Bill 96 will harm the aboriginal peoples of Quebec. We need fairer language laws

Content of the article


This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Richard Budgell, Assistant Professor, Family Medicine; Ph.D. student, history and classical studies, McGill University

One of the reasons I moved to Quebec in 2015 was the mix of languages ​​that many Quebecers, especially in Montreal, live and work in. Some are able to switch languages ​​from sentence to sentence; others will change in mid-sentence or speak in an ever-changing mix of languages.

Advertisement 2

Content of the article

The language dance most often takes place between French and English, but other languages ​​may be involved, such as native and immigrant languages.

The reality of multilingualism goes back a long way in Quebec: the perceived founder of French Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, even knew “a handful of 1/8 Indigenous languages3/8, not enough to talk directly about sensitive issues. Most of his communications had to go through interpreters. However, the mythical view of historical dominance held by some Quebecers is that “the French language 1/8…3/8 now established itself in Quebec with Samuel de Champlain in 1608” or, the French language was officially established in Quebec with Samuel de Champlain in 1608.

Advertisement 3

Content of the article

As the leader of a small, vulnerable French outpost, Champlain probably thought more about making alliances with native nations, which would allow French settlers to survive, than about official languages.

Indigenous nations and languages ​​have endured – as have the descendants of early French settlers (including me), joined by British settlers and a mix of immigrants from around the world, to create a diverse and complex society.

And all of this helps explain why Bill 96 is so problematic. The proposed bill, “An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec”, will reduce accessibility to health services in English. This will have a drastic and negative impact on indigenous peoples. As an Inuit health researcher and educator, I find this deeply troubling.

Advertisement 4

Content of the article

Indigenous experience in Quebec

Part of the complexity of Quebec is ensuring fairness for all its citizens. For Indigenous people in the province, fair treatment may seem fleeting.

In the health care system, systemic discrimination against Aboriginal people has been officially recognized. In 2019, the Quebec-mandated Viens Commission concluded that “it is clear that prejudice against Indigenous peoples remains prevalent in the interaction between caregivers and patients” and recommended that “cultural safeguard principles” be integrated into health services and programs for Aboriginal peoples.

In October 2021, Coroner Gehane Kamel’s main recommendation in her report on the death of Joyce Echaquan was that the province must recognize the existence of systemic racism and take concrete action to eliminate it.

Advertisement 5

Content of the article

Receiving health care in a language one speaks is obviously a dimension of cultural safety. It is therefore all the more disappointing that a recently published plan to reform the Quebec health care system ignores systemic discrimination and the cultural safety of patients.

The Problem with Law 96

In an analysis of Bill 96, Montreal lawyer and lawyer Eric Maldoff states:

“Even when staff and establishments have the possibility of using another language, Law 96 strongly enjoins them to avoid exercising it and specifies that a language other than French must not be used systematically, for example by setting up translation services. It is possible to use a language other than French for reasons of health, public safety and natural justice. However, it appears to be aimed at dealing with an individual’s health emergency.

Advertising 6

Content of the article

The Inuit of Nunavik in northern Quebec have for years identified challenges within the health care system. A report prepared by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services states: “Many 1/8Inuit3/8 do not understand medical terms and the translation is sometimes inefficient, as many terms have no equivalent in Inuktitut . As a result, many people find it difficult to understand their health issues and follow medical advice.

Ninety-eight percent of Nunavik Inuit speak Inuktitut as their first language. This should be celebrated, not hindered, during the Decade of Indigenous Languages, which Canada supports. Bill 96 will create greater barriers to access to health care for Inuit and First Nations. The bill will make health and health care worse, not better.

Advertising 7

Content of the article

Multilingualism should not be a threat

Bill 96 will also create new education challenges for Inuit and First Nations who use English.

Indigenous students will now need to take three additional French courses to receive a CEGEP diploma (usually required for university admission). In practice, most Inuit students and about half of First Nations students have been educated primarily in English and will struggle to meet additional French requirements.

Quebec Premier François Legault recently defended draft Bill 96 saying: “If Quebec is bilingual, unfortunately North America’s attraction to English will be so strong that it will be a matter of time before we no longer speak French in Quebec and we become Louisiana.”

Advertising 8

Content of the article

Shooting in Louisiana is a bogeyman commonly deployed in Quebec, to imply that without restrictive measures on the use of other languages, French is on the way to extinction.

For most residents of Quebec, there is a broad consensus that French must be protected. But many of us believe that multilingualism — including Indigenous languages ​​— should not threaten French.


Richard Budgell does not work for, consult, own stock or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article:



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Comments are closed.