C. Language Rights and the Charter

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

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With the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came new protection for language rights. The language provisions in sections 16 to 23 of the Charter were a key component of the 1982 constitutional amendments. The government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau saw the Charter as a

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whole, and the language rights in particular, as a way to strengthen Canadians’ attachment to their country.12The language rights expanded on section 133 of the 1867 constitution, affirming in section 16 that French and English are the two official languages of Canada. To emphasize their importance, sections 16 through 23 were not made subject to the legislative override in section 33 of the Charter. The clear message was that French and English minority language communities were to be supported and fostered throughout the country.

After declaring that English and French are the official languages of Canada and New Brunswick, section 16(1) goes on to say that these languages have "equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada," while section 16(2) makes a similar statement with respect to the institutions of the legislature and government of New Brunswick.13Sections 17 to 20 of the Charter affirm and expand on the former section 133 of the 1867 constitution. Section 17 guarantees the right to use English or French in debates and other proceedings of Parliament and the New Brunswick legislature, while section 18 guarantees that the statutes, records, and journals of the federal Parliament and the New Brunswick legislature must be in both languages and that both versions are of equal legal authority. Section 19 guarantees the right to use either French or English in pleadings or processes of federally established courts and those of New Brunswick. Finally, section 20 gives a right for the public to communicate in either language with the head or central office of an institution of the Parliament or government of Canada or any office of an institution of New Brunswick’s government or legislature. An individual has a right to communicate with other Canadian government offices if there is "significant demand for communications with and services from that office" in French or English, or "due to the nature of the office, it is reasonable that communications with and services from that office" be available in both languages.

In addition to these "institutional bilingualism"...

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