In Quebec there is no law more hotly discussed, debated, or resented than Bill 101.

These days Bill 101 is seen one of two ways. People who love the Bill see it as necessary way to preserve Quebec’s Francophone identity in the face of cultural and linguistic assimilation attempts. Others see it as a means for Quebec’s French-speaking majority to treat the province’s other linguistic minorities like garbage.

The issue is a lot more complex than that and in order to properly explain, we need to go back in time.

The year was 1760 when Great Britain took over New France. British leaders replaced the French ones and did their best to impose their will on the French-speaking majority. This oppression went on for the next two hundred years during which there were Francophone rebellions to assert their rights but they were all quashed by the British. One of the few but significant concessions the British made to North American Francophones was allowing them to keep their Catholic faith despite the Crown’s dislike of the Papacy.

Everything began to change in the 1960s due in part to the Quiet Revolution in which every aspect of Quebec society from political patronage to the economy to social, cultural, and religious life came under scrutiny with the widespread recognition that change was needed. The increasing demand of Quebec Francophones for protections of their language and culture eventually led to the establishment of the the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, a federal commission that took place from 1963 to 1971.

The Royal Commission revealed that the number of French-speaking people in Quebec was not reflected in their actual political and economic representation. In 1965 Francophones made an average of thirty-five percent less than Anglophones and there were concerns about the lack of Francophone representation in federal institutions.

The actual inequalities had a few effects.

First was the belief that the status of the French language in Canada was fragile, the second was the rise of Quebec nationalism which argues that the only way Quebec can preserve its language and culture is to separate from an English-speaking majority Canada.

Bill 101 was brought in to preserve the French language in Quebec, but it was not the first law to try and do so. In 1969 Bill 63, the Act to Promote the French Language in Quebec was enacted, which required that kids receiving an English education get a working knowledge of French and that the government facilitate immigrants learning French when they arrive in Quebec. The law was disliked by Quebec Francophones because it didn’t go far enough; it was eventually replaced by Bill 22 in 1974.

Bill 22 was enacted by the provincial Liberal government under Robert Bourassa. It established French as Quebec’s official language and required that all immigrants arriving in Quebec learn French.

In 1976 the Parti Québecois under René Levesque took power and a year later, Bill 101 was enacted.

Bill 101 aka the Charte de la langue française made French Quebec’s official language and enacted a lot of the rules still in force today. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the three sets of rules people seem to resent the most: the language of education, the language of commerce, and that of government services.

The law requires that kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school instruction be in French. There are exceptions to this and they work as follows:

  • If the father, mother (or both) is a Canadian citizen and received a major part of their elementary school instruction in English in Canada, one parent can request their child receive English instruction
  • If the father, mother (or both) as well as the child’s siblings are Canadian citizen and received or are receiving a major part of their elementary or secondary education in Canada in English, the child can go to English school

The law robs parents of the freedom of choice where their children’s education is concerned. It also allows the child to become a more employable adult, as French is the dominant language in Quebec and knowing more than one language improves job prospects overall.

Bill 101 also established French as the language of business. All product labels in Quebec are required to be drafted in French, as are all catalogues, brochures, and commercial directories. The law also requires that standardized contracts be in French, though both parties can agree to draft the contract in another language as well.

Perhaps the most hotly disputed aspect of Bill 101’s commerce rules is regarding signage laws. The law demands that all commercial signage, posters, and advertising be in French. Another language is permitted on commercial signage but only if “French is markedly predominant”.

Over the years these rules have often been used to persecute ethnic and religious businesses such as in 2001 when the Office québécois de la langue française – the office charged with making sure French is the language of commerce, work, and communication in Quebec – went after L. Berson & Fils, a now defunct Jewish funeral monument company in Montreal. Fortunately public outrage forced the government to back down.

In cases where the government proceeds with enforcing Bill 101, penalties range from fines of six hundred dollars and up to being disqualified from holding certain government jobs for a period of five years.

The most dangerous aspect of the law is regarding that of civil administration, specifically with regards to health and social services. Since they are government owned and operated under Canada’s public health care system, hospitals, CLSCs and clinics fall under the same French language requirements.

Though most people working in public health know to provide health and social services in the language to best serve the patient to the best of their abilities, some service providers have been accused of using language laws to refuse people necessary help. Hopital de Verdun, for example, has been accused on many occasions of denying English speakers health services because they cannot speak French.

Though it should go without saying, where a person’s health and safety are concerned, there should be no language barrier.

It should be noted that Bill 101 has been successfully challenged several times in the courts for violating the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights. To prevent further legal challenges, Quebec used the Notwithstanding Clause, a clause in our constitution that allows provinces to keep legislation in place notwithstanding the Charter. Since the court challenges, the law has been tweaked to make it more constitutionally compatible.

Bill 101 is like toothpaste. When applied correctly and in the right place it is a necessary evil to make sure that Quebec society functions despite what comes out of people’s mouths. When used incorrectly and in the wrong place it can be a pain in the ass. It’s up to us to keep challenging the government when they apply the Bill where it doesn’t belong.

This past July, the town of Saint-Apollinaire voted against allowing their small Muslim community a space to bury their dead. In response, Quebec City has generously offered land for the building of an Islamic Cemetery.

This article is not about Saint-Apollinaire or Quebec’s obnoxious denial of its racism problem.

It’s about death, and how we deal with what’s left of the people we know.

Though we’re all affected by it, death and its technicalities are things we just don’t talk about…

…That is until someone we know dies.

