Toronto where the francophone minority is smaller.

On November 14, 1988 the political and human rights watchdog organization Freedom House published “The Doctrine of ‘Preponderance of Blood’ in South Africa, the Soviet Union and Quebec” in its journal Exchange. Introduced by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, the essay compared the language of instruction provisions of Bill 101 with South African apartheid statutes and jurisprudence. It should be noted, however, that the Supreme Court of Canada refused the discrimination-based-on-ancestry argument under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in Gosselin (Tutor of) v. Quebec (Attorney General) on the grounds that it conflicted with section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The criteria used by Quebec to determine if parents are entitled to have their children instructed in the language of the minority are the same as those found under section 23 of the Canadian Charter.

Influence abroad

The 2001 report of the Estates-General on the Situation and Future of the French Language in Quebec identified the negative perception of Québec's language policy in the rest of Canada and the United States as a problem to solve. It stated:

In Canada and abroad, the linguistic policy of Québec is too often negatively perceived. The business community and the media in particular know it very little. For their part, the Americans remain opposed to a legislation that appears to them to reduce individual liberties and limit the use of English. For them, language and culture are two separate elements, they do not see how the protection of Québec culture also includes the protection of the French language, even though 35 American States have adopted declarations proclaiming English the official language. Thus, must be developed the perception that Québec culture is a part of the North-American heritage and that it is necessary to preserve it. It is also important to correct the erroneous perceptions regarding the Québec language policy and its application.

Recommendation 147 of the report suggested the creation of an institutional television and radio campaign targeting both Quebec citizens and certain publics abroad to inform on the facts of the situation of French in North America and the language policy of Québec. Recommendation 148 suggested the creation of a watch to correct the errors made "both in good faith and bad faith" in the media.

As part of the effort to correct the errors of perception, the OQLF conducted an inquiry on the influence of Québec's language policy abroad in countries where the fragility of certain languages prompted the use of legislative measures. It requested and published the opinions of various experts from Catalonia, Israel, the United States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Wales, Australia and Flanders in a special issue of the OQLF's Revue d'aménagement linguistique celebrating the 25th anniversary of Québec's Charter of the French language in 2002.

Jonas Žilinskas, lecturer at University of Šiauliai, in Lithuania described the state of the Lithuanian language after a prolonged Russian rule over his country:

One proclaimed a policy of bilingualism which was expressed only by the obligation made to Lithuanians to learn Russian while Russians did not bother to learn Lithuanian. If the written Lithuanian language were more or less protected by writers through newspapers and publishers, the spoken Lithuanian language was degraded. Often, in the institutions, it was only a language of oral communication, the greatest part of technical documentation and correspondence being written in Russian.

This "false bilingualism" was followed by the Sąjūdis movement during which the people of Lithuania declared their language the sole official language and began working on a language policy modeled on the experience of Quebec.

Mart Rannut, vice-dean of research at the Department of philology of the University of Tallinn, in Estonia, recalled the influence of Quebec's expertise in the field of linguistic human rights and language planning which helped countries that have gained independence from the former Soviet union and concluded that "Bill 101 indirectly touched one sixth of the planet.

Ina Druviete, at the time dean of the department of sociolinguistics at the Linguistic Institute of Latvia, noted the similarities between the language policies in all three Baltic States and that of Quebec. All policies aiming "to prevent language shifts and to modify the hierarchy of languages in the public life. The principal sectors of intervention were the language used in the government agencies and the administration, in meetings and office spaces in particular, in corporate names, information and education. The principle of territorial linguistic rights was instituted.

In Wales, the language policy of Quebec had a great influence, but could not be implemented as it was in the Baltic States because Welsh speakers do not form a majority in this constituent country of the United Kingdom. According to Colin H. Williams, professor and researcher at the Welsh Department of Cardiff University particular lessons followed in Wales which stem from the experience of Quebec are:

  • The acquisition of detailed census data and explanatory facts aiming at clarifying the public discussion
  • The linguistic legislation (official language status, right to speak Welsh before the court, Welsh Language Board responsible to administer the law)
  • The iconography of the linguistic landscape
  • The progress in the teaching of the Welsh language

In Israel, while the "penetration of English in the sociolinguistic organization of the country" is perceived, according to Bernard Spolsky, professor emeritus of English at the Bar-Ilan University, as a threat to Hebrew, the language policy has thus far only influenced linguists and some politicians. He writes:

Periodically, Israeli politicians present bills to proclaim Hebrew the sole official language of the country. Presently, Hebrew shares this title with Arabic only, because a measure was taken soon after the foundation of the State, in 1948, to modify the British policy, which imposed three languages, and gave up English. The last attempt at giving a judicial protection to Hebrew goes back to December 2000: two bills were then rejected.

In Catalonia, according to Miquel Reniu i Tresserras, president of the Comissió de Lectorats and former chief executive officer of the Catalan language policy, Quebec's legislation has constituted a "reference model" and the OQLF and the equivalent body in Catalonia are in close collaboration.

In the United States, Joshua A. Fishman, professor emeritus at Yeshiva University, in New York observes that whatever the subject "all ours sources, greater public to academic, all contribute to give a negative impression concerning Quebec.

See also



Law and regulations


  • L'Office québécois de la langue française. (1997-2007) All reports of the OQLF and CSL from 1997 to 2007 (in French)
  • Commission d'enquête sur la situation de la langue française et sur les droits linguistiques au Québec (1973). The Position of the French language in Québec: Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Position of the French Language and on Language Rights in Québec, Québec: Editeur officiel du Québec



  • John R. Edwards ed., (1998). Language in Canada, Cambridge University Press, 504 pages (online excerpt)
  • Richard Y. Bourhis ed., (1984). Conflict and language planning in Quebec, Clevedon, Avon, England: Multilingual Matters, 304 p. (online excerpt)

External links

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