Chronology of official languages policy in Canada

Chronology of official languages policy in Canada

Official bilingualism dates back, in various forms, to Canadian Confederation in 1867. However, for many years English occupied a "de facto" privileged position, and French was not fully equal.

The two languages have gradually achieved a greater level of equality in most of Canada's provinces, and full equality at the federal level.

The trend has been very different in Quebec, however, where in the 1970s English lost its status of full equality with French, which is now both the "de facto" and "de jure" sole official language of Quebec.

Official languages policy and legislation relating to the Government of Canada

* 1867: Section 133 of the "British North America Act" decrees that "The Acts of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislature of Quebec shall be printed and published in both those Languages [ie. in both English and French] ", and also mandates the use of both French and English for parliamentary debates, parliamentary publications, and federal court cases.
* 1963: Bilingualism in its more extensive modern form begins with the establishment of the "Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism".
* 1964: An Act of Parliament gives Canada's state-owned airline, Trans-Canada Airlines, the new bilingual name "Air Canada," starting a trend of giving bilingual names to federal institutions which formerly had borne English-only names.
* 1969: The "Official Languages Act" is enacted.
* 1973: Parliament passes a "Resolution on Official Languages in the Public Service" confirming the right of civil servants to work in the official language of their choice.
* 1974: "Jones v. Attorney General of New Brunswick": The Supreme Court of Canada rejects the argument of Moncton mayor Leonard Jones that the Official Languages Act is unconstitutional because it deals with subject matter outside the jurisdiction of the federal government.
* 1974: The "Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act" requires the use of both French and English on all consumer packaging across the country; bilingual packaging remains one of the most visible aspects of bilingualism for the Canadian general public resulting in this aspect of bilingualism sometimes being termed "cereal box bilingualism".
* 1978: The "Criminal Code" is amended to give accused persons the right to be heard by a judge (a judge and jury, in the event of a jury trial) who speaks the official language of the accused.
* 1986: "Société des Acadiens v. Association of Parents": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the right of the accused, under section 19 of the Charter of Rights, to use English or French in a trial, does not guarantee the right to be heard by a judge who speaks the defendant’s preferred language. This decision is reversed in 1999, in R. v. Beaulac.
* 1988: A second version of the "Official Languages Act" is introduced, taking into account the new requirements of the "Charter of Rights".
* 1989: "Saulnier v. The Queen": A Nova Scotia county court rules that under section 20 of the Charter of Rights, a federal government department cannot simply presume that there is no need for French –language services, particularly where French-speakers might face penalties for failing to comply with laws of which they could not be fully aware unless these had been explained to them in their own language.
* 1993: "Professional Institute of the Public Service v. the Queen": The Federal Court of Canada rules that sections 32 and 33 of the "Official Languages Act" impose a positive burden upon the federal government not only to react or respond to pressures for more or better bilingual services, but to initiate programmes to those serves where there is a perceived need for them.
* 1993: "R. v. Haché": The New Brunswick Court of Appeal rules that the government is not under a positive obligation to inform people that they have a right to services in their own language.
* 1999: "R. v. Beaulac": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that section 530 of the "Criminal Code", which allows for the accused to be heard in court in his or her preferred official language, be given a generous, purposive interpretation.
* 2002: "Quigley v. Canada (House of Commons) ": The Federal Court of Canada, Trial Division, rules that the House of Commons is obliged to ensure that, in any part of the country where its proceedings are broadcast in one language, they must also be broadcast in the other official language.
* 2003: Federal government tables its "Action Plan for Official Languages".
* 2005: "An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French)" is enacted, making Part VII of the "Official Languages Act" justiciable.

