The Anglophone Perspective of Bill 101
The passing of Bill 22 under the leadership of the Bourassa government, in 1974, became an important issue during the Quebec elections of November 1976. The bill had come under attack from the anglophone community and from those, in the francophone community, who thought that the bill did not go far enough. Once in power, the new government of the Parti Québécois, led by René Levesque, first issued a white paper on language, then introduced Bill 1, and later a revised version of it, Bill 101, titled Charte de la langue française. The bill, as it was passed in the summer of 1977, proclaimed French as the official language in Quebec for just about every facet of life in the province: government, judicial system, education, advertising, business, contracts, etc. For example, the bill required that all advertising on billboards be done in French only and that all commercial signs in business establishments be in French alone. All public administrations and businesses had to address their employees in French. All government agencies were directed to use the Official language in their dealings with corporations and other governments in Canada. Government Ministries and Agencies, as well as professional associations in Quebec, were to be known by their French name. The laws of the province were to be enacted in French although an English translation might also be made (and indeed continued to be made after bill 101). English education was to be restricted mostly to those already in the system, their siblings, those temporarily posted in Quebec or whose parents had themselves received an English elementary education in the province. While the bill was very prescriptive in several respects, it showed considerable flexibility in connection to businesses, especially head offices of international and national corporations centred in Quebec. While francization programmes were instituted for businesses, they were limited to businesses of more than 50 employees.
The debates around bill 101 have only abetted recently. These debates were endless and sometimes lacking in civility. Rarely did those who argued seem to understand, or appreciate, the opponent's point of view. The law has received very bad press outside of Quebec and anglophone Quebecers have been very slow in accepting it. They believed, incorrectly, that the bill was designed essentially to eradicate English from the face of the province. They argued that many of its provisions were unduly harsh, unfair, and in violation of basic human rights. They rejected the view that French was a threatened language and that it required strong legislative protection. They demanded that their language be considered equal and be allowed full visibility. Their perception of the bill was sharpened by sometimes plainly petty application of it by overzealous bureaucrats, called, in some anglophone circles, “the language police”.
Over the decades, a number of changes have been effected to the bill. Some were made because provisions of the law have been found to have violated articles of the Constitution Act (1867) or, after 1982, the new Canadian Charter of Rights. Other changes were made willingly by the majority in an attempt to resolve issues as they arose and to show good faith. The most significant of the changes have dealt with the language of legislation (now issued in both English and French), access to English schools (enlarged to guarantee access to English school to all those that have received their education in English in Canada), and with the language of signs (where English is now acceptable provided that French be given priority). Some of these changes were incorporated in a bill issued in 1993 by the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa (Bill 86). Another bill (Bill 42) guaranteed to anglophones health and social services in their language. Some of that has gone a long way to lessen tension on the linguistic front.