Bill 178

In December 1988 the Liberal government of Québec introduced Bill 178, an Act to amend BILL 101, Charte de la langue française. This followed the Supreme Court ruling earlier that year which declared void Bill 101's provisions for unilingual public commercial signs and advertising and for acceptance of trade names in French only. The revised version of section 58 in the Charte made it clear that "public signs and posters and commercial advertising, outside or intended for the public outside, shall be solely in French." This applied also inside commercial centres and inside any public means of transport, among other places. Concerning public signs and posters and commercial advertising inside establishments, they might "be both in French and in another language, provided they are intended only for the public inside the establishments and that French is markedly predominant." Nevertheless, section 59 explicitly exempted "advertising carried in news media that publish in a language other than French, or to messages of a religious, political, ideological or humanitarian nature if not for a profit motive."

This legislation raised opposition from many nationalists, since they were reluctant to accept any compromises on the protection of French. Nor did the amendment, which allowed some use of English, placate either those who had sought an end to the law which made Québec a unilingual province. Historically, Québec's anglophone and non-French speaking population had supported the provincial Liberal party. In 1976, however, angered by the government's passage of BILL 22, which mandated French as the province's official language, this constituency registered their anger by voting somewhat surprisingly for the Union Nationale. This party had received in the past only thin support from anglophone and non-French speaking voters. By the mid-1980s, the Union Nationale was no longer a political force in Québec. In its place, the Equality Party was formed, with 4 of its candidates being elected in the 1989 provincial election. In the subsequent election, in 1994, these 4 members were defeated.

The provisions of Bill 178, assented to on 22 December 1988, only 3 days after it was introduced, could "operate notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph b) of section 2 or section 15 of the Constitution Act, 1982 . . . and apply despite sections 3 and 10 of the (Québec) CHARTER OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS." However, the Constitution Act made it mandatory to re-examine the bill and this notwithstanding clause at the end of a 5-year period. Bill 86, introduced in 1993, was grounded on this specific constraint.