A. The Nature of Language Rights

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

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There is a range of options to protect ethnic communities, including those who share a common language. One possibility is to provide a degree of self-government for an ethnic or language community, giving it the powers to preserve and promote a distinct identity. In a federation, a language group may form the majority in a province while representing a minority in the country as a whole. Another option is to provide specific rights that permit groups to use their language or express their culture. Examples are separate-school rights, access to broadcasting outlets, or guarantees that government services will be provided in a certain language. Yet another device is protection against discrimination on the basis of language or culture, preventing the majority from disadvantaging the minority because of language or cultural practice. As will be seen, all of these options have been resorted to in the Canadian constitution.

The territorial principle, adopted in countries such as Belgium and Switzerland, leaves the determination of language rights to each province or territorial unit. The result is linguistic uniformity in most territorial units. While Canada’s federal structure, with a francophone majority in Quebec and anglophone majorities in the other provinces, contains elements of the territorial principle, important features of the Canadian constitution see language as an aspect of the individual’s personality, which is to be respected wherever one lives in Canada. Even though francophones are a small minority in most provinces, and anglo-phones are a minority in Quebec, both groups are given constitutional rights that limit the ability of provinces to impose linguistic uniformity.

Language rights in Canada are distinctive because they are "positive" in nature. They entitle an individual to certain action on the part of government, such as funding for schools, printing of bilingual stat-

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