Official languages policy and legislation relating to the provinces and territories

Laws and policies applicable to all provinces and territories

* 1982: The "Constitution Act, 1982" requires provinces and territories, under section 23, to make education available in both official languages where numbers warrant.
* 1990: "Mahe v. Alberta": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that section 23 guarantees a "sliding scale." In certain circumstances, the children whose parents could exercise the right might be so few that literally no minority language education may be provided by the government. With a greater number of children, some schools might be required to provide classrooms in which the children could receive minority language education. An even greater number would require the construction of new schools dedicated solely to minority language education.
* 2000: "Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island": The Supreme Court of Canada applies a purposive interpretation to section 23, ruling that the purpose of this section is to redress past injustices and provide "an official language minority with equal access to high quality education in its own language in circumstances where community development will be enhanced."
* 2003: "Doucet-Boudreau v. Nova Scotia (Minister of Education)" The Supreme Court of Canada again expands the scope of section 23 by determining that the right of parents belonging to official-language minorities to have their children educated in their mother tongue was a positive right requiring positive government action. The court therefore agreed that it was legitimate for a lower-court judge to require the provincial government to report to him periodically on the construction of French-language schools that had been proceeding more slowly than he had deemed permissible.
* 2008: The Supreme Court of Canada rules that agencies which are not organs of a provincial government, but which provide a service on behalf of that province, are under the same obligation to provide bilingual services that would exist if the agency was an integral part of the provincial government. This ruling occurred in the context of a traffic ticket issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, by an officer who could not speak French, to a Francophone driver; policing is a provincial government function, and in New Brunswick all persons have a right to receive this government service in both official languages. The court ruled that the fact that policing had been contracted to a federal government agency did not void this right.


* 1870: The "Manitoba Act" establishes the new province of Manitoba. The Act serves as a "de facto" provincial constitution. Under section 22 of the Act, denominational schools on the model used in Quebec are to be established in the province. Section 23 of the Act uses the model established in 1867 for Quebec for Manitoba’s provincial legislature, which must conduct its debates and enact all laws and journals in both English and French.
* 1890: The "Manitoba Schools Act" removes funding for Catholic schools (which in practice meant all French-language schools).
* 1890: The legislature enacts "An Act to Provide that the English Language shall be the Official Language of the Province of Manitoba" (better-known as the "Official Language Act" abolishes French as an official language of the legislature and requires that only English be used in Manitoba courts.
* 1892: "Pellant v. Hebert": The recently-enacted law establishing English as the only official language of the province is found to be "ultra vires" (and therefore unconstitutional) by the St. Boniface County Court. The provincial government simply ignores this decision, as well as a parallel 1909 decision of the same court ("Bertrand v. Dussault") which also finds the law to be "ultra vires". [For further details, see Warren J. Newman, "Defining the 'Constitution of Canada' since 1982: the Scope of the Legislative Powers of Constitutional Amendment under Sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution Act, 1982," in "Supreme Court Law Review", vol. 22 (2003), p. 445.]
* 1896: "The Laurier-Greenway Compromise": Catholic education is permitted in public schools, and French may be used in teaching, but only on a school-by-school basis and only when there is a minimum of 10 French-speaking pupils. A Catholic school board is re-established, but without government funding.
* 1916: The "The Laurier-Greenway Compromise" is rescinded by the Liberal government of T.C. Norris and French instruction is abolished.
* 1966: The first of two amendments to the provincial "Public Schools Act" (the second taking place in 1970) reintroduce French-language instruction.
* 1979: "Manitoba (Attorney General) v. Forest": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the "Official Language Act" of 1890 is "ultra vires".
* 1983: On October 5, Parliament unanimously passes a resolution asking the Manitoba legislature to enact a proposed constitutional amendment which would have made French an official language of Manitoba and ensured that under certain circumstances, provincial government services would be offered in French. Another resolution on Manitoba Francophones is passed on Feb. 24, 1984. Ultimately, the legislature fails to enact the proposed amendment, and the federal government responds by referring the question of the constitutional validity of Manitoba's "Official Language Act" to the Supreme Court of Canada.
* 1985: "Reference re Manitoba Language Rights": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the provincial government acted unconstitutionally in enacting its laws in English only from 1890 onwards. The province is given a limited time in which to re-enact its laws in French. At the end of this period, any law that has not been enacted in a French version will be of no force or effect.
* 1999: The French Language Services Policy is adopted, with the intention of providing comparable levels of provincial government services in both official languages, including public utilities and health services, official documents such as parking tickets and court summonses, availability of translation at court and commission hearings, and bilingual government web sites.

