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As key provisions of the language law come into effect, English speakers in Quebec prepare themselves. | Breaking:


In Lennoxville, a former municipality of Sherbrooke in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, there is no official celebration of Canada Day or Fête Nationale, also known as St-Jean-Baptiste Day.

Decades ago, when the bilingual enclave was still a city, it came up with an alternative to avoid alienating French or English speakers: Friendship Day, or Journée de l’amitie.

Most services in Lennoxville, a borough of Sherbrooke, are offered in both French and English. (Guylaine Charette/Radio Canada)

On the second Saturday of almost every June, virtually everything in the community of 5,500 people revolves around its own holiday. There are fireworks and a parade (though not since the pandemic), and a craft fair in the French-language primary school, which is opposite its English-language counterpart.

For Borough Chair Claude Charron, Lennoxville has achieved a kind of enviable and unspoken harmony between its French- and English-speaking inhabitants, who are practically equal in proportion. Charron recently obtained bilingual status for Lennoxville under Bill 96, Quebec’s new language law.

“There is a lot of respect. Everyone is doing their best,” said Charron. “It happens naturally. It’s not something that’s forced.”

Key provisions of the new law take effect across the province on Thursday, provisions that could have tangible impacts on people’s daily lives by making it more difficult to receive services in English, and have fueled fears in English-speaking and bilingual communities that a delicate balance they have achieved may be shaken.

“The next six months or a year will be critical because Bill 96 will now become much more concrete than before,” said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal and the director of the school’s Institute for the School. Study of Canada.

Quebec Minister of Immigration, Christine Frechette, left, presents new programs on immigration at a news conference Thursday, May 25, 2023, at the Legislature in Quebec City.  Quebec Premier Francois Legault, center, and Quebec Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and Canadian Francophonie Jean-Francois Roberge look on.
Quebec Minister of Immigration, Christine Frechette, left, presents new programs on immigration at a news conference Thursday, May 25, 2023, at the Legislature in Quebec City. Quebec Premier François Legault, center, and Quebec Minister responsible for Canadian relations and Canadian Francophonie Jean-Francois Roberge look on. (Karoline Boucher/The Canadian Press)

The provisions require employees of most front-facing government agencies to serve customers in French unless those customers have acquired English-language rights, are indigenous or are new immigrants who have arrived in the province in the past six months. The acquired rights include that an English speaker may be taught in English because of their family’s English language history.

Are acquired rights sufficient?

Many breathed a sigh of relief when Jean-François Roberge, the minister responsible for the French language, said government employees would count on the “good faith” of people seeking services in a language other than French, rather than one kind of card or map to demand. proof of acquired rights.

But others worry that the burden placed on individual workers could create tensions.

“Without proper training and supervision, this can lead to conflict on the front lines, for example an overzealous employee or a disgruntled customer,” said Eva Ludvig, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network.

“It’s vague,” she added.

Antoine Aylwin, a privacy attorney at the Montreal firm Fasken, is optimistic that people will come to a mutual understanding.

“People will make mistakes. People will ask for rights they don’t have and will get frustrated. But in general, if people can put a little water in their wine, then the biggest turmoil is behind us and not before us.” Aylwin said, referring to the uproar the law caused while it was being debated in the National Assembly last year, particularly due to its invocation of the notwithstanding clause to help protect it from constitutional challenges.

French-speaking employees count

A man is standing in an outdoor market wearing a yellow cap, a blue shirt and a backpack.
Alex Winnicki co-owns the Satay Brothers restaurant in Montreal’s Saint-Henri neighborhood with his brother Mat. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

Another part of the law coming into effect, which has generated some controversy over the past month, is that companies with between five and 49 people must disclose the number of employees who do not speak fluent French. The proportion of French speakers will have to be publicly stated in the province’s commercial register.

Alex Winnicki, who co-owns a Singaporean street food restaurant in Montreal’s Saint-Henri neighborhood called Satay Brothers, said while the rule represents yet another task for businesses amid Quebec’s famous bureaucratic systems, it is also symbolic feels.

“I think the whole policy is for the government to please the people who put them in power and it’s a bull’s-eye for Montreal, particularly because Montreal has a large English-speaking population, but I think Not that it will really help in the long run.” run,” said Winnicki, who was born to a Singaporean mother and a Polish father, and was educated in French.

He owns the resto with his brother Mat and says all their employees speak French. Winnicki joked that their restaurant’s internal communications were all in Polish.

“It’s just more paperwork, another stick in the wheel of owning a company in Quebec. And possibly one of our fears is that it will make hiring more difficult,” Winnicki said, nodding to the stipulation that new immigrants need to learn French. within six months.

French Language Proficiency for International Students

A woman speaks to another woman at a kiosk and holds a bag with the Quebec government logo.
Diana Oluvera attends an employment conference in Montreal for new immigrants to Quebec. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

In Montreal, Diana Oluvera, an international business management student at LaSalle College, originally from Mexico City, attended a job fair for new immigrants on Wednesday.

Oluvera said that while her goal was to live in Quebec, she wanted to compare the job opportunities here with others in Ontario, in case she doesn’t meet the new French language proficiency requirement at the end of her program.

“It’s not easy, at least for me, to learn French so quickly,” Oluvera said, adding that she had put her name on a waiting list for French courses, but places are limited given the shortage of teachers.

Under a draft regulation put forward by the government this month, international students enrolled in one-year intensive programs, known as AECs, must have some French language proficiency before graduating. However, it is unclear when and if the regulation will enter into force.

“If I don’t pass the French level (in time), I’ll have to move to Ontario,” Oluvera said.

Other aspects of the law that will take effect Thursday include that entry contracts, such as signing up for a new cell phone or a gym membership, must be in French, as well as a new platform for signing up to learn French called Francisation Québec that is launched.

There are also concerns among English speakers that, despite government assurances, they could struggle to access health services.

A clause in the law says it does not change the part of the Quebec health care law that establishes health and social services in English for “English-speaking persons.” There are also designated institutions that must provide services in English.

While there is plenty of speculation about the impact of the law on people’s lives – and social cohesion in the province – Béland says this will finally be put to the test starting today.

“The proof is in the pudding, right? So the rubber hits the road and that’s what we call policy implementation,” he said.

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