Charter of the French Language

From Academic Kids

The Charter of the French Language (also known as Bill 101) is a framework law in the province of Quebec, Canada, defining the linguistic rights of all Quebecers and making French, the language of the majority, the sole official language of Quebec. It is a fundamental law that is a part of Quebec's statutes along with other quasi-constitutional laws such as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information.

Proposed by the Minister of Cultural Development, Camille Laurin, it was enacted by the National Assembly on August 26, 1977 under the first Parti Québécois government of René Lévesque. Many of the Charter's provisions greatly expanded on the 1974 Official Language Act, (Bill 22), which was enacted under a Liberals government to make French the sole official language of Quebec. Prior to 1974, Quebec was the only province of Canada to be thoroughly bilingual (English and French). (Today, the only officially bilingual province is New Brunswick.)



The preamble of the Charter states that French is the official language of Quebec and its Government and 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 is stated that the National Assembly of Québec recognizes the right of the Amerinds and the Inuit of Québec, "to preserve and develop their original language and culture".


Title I defines the status of the French language in the legislature, the courts, the civil administration, the semipublic agencies, labour relations, commerce and business, language of instruction. It also defines French as a fundamental language right of every person in Quebec.

  1. The right of persons to have all government branches, professional corporations, employee associations and enterprises doing business in Quebec communicate with them in French.
  2. The right of persons to speak French in deliberative assemblies.
  3. The right of workers to carry on their activities in French.
  4. The right of consumers to be informed and served in French.
  5. The right of persons eligible for instruction in Québec to receive that instruction in French.

Title II pertains to the linguistic officialization, toponymy and the francization of the civil administration and enterprises.

Title III establishes the Office québécois de la langue française, defines its mission, powers, and organization.

Title IV establishes the Conseil supérieur de la langue française.

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


In order to achieve the goal of making French the normal and everyday language of Quebec, the Charter contains a number of key dispositions and various regulations. The Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec Office of the French language) is the government branch responsible to oversee the application of the Charter.

The Charter makes French the sole official language of communication of the State. This means that the government of Quebec and all its branches communicate primarily in French with its citizens. To this day, French is the de facto language of government and civil administration; however, 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.

One of the Charter's objectives is to increase the knowledge of French among the immigrant population so that it integrates the mainstream society of Quebec. To do so, a disposition stipulates that all children who attend the public school network must do so in French until the post-secondary level. It is however possible to attend non-subsidised private school in any language if the parents choose to. An exception allows for children to attend the English language public schools of Quebec if either one of the parents received his/her education in English in Canada. With this exception to the rule, the constitutional rights of English-speaking minority of Quebec are respected. The original 1977 Charter made it legal only for children whose parent had received his/her education in English in Quebec. This had to be amended following the adoption of the 1982 Constitution of Canada, which defined the educational right of French and English minorities in all provinces.

Another disposition provides for State-funded French courses for immigrants who choose to reside in Quebec. This measure is quite popular with newcomers; however, it has been thus far inadequately funded by all Quebec governments.

The Charter makes French the official language in the workplace. However, current and prospective employees cannot be subject to discrimination if they are unable to or do not wish to use a language other than French. A regulation states that internal written communications for all corporations in Quebec must be in French, but a translation in any other language can be included if the employer deems it necessary.

After more than 25 years of application of the Charter, English is still often made a requirement by employers in Quebec.

Anglophone and Aboriginal minorities

When the Charter was drafted, the National Assembly had to consider the historical and constitutional rights of the English-speaking minority and that of the aboriginal peoples. The Charter includes several guarantees for the uses of languages other than French in Quebec. It provides, for example, that:

  • Quebec laws shall be published in English as well as in French;
  • Persons may address courts of law in either French or English;
  • Judgments by courts will be made available in either the official language or in English upon request by one of the parties;
  • The Charter shall not apply on Indian reserves (At the current, instruction in Cree and Inuit school boards are respectively in the Cree and Inuktitut languages);

Some of these guarantees are constitutionally mandatory under section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which requires federal and Quebec laws to be enacted in both English and French. The first version of the Charter of the French language stated that the laws of Québec would only be published in French, so the provision was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in Blaikie v. Quebec (Attorney General) [1979] 2 S.C.R. 1016.