When a loved one dies we do our best to make sure the person gets what they would have wanted. The late comedian George Carlin joked about wanting to be dropped from a plane and left wherever he landed even if it was the mayor’s lawn. Unfortunately, though we’d like to fulfill the wishes of even our most eccentric friends and relatives, the province of Quebec has rules about how a body can be disposed of after death.

The rules come primarily from Quebec’s Burial Act and the Act Respecting Medical Laboratories, Organ and Tissue Conservation, and the Disposal of Human Bodies and related regulations. Generally there are two common ways a body can be put to rest after death, burial and cremation, so this article will focus on those.

The law says that burials have to take place “in a cemetery lawfully established, except in cases otherwise provided by the law”. That means that if your uncle, for example, wanted to be buried at your family’s cottage, he couldn’t unless the land was a cemetery. This is undoubtedly to avoid any dispute as to what should be done with human remains should a property be sold or expropriated.

Cemeteries, it should be noted, are considered private property, and the land is at the disposal of the physical or legal person who owns it, subject to any restrictions imposed as a result of someone buying a burial plot on said land.

In cases not otherwise specified, coffins must be placed in a grave and covered with at least a meter of earth, but the Minister of Health and Social Services who is charged with the enforcement of said acts can make exceptions for special cases.

Burials cannot take place in a church or chapel currently used for religious purposes without the consent of the ecclesiastical or diocesan authority of the religious group who owns the space. In cases where such authority grants this permission, the law requires that the body be placed in a coffin with 2.5 kg of quick-lime or lime chloride and covered with at least 1.25 meters of earth or enclosed in masonry at least forty five centimeters thick. The quick-lime is likely required to neutralize the odor and speed decay.

Cremations can only be done by the holder of a funeral director’s permit allowing him or her to perform them. Crematoriums must be equipped and operated so as to prevent any risk of contamination and avoid to pollution. The law specifies that said crematoriums must have a firebrick oven “kept in good working order at all times”. If the funeral home has a columbarium – a place to keep urns of ashes – it has to be fireproof.

Though the government has its own rules, the faiths of the deceased come into play when deciding how to treat the remains. For the purposes of this article, I will do a crash course on the rules of the three most common Abrahamic faiths in Montreal: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As there are so many sects of Christianity, I’ll focus primarily on Catholicism. Apologies to anyone who is outraged (though houses of worship shouldn’t permit trolls).

Judaism requires that a body be buried immediately after passing, or at most, the following day as the belief is that the soul remains in turmoil until burial. The body must be buried complete: with all its limbs and organs.

Islamic practices are a bit trickier as they vary according to interpretations of Islamic law, but there are a few common customs. As in Judaism, Muslims are buried and burials must take place as soon as possible after death, historically because in the days of poorer hygiene an unburied corpse posed a sanitation risk. If the death was not from natural causes i.e. assassination or freak accident, a burial can be delayed to determine cause of death.

Catholicism permits both burial and cremation, though in 2016 the Vatican issued new rules regarding how remains should be dealt with. At the end of October of that year, they said that ashes and bone fragments cannot be kept at home or divided among relatives as mementos as it deprives community of their right to respect the dead. They declared that Church authorities should designate special spaces such as cemeteries or church areas to hold them. Only in special cases can a bishop permit an individual to keep remains at home. Unlike Judaism and Islam, there is no time requirement as to when to bury or cremate the body. If for whatever reason as per canon law, a person cannot be buried in a Catholic cemetery, the law allows the person to be buried in designated ground adjacent to said cemetery.

If someone is not religious, their remains can be dealt with as they or their families wish subject to the confines of the law. Last summer, Quebec approved the practice of Aquamations, an eco friendly alternative to cremation that involves using a water based solution to dissolve the body, leaving the bones which are then pressed into powder. With its increasing popularity, many Quebec funeral homes are getting on the enviro safe bandwagon.

The act of putting our dead to rest has been a custom for thousands of years. It not only allows us to pay our last respects to those we knew, but also keeps the inevitable result of human death and decay from becoming a sanitation risk.

It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and you and your friends are going paintballing. You get there, pay your money, and are presented with a standardized form that probably looks a lot like this:

I hereby waive all right to claim damages from X (the paintballing place) for any physical injury occurring during this activity.

You sign it figuring there’s no harm in doing so. Nothing could POSSIBLY go wrong.

You and your friends suit up: body armor, helmet, and those ugly jumpsuits. The paintball gun guy hands you your weapon and ammo and gives you a quick tutorial on their use. What none of you know is that the paintball gun guy is having a bad day and didn’t inspect the guns as he normally should.

Off you go into the field. You try to fire at one of your friends but something goes wrong and the gun explodes in your hand, destroying three of your fingers. You spend a day or three in the hospital contemplating your mangled hand and career options as a result. You KNOW the paintball company is probably responsible for your predicament…

…But you signed that waiver…

You CAN’T sue…

Right?

WRONG!

Clauses in waivers saying that you can’t sue for bodily harm are illegal in Quebec.

Companies willfully and deliberately take advantage of the fact that most people don’t know this in order to try and avoid getting sued. Don’t get suckered into believing that you waived your right to damages for bodily injury by signing that waiver.

It is unfortunate that most amusement parks and other recreational companies won’t let you participate in their activities without signing a waiver like this.

But you can go ahead and sign it.

The clause freeing them of any responsibility for your injuries has as much worth as play money. If the company is grossly or deliberately negligent, meaning they screwed up so badly you’re (for example) eating through a straw or lost your house, waivers are completely invalid, regardless of the nature of the damages.

The courts won’t enforce them.

Don’t believe me? Check the Quebec Civil Code. Articles 1470 to 1477 are very clear.

So enjoy your paintballing, zip lining, or go-karting, and take comfort in the fact that if the company screws up, you can make them pay.