On May 13, 2021, the Minister of Justice and Minister Responsible for the French Language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, tabled Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec ("Bill 96"). The purpose of this bill is to affirm that the only official language of Quebec is French and that French is the common language of the Quebec nation. In this article, we share our preliminary thoughts on this bill and its effects on professional bodies in Quebec.
Regarding the changes proposed by Bill 96, there are three main concerns that could affect professional bodies in Quebec:
- Respect for the rights of members of professional bodies from the English-speaking community;
- Continued protection of the public in the application of the new provisions; and
- Not adding administrative burdens to professional bodies and their members.
Bill 96 provides for the right to be informed and served in French in Quebec.1 The bill now requires a business offering goods or services to respect the right of consumers to be informed and served in French. In addition, a business offering goods and services to a public other than consumers must do so in French from the outset.
A flagship measure of the François Legault government, the long-awaited bill proposes legislative changes in many areas of government activity and Quebec society. While the bill has been seen primarily as a reform of the Charter of the French Language ("Charter" or "Bill 101"), Bill 96 proposes amendments to several other legislative and regulatory texts, including the provisions applicable to professional bodies contained in the Charter and the Professional Code.
With respect to the professional system in Quebec, Bill 96 specifies the framework applicable to professional bodies and their members concerning the use of French, in particular by requiring them to maintain knowledge of French that is appropriate to the practice of their profession.
Among other things, the bodies will have to examine the means at their disposal to assess their members' knowledge of French.
The bill will also make substantial changes regarding the use of French and other languages in various texts, documents and acts relating to legislation and justice.
- Consistent with the amendments to the preamble of Bill 101, Bill 96 seeks to amend that Act to provide that, in the case of a discrepancy between the French and English versions of a statute, the French text prevails to the extent that the ordinary rules of interpretation do not resolve the discrepancy;
- In the case of a discrepancy between the French and English versions of a statute, and unless the ordinary rules of interpretation can resolve the conflict, the French version shall prevail;2
- Certain by-laws and other similar acts,3 including municipal by-laws, shall be drafted, adopted and published exclusively in French;4
- Any pleading by a legal person drafted in English must be accompanied by a certified French translation, all at the expense of the legal person;5
- A judgment or decision that terminates a proceeding or is of public interest, rendered in English by a court of law or a person or body exercising adjudicative functions, will have to be accompanied without delay by a French version.6
It should be noted that Bill 96 maintains the right to use either French or English in all cases before the courts of Quebec and in all pleadings arising therefrom.
The language of quasi-public and professional bodies
The Charter already provided for the right to receive communications from professional bodies in French.7 Bill 96 extends this obligation to members of professional bodies when they communicate with third parties or other members of professional bodies.8
Indeed, Bill 96 provides that professional bodies will have to "use only" the French language in their communications with "all or some of their members and candidates to the practice of the profession."9
This amendment could have the effect of restricting the ability of professional bodies to send bilingual communications or notices in English to their members or the public.
The obligation of professionals to maintain an appropriate knowledge of French
Bill 96 provides that a professional holding a permit under section 35 of the Charter must maintain, for as long as his or her permit is valid, "knowledge of the official language that is appropriate to the practice of the profession."10
Bill 96 provides that a member who contravenes section 35.1 of the Charter commits an act derogatory to the dignity of his or her profession in the same way as acts involving collusion, corruption, malfeasance, breach of trust or influence peddling, for example.
This measure is limited, however, because a professional body may still issue a permit referred to in sections 40 to 42.2 of the Professional Code to "a person whose knowledge of the official language is not appropriate to the practice of the profession," for a period of one year under the conditions set out in these sections of the Professional Code, which authorize professional bodies to recognize equivalences.
A professional body may, however, use another language in addition to the official language in a particular written or oral communication to one of the following persons:
- a candidate to the practice of the profession who applies for a permit to be issued to him or her in accordance with section 37 or under section 40 of the Charter; or
- a member of the professional body who is not required under this Act to have knowledge of the official language that is appropriate to the practice of the profession.
Section 38 of the Charter has not been amended, so it would still be possible to renew the temporary permit three times under the conditions provided therein.
38. The permits envisaged in section 37 may be renewed, only three times, with the authorization of the Office québécois de la langue française and if the public interest warrants it. For each renewal, the persons concerned must sit for examinations held according to the regulations of the Government.
In its annual report of activities, the Office shall indicate the number of permits for which it has given authorization for renewal pursuant to this section.
Section 40 of the Charter has also been amended to empower the Office québécois de la langue française to set the term and conditions of restricted permits that a professional body may issue.
Even these reflections will have to be examined in greater depth in light of the specific context of each professional body, and the bodies themselves may consider participating in the specific consultations in parliamentary committee that will be held shortly. Langlois Lawyers has an experienced team that can assist them as needed.
1 Bill 96, Art. 41 amending the Charter by adding Art. 50.2.
2 See Art. 5 of the bill, which proposes to insert Art. 7.1 into Bill 101.
3 Regulations and other acts of a similar nature to which s. 133 C.A. 1867 does not apply.
4 See Art. 5 of the bill, which proposes a new version of Art. 8 of Bill 101.
5 See Art. 5 of the bill, which proposes a new version of Art. 9 of Bill 101.
6 See Art. 5 of the bill, which proposes a new version of Arts. 10 and 11 of Bill 101.
7 Charter, Art. 2.
8 Bill 96, Art. 3 amending Art. 2 of the Charter.
9 Bill 96, Art. 21 amending Art. 32 of the Charter.
10 Bill 96, Art. 23 amending the Charter by inserting Art. 35.1 after Art. 35.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.