Quebec only issuing marriage certificates in French under Bill 96, causing immediate fallout

As of last week, Quebec will only issue marriage certificates in French, according to a letter sent to wedding officiants in the province.

The change, the latest to come out of new language law Bill 96, is also one of its first concrete shifts that were rumoured but not well understood by the public, even as the bill was adopted on May 24.

Coming into force on June 1, the marriage rule already has some couples changing the locations for their weddings, since they want their certificates in English, said one wedding planner.

“There are some that have decided to get married destination-style,” said Montreal event and wedding planner Jaime Korey.

Others, she said, have decided just to get married in a different province.

Among her clients, that’s been “predominantly Ontario,” Korey said, including in the small town of Hawkesbury, about an hour west of Montreal, just across the Ottawa River from Quebec.

“There’s a lot of venues in Hawkesbury, and venues in Ottawa that are close by as well,” she said.

Of her clients, 90 per cent are bilingual and not affected, she said. There are also various adjustments happening in wedding planning, including working around COVID-19, so it can be hard to pin down people’s motivations to change plans.

But for about 10 per cent of Korey’s clients, she said, the language of the marriage certificate does matter.

“It has to do with simply the fact that it’s a bilingual province and an English country,” she said.

Their reasons are “emotional, political, principle,” she said. “They want to have their certificate of marriage in their prominent language.”

Korey had heard the news, but it hasn’t been well-publicized. Quebec’s marriage officiants got a letter from a director at Quebec’s “État Civil” department, or civil state, on June 1, telling them of the change.

With the passage of Bill 96, some parts of the province’s civil code have been changed, wrote Nicolas Normandin, who oversees legal amendments and officiants.

“Although it is still possible to fill out a Declaration of Marriage (DEC-50) or Civil Union (DEC-55) form in English after June 1, 2022, all marriage and civil union certificates are drawn up in French,” he wrote.

“As a result, certificates and copies of acts relating to marriages and civil unions registered in the Civil Registry as of June 1, 2022 are issued in French.”

The wording left the situation not entirely clear. One English-speaking marriage officiant told reporters that his understanding is that all the forms, including the declaration of marriage, will be available only in French, but people will be allowed to fill out the blanks in English. The certificate sent in the mail after every wedding will be in French.

When asked to clarify some aspects of the new rule, the État Civil asked reporters to contact the Justice Department, which oversaw the bill. That department hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.

Officials in Ottawa and Hawkesbury couldn’t immediately comment on whether they’ve seen a change in demand from Quebecers.

WANT A MONTREAL DESTINATION WEDDING? TRANSLATION REQUIRED

For Quebecers who hope their marriage certificates will be portable outside the province, this rule will change that, or at least it will add an extra hurdle.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, which handles visa applications for the U.S., directed us to the department’s step-by-step application directions, which say that non-English documents must get certified translations.

That means that people who get married in Quebec and then get a job in the U.S., for example, and want to bring their spouse to live and work there too, would need to get a certified translation of their marriage certificate.

But it’s not just Canadians who will have to face that extra step, said Montreal wedding planner Elyna Kudish.

“All of our clients are American, for the most part,” having destination weddings in Montreal, she said. 

“I can’t speak for all of my co-planners, but for myself, it’s about 75 per cent of my business is from New York, Washington, Boston and L.A.”

Montrealers may not realize that their city is attractive as a wedding destination, but “for a lot of Americans it’s closer than Europe, it’s easier — the American dollar goes very far here,” said Kudish.

“We’re known for amazing food, great DJs, an amazing party vibe,” she said. “People make a weekend out of it.”

Kudish herself is allophone, she said — perfectly fluent in French and English — but among her local clients, the majority are English-speaking, she said, simply because many French-speaking Quebecers don’t get married after the cultural changes of the Quiet Revolution.

She said she’s worried about the economic effects, since “Quebec lives and breathes tourism,” but is also concerned about the idea of making English-speakers fill out and sign documents written in French, with no translation available.

“If I was going to get married in a foreign country and I was made to sign something in a language that I can’t speak… how would they know what they’re signing?” she said.

PLANS FOR BIRTH, DEATH CERTIFICATES STILL UNCLEAR

One major question that hasn’t been cleared up is whether Bill 96 will also mean that Quebec birth and death certificates will only be issued in French from now on.

In Normandin’s letter, he said that three articles of Quebec’s civil code had been modified by Bill 96: articles 108, 109 and 140. The updated articles have not yet been published online.

Article 108 specifically deals with the language of registration of births, marriages, civil unions and deaths in Quebec, which until now could be written in French or English. 

The article advises on how to handle transcriptions of official documents in foreign languages with unfamiliar characters or diacritical marks.

Article 140, meanwhile, discusses the need for translation of official documents that come from outside Quebec. Translations haven’t been required for foreign English or French documents.

The Justice Department and État Civil haven’t yet responded to a request for comment on whether the Bill 96 changes will extend to births and deaths, or just marriages and civil unions.

Read the letter here:

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