Business not as usual as Bill 96 takes hold
Gatineau Hills business owners are worried about the effects of Bill 96.
As the bill is written now, warrantless language cops can search and seize the property of businesses with 25 or more employees to make sure that company communications are in French.
The Low Down spoke to two Hills businesses with English owners, which could have their computers seized to ensure that company-wide emails are in French.
“With so many larger problems, it strikes me that the government is out of touch with the economic reality businesses, and by extension, society is facing,” business owner A said.
You read that right. Business owner A.
Both business owners the Low Down interviewed would only speak on condition of anonymity out of concern about being unfairly targeted by the Quebec government because they spoke out against the bill.
“In a world of secret snitch lines, those of us who speak up aren’t really interested in being identified,” A said, referring to the government hotlines people can call to report Bill 96 or Bill 101 violations.
Bill 101 is the Charter of the French Language and stipulates that French must be the language of legislation and the courts, administration, work, and business as well as education.
“To speak out not anonymously could be a real cause for concern, as the language police now have increased powers,” Hills business owner B said, referring to the Office québécois de la langue français (OQLF).
The Quebec National Assembly finalized Bill 96 on May 24, with support from Gatineau MNA Robert Bussière. The sweeping language reform has been decried by advocates of English, Indigenous, and allophone communities across Quebec. Bill 96 doesn’t only affect business in Quebec: people will have to pay for court translation services out-of-pocket to fight a traffic ticket in English; the enrollment at English CEGEPS across Quebec will be capped and students will be forced to now take five French language courses to graduate; and people may no longer be able to access healthcare information in English.
Business owner A said they have anywhere between 60 to 100 employees at a time, while B has about 35. And both have had their share of run-ins with the OQLF. Owner A said language police “swing by” for inspections now and again, but there have never been confrontations and the business has never been cited.
“I try to stay away from them. I’ve never met anyone from that department,” A said.
Owner B said they and their business, even under previous ownership, have butted heads with the OQLF.
“I’m sure there have been several encounters with the language police over the course of this business’ lifetime,” B said. “I believe we got a fine for an infraction that was six years old.” Owner A said their business has always sent company-wide communications both in English and French and that over 90 per cent of staff are functionally bilingual. But B’s business is just starting to increase its ranks of French-speaking employees and is just starting the transitioning to French communications.
“So, with this new bill, technically every message, verbal and written, to our employees needs to be in French — which means that we have to take the time to translate them from English to French. For what?” B asked. “Only for our English-speaking employees to re-translate it back to the language it was originally drafted in?”
“We’ve had a recent influx of French speaking employees, so we do try to include both French and English versions of things for our staff – it’s a work in progress because it’s not something we’ve done before – but to have only French available literally makes no sense. Every email that we send from our business email should be in French, regardless of who we’re sending it to,” B said. “All of our tags, computer programs, including accounting, the programming we do for our point of service, the radio station — French. Everything else aside, from a business perspective, this doesn’t make sense.” That’s not all that doesn’t make sense to A and B. The whole bill seems off-target to them. “It doesn’t seem to be intelligent at any level, particularly, since there’s no demand for change,” A said.
“I understand that this bill has serious implications, but it’s honestly laughable. It just continues to highlight massive issues that exist within Quebec and the amazing ignorance of any people who are in decision-making positions,” B said.