Language rights

Author:Robert J. Sharpe - Kent Roach
Profession:Court of Appeal for Ontario - Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Page 384

The appropriate status of the French and English languages has been an ongoing source of debate throughout Canadian history, both in the political and in the legal spheres. The Supreme Court has recognized that minority language rights involve both the rights of individuals and the rights of communities and that language rights must be interpreted in the context of Canada’s history. The Court has commented:

First, the members of the minority communities and their families, in every province and territory, must be given the opportunity to achieve their personal aspirations. Second, on the collective level, these language issues are related to the development and existence of the English-speaking minority in Quebec and the French-speaking minorities elsewhere in Canada. They also inevitably have an impact on how Quebec’s French-speaking community perceives its future in Canada, since that community, which is in the majority in Quebec, is in the minority in Canada, and even more so in North America as a whole. To this picture must be added the serious difficulties resulting from the rate of assimilation of French-speaking minority groups outside Quebec, whose current language rights were acquired only recently, at considerable expense and with great difficulty. Thus, in interpreting these rights, the courts have a responsibility to reconcile sometimes divergent interests and priorities, and to be sensitive to the future of each language community. Our country’s social context, demographics and history...

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