Legal Framework

Official Languages and Language Equality

French and English are not the official languages everywhere in Canada.

Section 16(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and section 2 of the Official Languages Act  applies only to federal institutions. It proclaims that "English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.". If it can be argued that French and English are official languages throughout the country with regard to their equality of status, rights, and privileges is limited to the federal institutions, such as they are described in section 3 of the Official Languages Act. French and English are not the official languages in the private sector, nor in provincial institutions, except when they themselves declare it.

Section 16(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: "English and French are the official languages of New Brunswick and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the legislature and government of New Brunswick." Sections 6, 9, and 16 of the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick state that French and English are the official languages of, respectively, the Legislature, of legislation, and of the tribunals. Section 1 defines the "institutions of the legislature and of the government" of New Brunswick. In terms of the scope of the Act within the education sector, sections 3 and 4 exclude community centres, universities, and colleges because these institutions are organized on the basis of one or the other of the two official languages.

Section 125 of the Courts of Justice Act of Ontario says that French and English are the official languages of the tribunals in the province.

Section 1 of the Charter of the French Language of Quebec affirms that “French is the official language of Quebec.­"

Section 4 of the Official Languages Act of the Northwest Territories proclaims French, English, and nine other Aboriginal languages as official languages of the territory.

Section 3 of the of the Official Languages Act of Nunavut indicates that Inuit, French, and English are the three official languages in that territory.

Elsewhere in the country, wherever language rights exist, are not based on a declaration of official languages.

The Supreme Court first considered, in 1986, that the declaration of official languages was symbolic and that the nature of the political compromise that these rights impose should be interpreted in a restricted manner (Société des Acadiens du Nouveau-Brunswick v. Association of Parents for Fairness in Education, 1986). Later, in 1999, the Court overturned this rule of interpretation: the nature of the political compromise does not preclude an interpretation based on the point that is the maintenance and development of official-language minorities (R. v. Beaulac, 1999, paragraph 22).

Only the federal and New Brunswick governments added a rule of equality between the two official languages.

The Supreme Court, without declaring its opinion on the nature of official languages, held that linguistic equality meant real equality (R. v. Beaulac, 1999, paragraph 22) and therefore based on the needs of the minority (DesRochers v Canada, 2009, paragraphe 51). It should seek the equivalence of services rather than formal equality (Association des parents de l’école Rose-des-vents v. British Columbia, 2015, paragraphe 29).

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