A third of federally chartered companies do not comply with Law 96

A third of federally chartered companies do not comply with Law 96

A third of federally chartered companies do not comply with Bill 96

Photo: Adrian Wyld The Canadian Press Conservative MP Joel Godin during question period in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, on November 24, 2022

Boris Proulx and François Carabin in Ottawa and Quebec, respectively

March 3, 2023

  • Canada

Businesses under federal jurisdiction resist complying with the Charter of the French language, more than eight months after the adoption of its reform by the National Assembly. Nearly a third of them did not register with the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) in time, noted Le Devoir.

Federally chartered businesses employing 50 or more people had until December 1 to report to the OQLF as required by the new Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French (better known by its nickname 96”). However, as of February 22, 167 of the 525 employers affected had not complied with this directive, the office told Devoir.

When a nobody speaks English in a meeting and nine others speak French, everyone switches to English

— Joël Godin

The number of federally regulated companies—banks, airlines, rail carriers—that have complied with Bill 96 has still doubled since it was passed in 2022. law,” bringing the total to 409, OQLF spokesperson Chantal Bouchard said in an email exchange.

The obligation to register was already the responsibility of all large companies with expertise Quebec under Bill 101.

Provincially chartered businesses with 25 to 49 employees have until June 1, 2025 to follow suit, but are already gradually complying with the requirements of the law. “Although [they] have three years to register with the Office, 51 of these companies have decided to start their process now,” noted Ms. Bouchard at Devoir< /i>. Employment and Social Development Canada has 275 companies in this category in Quebec.

In the office of the Minister of the French Language, Jean-François Roberge, we assure that “discussions [continue] with companies that have not registered with the OQLF”, but “we are delighted to see that the government operation worked well”. “We are seeing a mobilization of companies to comply with the Charter of the French language,” wrote Mr. Roberge's press secretary, Thomas Verville, by text message. “Almost all businesses with 50 or more employees are registered with the OQLF. »

Parliamentary arm wrestling

Tabled last year, federal Bill C-13 should modernize Canada's Official Languages ​​Act and promote the use of French within private enterprises under federal jurisdiction. In its current form, the text of the law mainly offers federally chartered companies the choice between Ottawa bonds and Quebec bonds.

A detail that the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party (NDP) intend to modify at the parliamentary committee stage this winter. The three opposition parties, in the majority on the committee, promise to apply the Quebec law to companies under federal jurisdiction on the territory of the province.

“C-13 [as drafted] does not require the use of French in businesses, believes Conservative MP Joël Godin. When one person speaks English in a meeting and nine others speak French, everyone switches to English.

However, he fears that the NDP will break its promises during the vote supposed to modify C-13 in order to impose the Quebec language regime on federal companies. The vote of the fourth party in the Commons will be decisive, since it is sufficient to approve or defeat any proposal of the Liberal Party of Canada made to the Committee on Official Languages.

Liberal MPs have multiplied calls to exclude any reference to the Quebec Charter of the French language, perceived as harmful to the rights of Anglophones. Some have gone so far as to threaten to vote against their own party's bill.

When asked about it earlier this month, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the position of the party is to apply Bill 101 to businesses under federal jurisdiction. “That's been our position for a long time, since the Sherbrooke declaration,” he said, adding that he wants C-13 passed quickly.

Similar but distinct laws

The Quebec law and the federal text of C-13, as drafted by the Minister of Official Languages, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, have certain similarities. Both have the objective of guaranteeing the right to work in French in Quebec. Both offer remedies for employees or consumers who feel aggrieved in their right to use French, although the federal commissioner would not have the power to fine most private companies under his jurisdiction. /p>

The main difference is that Quebec's Charter of the French Language requires companies to obtain a francization certificate, such as an operating plan in French, under the supervision of the OQLF. Quebec also limits the requirement of a language other than French.

“To submit to provincial law is therefore to open the door to the intervention of the OQLF, as a provincial regulatory body, in the daily activities of the company. From the point of view of a federal company, it's a bit special,” explains lawyer Alexandre Fallon, partner at Osler.

According to the language law expert, the federal proposal for Protecting French details a more specific list of obligations towards companies. For example, it dictates that computer tools must be in French, while Quebec law leaves the OQLF with a case-by-case assessment for workplaces with more than 25 employees. “In C-13, we go a little further, in the sense that we come to say […] that there is also the aspect of being supervised in French. That is not present in Quebec law, believes Me Fallon. In my opinion, C-13 is stricter on employers than the Quebec law.

This debate now finds itself in the court of a handful of federal elected officials in a parliamentary committee, who should decide on the question during the month of March.