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Three strikes against Bill 101

On March 31, 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Quebec's language law but ruled that the province must allow greater access to English schools. Back in 1977, when the Parti Québécois first introduced Bill 101, critics compared it to "lunatics taking over the asylum." Under Bill 101, even the "apostrophe s" in Eaton's, became illegal. The charter's defenders said such measures were necessary to protect the dwindling French culture and language from English dominance. CBC Archives looks back at the most debated law in Quebec.

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Eaton's department store can put the "apostrophe s" back on its sign. The Supreme Court of Canada deals another blow to Quebec's already-battered piece of legislation. It upholds the appeal of five Montreal-area businesses that fought for bilingual signs. Canada's highest court unanimously rules that Section 58 of Bill 101, requiring French-only commercial signs, is in violation of freedom of expression as protected by both the Canadian and the Quebec Charters of Rights.

But the court tempers its ruling by rejecting the appeal of storeowner Allan Singer, who had sought to post signs in English only. The court says Quebec has the right to pass a law requiring the predominant display of the French language. As expected, the reaction to the ruling is divided along cultural lines. Amidst the protests and the celebrations all eyes are on Premier Robert Bourassa as he ponders his response. Bourassa has two choices.

One is to comply with the Supreme Court decision. The other is to invoke the "notwithstanding clause" under the charter and introduce a new bill, endorsing Bourassa's inside/outside solution, banning English signs outdoors but allowing them indoors. 
• The "notwithstanding clause" in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows legislatures to override the charter. It exists because there was no consensus regarding the issue of rights when the charter was adopted in 1982. • Reaction to the Supreme Court ruling was mixed, as heard on this CBC Television report. Some said it was a victory for minority English rights while others said it was a deliberate attempt to undermine the Quebec language.

• The Quebec Court of Appeal had ruled on Dec. 22, 1986, that French-only commercial signs were unconstitutional. Robert Bourassa, who was once again Quebec's premier, said the sign law couldn't be revoked until the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled.

•The five businesses who brought the case to Supreme Court were Chassures Brown Inc., McKenna Inc., Masson Tailors and Cleaners, National Cheese Co. Ltd., and Valerie Ford.
• Allan Singer, the 76-year-old owner of a stationery shop, expressed "shock and disappointment" at the Supreme Court ruling that he didn't have the right to display English-only signs in Quebec. "It's incredible that my language is disallowed in any part of Canada."
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 15, 1988
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Keith Boag
Duration: 2:24

Last updated: February 20, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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