New Brunswick

* 1969: The Liberal government of Louis Robichaud enacts the "Official Languages of New Brunswick Act".
* 1981: The Progressive Conservative government of Richard Hatfield enacts "An Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick".
* 1993: Canada's "Charter of Rights" is amended to proclaim the equality of New Brunswick’s English-speaking and French-speaking communities.
* 2001: "Charlebois v. Mowat et ville de Moncton": The New Brunswick Court of Appeal rules that all municipal laws must be enacted in both official languages in all municipalities which have, under the province’s language law, been designated bilingual. The province complies with the ruling by providing financing for all pre-existing statutes to be translated into French.
* 2005: "Charlebois v. Saint John (City)": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that it is not necessary, under the terms of the province’s "Official Languages Act", for New Brunswick municipalities which have not been designated bilingual by the provincial government to nevertheless operate in both official languages. Had the court ruled that municipalities were institutions of the province, they would have fallen under the province’s legal obligation to operate in both official languages. Instead, the court holds that municipalities are incorporated entities and therefore not “institutions” of the province.

Northwest Territories

* 1877: The unelected territorial government makes French an official language of the territory (at this time, the Territory includes the landmass that today makes up the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, parts of Manitoba, and parts of Nunavut).
* 1892: The territorial legislature votes to make the Northwest Territories an English-only territory.
* 1984: The territorial government responds to federal government pressure to make the territory officially bilingual (English and French only) by adopting the "Official Languages Act", which English, French, and nine aboriginal languages into official languages of the territorial government. The law permits territorial residents to use any of these languages in territorial courts or in debates of the legislature, but documents are published in the aboriginal languages only when requested by the legislature, and laws are enacted only in English and French.


* 1912: Regulation 17 which forbids the use of French as a language of instruction after the first year of school, unless the pupil is unable to speak English because of "defective training", and bans the teaching of French after the fourth year of school.
* 1927: Regulation 17 is repealed.
* 1968: The "Education Act" is amended to recognize French-language schools.
* 1970: a new post, "Coordinator of Bilingualism", is created to oversee the development of French language government services. Over the next 16 years, a large number of service policies are adopted on a piecemeal basis by individual ministries.
* 1986: The legislature adopts the French Language Services Act, requiring that provincial government services be made available in French in any community or region where the francophone population exceeds 5,000 or 10 percent of the community's total population.
* 2005: The "City of Ottawa Act" is amended to require the city to have a policy respecting the municipal administration of English and French. This stops short of a Liberal campaign promise to make the newly enlarged city officially bilingual and retricting the ability of the municipal council to alter its bilingual status.


