The new law imposes strict requirements on language usage for small businesses and municipalities in the region of Quebec, home to 8.5million people. Called Bill 96, the law massively restricts the use of English. The ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), holding 75 of the 125 seats in the provincial parliament, all voted in favour.
Meanwhile the federalist Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) and the pro-sovereigntist Parti Québécois (PQ) voted against it.
The PQ, however, opposed the law not to protect the English language, but under the argument that it does not sufficiently protect French.
The law has already sparked massive protests in Montreal from Anglophones, indigenous and other groups who believe their rights will be violated by the new legislation.
Marlene Jennings, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, an advocacy organization for English speakers in the province, said to Politico: “Bill 96 will make it virtually impossible for someone to receive quality health and social services in English.
“It’s going to have a negative drag across the board.”
Justin Trudeau appeared to express concern about the Bill, saying at a news conference before it was approved: “I was a French teacher in [British Columbia]. I know how important it is to protect Francophone communities outside of Quebec.
“But it’s also extremely important to make sure we’re protecting anglophone communities inside of Quebec.”
Quebec’s Premier Francois Legault praised the decision, saying he was “very proud” of CAQ politician Simon Jolin-Barrette.
Mr Legault said on Twitter: “This is the most important reform for the status of the French language since the adoption of Bill 101 in 1977, 45 years ago.”
Bill 101 defined French as the official language of the Quebec parliament.
Mr Legault further detailed his praise for Bill 96 on Facebook, saying: “First, the Charter of the French Language is extended to businesses with 25 to 49 employees, which was not the case until now. We are also subjecting businesses under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, to the Charter of the French Language.
“This is a very strong signal.”
He went on to detail how Quebec controls the use of French in the region by selecting immigrants.
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He said: “In my opinion, the best way to protect and promote French in Quebec is at the base, in the selection of immigrants. Half of the immigrants are chosen by Quebec.
“When we arrived in 2018, 50 percent of the immigrants chosen by Quebec did not speak French. We have now reached 80 percent of the immigrants chosen by Quebec who speak French.”
The new law requires refugees to learn French within six months of moving to the region, after which time services will only be available to them in French.
The bill forces the widespread use of French businesses with at least 25 employees and in sectors regulated by federal authorities such as banking and telecommunications.
The use of English is further restricted in secondary schools and among English-speaking students in Quebec’s technical colleges.
In order to get the law through Parliament, the Quebec government used a constitutional prerogative called the derogation clause.
This prevents courts from declaring laws unconstitutional, overriding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.