The MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent’s website now features a disclaimer announcing that English content is no longer available because of Bill 96, which came into effect on June 1.
The Act respecting French as the official and common language of Quebec, which reforms Bill 101 and the Charter of the French language, was adopted in May 2022. It considerably restricts the number of Quebecers able to receive government services in English.
Access to English content on the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent’s website is now limited to those who are covered by exceptions to the Charter of the French Language. These include people who are eligible to receive instruction in English; individuals who corresponded only in English with the administration prior to May 13, 2021; members of Indigenous communities and Inuit; those living outside Quebec; and recently arrived immigrants who have lived in Quebec for less than six months.
“The MRC must comply with the Act, but material will be made available in English in accordance with the current government framework, in order to serve the population accordingly,” says Pierre Caza, the director general of the MRC.
Some information and certain types of documents are not available in English, including job offers and public contracts. Information pertaining to the administration of the MRC is now also exclusively available in French. Access to English documentation and content on the website will be granted according to the honour system, where those who prefer to access information on the website in English have only to click on a button that confirms their eligibility to consult an available webpage in English.
An Elgin resident who recently telephoned the MRC confirmed the municipal office is also now asking English-speaking callers to confirm their eligibility to receive services in English. “This really got to me,” she says, noting the person on the other end of the line asked where they had attended school. “It’s just unreal,” she stated, saying the conversation did continue in English after she responded to the question.
All municipalities are subject to the law and are required to prioritize the use of the French language in their internal communications and those with the public. Municipalities recognized as having bilingual status by the government may continue to provide services and communications in both languages, though the French language should be prioritized. This is the case for Elgin and Hinchinbrooke which have bilingual status because over 50 per cent of residents identified English as their mother tongue on the most recent census. The municipalities of Dundee, Havelock, and Très-Saint-Sacrement all passed resolutions earlier this year to maintain their bilingual status, as did Hemmingford Township in the MRC des Jardins-de-Napierville.
All other municipalities are now legally prohibited from communicating in English or any language other than French, with exceptions for information pertaining to safety, security, or health emergencies. As of early this week, many municipal websites were still available in both English and French.
The Quebec government has acknowledged it may take time for people to become accustomed to the changes and has suggested measures may be introduced progressively. The government is also insisting officials will rely on good faith and will not require proof before providing services in English.