A number of exceptions are also made to the general rules for commercial production, signing 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.)

Legal discussion

Although language is an undefined jurisdiction under the Canadian Constitution, the federal government of Canada and the Supreme Court of Canada have made interventions in regards to the Charter. Because of this, some of the Charter's articles have been changed since its introduction in 1977. The most well-known and controversial change affected the regulation of exterior commercial signs. In its first enactment the Charter made it illegal for businesses to hold commercial exterior signs in a language other than French. For the time the regulation lasted, it had a huge impact on Quebec's "linguistic visage". English only and bilingual English and French exterior signs were taken down and replaced by French only signs. (Note that the regulation did not affect trademarks.)

Following a challenge, this section of the law was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in 1988, (see: Ford v. Quebec (A.G.)). The Supreme Court judged that the Quebec government could legitimately require that French have "greater visibility" or "marked predominance" on exterior commercial signs; however, it could not enforce the exclusive use of French. The Liberal government of Robert Bourassa invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to temporarily overrule the Supreme court ruling; the Charter was subsequently amended by the Liberals in 1993 with Bill 86 in accordance with the ruling.

As suggested by the Supreme Court ruling, the current law specifies that commercial outdoor signs can be multilingual so long as French is markedly predominant. The current provisions regarding exterior commercial signs were confirmed as constitutional by the Québec Court of Appeal in R. c. Entreprises W.F.H. [2001] R.J.Q. 2557 (C.A.) (also known as "The Lyon & the Walrus Case"). Today, many businesses voluntarily choose to put up French only signs, and at times, even change their registered trademarks to adapt to the Quebec market. Nevertheless, English-French bilingualism quickly returned on exterior signs after 1993, especially in Montreal.


The Charter of the French Language, though popular among Francophones, has been relatively poorly received by groups with mother tongues other than French. The enforcers of the Charter, widely referred to in English media as the "language police" or "tongue troopers", are able to levy fines of up to seven thousand dollars per offence to punish minority-speakers who are not in compliance with the Charter ("Titre V", 2004).

Though the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) will often provide warnings before resorting to legal sanctions, the alleged abuse of their power has led to charges of racism and harassment being levelled against them by members of minority groups (Martin 2004). 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' (B'nai B'rith, 1996). In 2002, alternative media highlighted cases of alleged harassment of allophone merchants whose French was perceived by the OQLF as being less than perfect (Gravenor, 2002).

The most recent annual report of the OQLF has been criticized by some in the English media who see it as an example of a totalitarian mindset in the bureaucracy (Macpherson, 2004). The report contained sections describing the continued prevalence of languages other than French in one-third of Montreal's households as "alarming" ("Rapport annuel" 2004).

The provisions of the Charter that limit access to English speaking schools to the children of those educated in English Canada have also faced criticism and legal challenge, from both francophones and anglophones. The Equality Party has lodged a complaint with the United Nations, on the behalf of a child from English-speaking Trinidad who was forced to enrol in an French school, stating that discrimination on the basis of language violates international agreements and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Martin 2004). Francophone Quebecers have also initiated legal challenges in Quebec's courts, seeking the freedom to educate their children in the language they choose (Hanes 2002). These challenges are particularly controversial, as some see them as threatening to shift the ratio between French students and English students back to pre-Charter levels; many English-language schools in Montreal had been forced to close their doors after the introduction of Bill 101 in the 1970s.

The use of the notwithstanding clause in the 1990s to circumvent the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also drew a very negative 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 infringement on the rights embodied in the Canadian charter.

See also

External links

es:Carta de la Lengua Francesa


  • Hanes, Allison. (March 11, 2002) More and more francophone parents buck school restrictions. The Gazette. (Montreal). p. A1
  • Macpherson, Don. (November 25, 2004). OQLF report borders on bigotry. The Gazette, (Montreal) p. A27
  • Martin, Susan Taylor. (August 9, 1999). In Quebec, some take law as sign of discrimination. St. Petersburg Times, (Florida), p. 1.A. Retrieved from their archives ( on December 5, 2004.
  • l'Office québécois de la langue française. (2004) Rapport annuel de gestion 2003-2004 ( p. 13. Retrieved November 26, 2004.

Template:Interwiki-category-checkfr:Charte de la langue française


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