Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ford v. Quebec (A.G.)
Ford v. Quebec (Attorney General) is a Supreme Court of Canada decision made in 1988 which invalidated sections of the Charter of the French Language, commonly known as Bill 101. The main reason given by the court for this judgement was that the sections regarding commercial signs were contrary to the freedom of expression protected by section 3 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and under section 2b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that those limitations could not be justified in a free and democratic society, according to the Oakes test.
The appeal, taken by the government of Quebec, was the consolidation of many cases begun by a Montreal businessman, Hyman Singer . A number of merchants who had been fined for violation of the Charter of the French language decided not to pay and go to court. Following complaints by French-speaking customers, the Office québécois de la langue française had instructed them to inform and serve their customers in French and replace their English language or bilingual exterior signs by French ones. The Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal in that the signs could not be prohibited by the law in its current state.
This case is complex because it was one of the first to establish Canadian Charter jurisprudence, but its arguments are interesting to review.
The material below was taken from the headnote of the official Supreme Court reporter. It has been significantly modified. There is judicial authority in Canada that a judge's decisions cannot be copyrighted. See: Jockey Club v. Standen (1985) 8 C.P.R.(3d) 283, 288 (B.C.C.A.).
Excerpts of the decision
- The court held that the "freedom of expression" guaranteed by s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter and s. 3 of the Quebec Charter includes the freedom to express oneself in the language of one's choice. Language is intimately related to the form and content of expression; there cannot be true freedom of expression by means of language if one is prohibited from using the language of one's choice. Language is not merely a means or medium of expression; it colours the content and meaning of expression; is a means by which a people may express its cultural identity; is the means by which one expresses one's personal identity and sense of individuality. "freedom of expression" includes the freedom to express oneself in the language of one's choice. Such a principle does not undermine the express or specific guarantees of language rights in s. 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and ss. 16 to 23 of the Canadian Charter.
- Commercial expression -- is expression within the meaning of both s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter and s. 3 of the Quebec Charter. Commercial expression, like political expression, is one of the forms of expression that is deserving of constitutional protection. It serves individual and societal values in a free and democratic society. Commercial expression, which protects listeners and speakers, plays a role in enabling individuals to make informed economic choices, being an aspect of self-fulfillment and personal autonomy. Conclusion: (1) s. 58 infringes the freedom of expression guaranteed by s. 3 of the Quebec Charter and (2) s. 69 infringes the guaranteed freedom of expression under both s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter and s. 3 of the Quebec Charter.
- Requiring the predominant display of the French language, even its marked predominance, would be proportional to the goal of promoting and maintaining a French visage linguistique in Quebec and therefore justified under s. 9.1 of the Quebec Charter and s. 1 of the Canadian Charter the requirement of the exclusive use of French has not been so justified. French could be required in addition to any other language or it could be required to have greater visibility than that accorded to other languages. Accordingly, the limit imposed on freedom of expression by s. 58 of the Charter of the French Language is not justified under s. 9.1 of the Quebec Charter, and the limit imposed on freedom of expression by s. 69 of the Charter of the French Language is not justified under either s. 1 of the Canadian Charter or s. 9.1 of the Quebec Charter.
In late 1989, shortly after the Supreme Court's decision, the Quebec National Assembly passed Bill 178, which made minor amendments to the Charter of the French Language. Recognizing that the amendments did not follow the Supreme Court's ruling, the National Assembly invoked section 33 of the Canadian Charter (also known as the Notwithstanding Clause), shielding Bill 178 from review by courts for five years.
This move was politically controversial, both among Quebec nationalists who were unhappy with the changes to the Charter of the French Language, and among anglophones who opposed the use of the Notwithstanding Clause. Tension over this issue was a contributing factor to the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.
In 1993, the Charter of the French Language was amended in the manner suggested by the Supreme Court of Canada. Bill 86 was passed by the National Assembly of Quebec to amend the law, which now states that French must be predominant on commercial signs where a language other than French is also used.
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