* 1608-1759: Prior to the British conquest of Quebec in 1759, the most heavily-populated part of what is now Quebec (primarily the St. Lawrence River valley) was a homogenous French-speaking community, and was administered entirely in French.
* 1760: The "Articles of Capitulation", under which French resistance to the British occupiers ceased, are signed in Montreal. These articles provide the legal framework for the administration of the territory while it remains under British military rule (which lasts until 1763). Capitulation article no. 45 contains the first British acknowledgement of a formal role for the French language in its newly-conquered territory. The British agreed that legal documents of the ancien regime, including deeds, registers, and notarized documents, would retain legal force. Although no mention was made of the French language, "the British ... ensured continuity in the administration of justice by having available for consultation the precedents and records of the previous regime, all of them, of course, entirely in the French language." [Sheppard, Claude-Armand, "The Law of Languages in Canada". Studies of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, no. 11. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1971, p. 10.]
* 1763: On October 7, King George III issues a Royal Proclamation establishing a colonial government for Quebec. The Proclamation gives legal expression to assimilationist policies. Although assimilation is primarily focused on replacing Catholicism with Protestantism, it has the practical consequence of denying rights on the basis of language. Since Catholics cannot take the necessary oath, they are excluded from participating in the new assembly of freeholders, from serving as officers of the new courts that are to be established, or even from practicing law. The practical consequence of this is to cause all justice to be administered by English-speakers.
* 1764: Governor James Murray issues an ordinance modifying the restrictive rules regarding the administration of justice, to permit French-speaking Catholics to serve as lawyers in the Court of Common Pleas because "we have not yet got one English Barrister or Attorney [in Quebec] who understands the French Language." Murray's ordinance also allows French-speaking Catholics to serve on juries, because "As there are but Two Hundred Protestant Subjects in the Province ... it is thought unjust to exclude the new Roman Catholic Subjects to sit upon Juries, as such exclusion would constitute the said Two hundred Protestants perpetual Judges of the lives and Property of...Eighty Thousand of the new Subjects...." [Sheppard, Claude-Armand, "The Law of Languages in Canada". Studies of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, no. 11. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1971, p. 17.] Murray asserts in a letter to his superiors in England that this is meant to be a "temporary Expedient" until he receives clearer instructions, but in practice, French-speaking juries and lawyers exist from this point forward.
* 1764: The "Quebec Gazette" is published for the first time on June 21. This publication contains public ordinances and subordinate legislation (regulations) in both English and French. From this point forward, all such information has never ceased to be available in published form in both languages, in the successor governments to the one then governing Quebec. [Sheppard, Claude-Armand, "The Law of Languages in Canada". Studies of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, no. 11. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1971, p. 13.]
* 1768: Governor Guy Carleton hires a secretary to translate all laws and orders of the governor and council into French. This provides a permanent formalization of the process of bilingual publication that had been undertaken by the "Quebec Gazette" four years earlier.
* 1774: The "Quebec Act" is adopted. Although it contains nothing specific on language, the political concessions made to the Catholic clergy and the Canadian "noblesse" resulting in the end of the legal exclusion on the basis of religion in the government (the Test Oath being replaced with a simple Oath of allegiance to the Crown), French-speaking Catholics begin their entry in some functions of the civil government. They will however continue to be discriminated against, never forming but a minority in the civil government (this is formally complained of by the elected representatives of the people of Lower Canada in the Ninety-Two Resolutions of 1834).
* 1792: Following the adoption of "Constitutional Act" in 1971, the Parliament of Lower Canada meets and debates the question of language. The House of Assembly of Lower Canada resolves that the Speaker ought to be bilingual, that MPPs ought to be free to speak French or English, that the language of civil law be French and that of criminal law be English. This was overruled by Westminster which decided that only the English text should have legal value but could be translated to French.
* 1834: Resolution 75 of the Ninety-Two Resolutions of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada complains of the disproportion in the offices held by natives of the British Isles vs natives of Canada. [75. Resolved, That the number of the Inhabitants of the country being about 600,000, those of French origin are about 525,000, and those of British or other origin 75,000; and that the establishment of the civil government of Lower Canada, for the year 1832, accordingly to the yearly returns made by the Provincial Administration, for the information of the British Parliament, contained the names of 157 officers and others receiving salaries, who are apparently of British or foreign origin and the names of 47 who are, apparently, natives of the country, of French origin; that this statement does not exhibit the whole disproportion which exists in the distribution of the public money and power, the latter class being, for the most part, appointed to the inferior and less lucrative offices, and most frequently only obtaining even them, by becoming the dependent of those who hold the higher and the more lucrative offices; that the accumulation of many of the best paid and most influential, and at the same time incompatible, offices in the same person, which is forbidden by the laws and by sound policy, exists especially for the benefit of the former class; and that two-thirds of the persons included in the last commission of the peace issued in the province, are apparently of British or foreign origin, and one-third only of French origin.]
* 1840: The "Act of Union" is adopted. The French language is banned from the Parliament and Courts of the new united Province of Canada.
* 1848: The section of the "Action of Union" pertaining to the suppression of the French language is amended. The situation goes back to what it was from 1792 to 1837 in Lower Canada.
* 1867: Section 133 of the "British North America Act" decrees that "The Acts of … the Legislature of Quebec shall be printed and published in both those Languages [ie. in both English and French] ", and mandates the use of both French and English for legislative debates, publications of the legislature, and provincial courts. This set of provisions is identical to that used the federal parliament and courts. These rules apply only to the new province of Quebec and not to any of the other provinces, which continue to operate in English only.
* 1961: The Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec Office of the French language) is established by the Liberal government of Jean Lesage. Its mandate is "to align on international French, promote good Canadianisms and fight Anglicisms, [...] work on the normalization of the language in Québec and support state intervention to carry out a global language policy that would consider notably the importance of socio-economic motivations in making French the priority language in Québec." [ [ 24 mars 1961 - Création de l'Office de la langue française] , in "Bilan du siècle", Université de Sherbrooke, retrieved on February 18th, 2008 ]
* 1968: The Commission of Inquiry on the Situation of the French Language and Linguistic Rights in Quebec (better known as the “Gendron Commission”) is established. The commission completes its report in 1973, recommending that the provincial government enact laws to make French “the common language of Quebecers” and the sole official language of Quebec.
* 1974: The Liberal government of Robert Bourassa enacts "The Official Language Act" (better-known as "Bill 22"), making Quebec officially unilingual, with French as its only official language. English retains a proscribed legal status.
* 1977: The Parti Québécois government of René Lévesque enacts the "Charter of the French Language" (better known as "Bill 101"), banning the use of all languages but French on commercial signs, requiring that French be the language of the workplace, and placing further restrictions on the ability of parents to place their children in English-language schools.
* 1979: "Attorney General of Quebec v. Blaikie (No. 1)": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the provision in Quebec's "Charter of the French Language", requiring that all provincial laws to be enacted only in French violates section 133 of the "Constitution Act, 1867". The Court finds that section 133, which required that all Acts be printed and published in both French and English, applies to all legislation and regulations.
* 1981: "Quebec (Attorney General) v. Blaikie (No. 2)": Following an application from the Quebec government to determine whether there exist any exceptions to the requirement, under section 133 of the "Constitution Act, 1867", that all laws be printed and published in English as well as in French, the Supreme Court of Canada rules that the section 133 requirements do not extend to laws enacted by Quebec municipalities.
* 1982: The government of René Lévesque enacts a law inserting the "Notwithstanding Clause" into all existing Quebec legislation, thereby causing the "Charter of Rights" to be largely inoperative in Quebec. However, the Lévesque government is unable to prevent section 23 of the Charter from applying to Quebec, as the "Notwithstanding Clause" has been drafted to apply only to certain parts of the Charter, excluding this part.
* 1984: "Attorney General of Quebec v. Quebec Protestant School Boards": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that as a result of the recent adoption of the "Charter of Rights", it is no longer constitutional for the "Charter of the French Language" to deny an education in English to the child of any parent who was educated in English in any Canadian province (provincial law had previously permitted this only for children of parents educated in English in Quebec).
* 1986: "MacDonald v. City of Montreal": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that Section 133 of the "Constitution Act, 1867" establishes only a negative right to use either official language in the Quebec legislature and its institutions, and does not extend to a right to have municipal services in English as well as French.
* 1987: The 1982 law inserting the "Notwithstanding Clause" into all Quebec laws is allowed to lapse by the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa, and all Quebec laws therefore become subject to the "Charter of Rights".
* 1988: " Ford v. Quebec (A.G.)": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the commercial sign law provisions of Bill 101, are unconstitutional. The Quebec government reacts by "An Act to Amend the Charter of the French Language" (better known as “Bill 178”), which re-enacts the unconstitutional provisions under the authority of the "Notwithstanding Clause".
* 1988: " Devine v. Quebec (Attorney General)": The Supreme Court of Canada rules that it would be a constitutionally permissible restriction on freedom of speech for the Quebec government to require that French be “markedly predominant” on commercial signs, as long as other languages are not actually banned.
* 1993: The Quebec National Assembly enacts "An Act to Amend the Charter of the French Language" (better known as “Bill 86”), amending the sign law to bring it into conformity with the Supreme Court rulings in "Ford v. Quebec (A.G.) " and "Devine v. Quebec (A.G.)", by allowing other languages on commercial signs, subject to French being "markedly predominant".
* 1993: "McIntyre v. Canada": A human rights tribunal of the United Nations finds Quebec’s restrictions on commercial signs in languages other than French to be an unwarranted restriction, under the terms of articles 2, 19, 26 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of expression in the pursuit of a legitimate objective (strengthening the position of the French language). The ruling is not enforceable.
* 2002: " A.G. of Quebec (Procureur Général) c. John Reid et Frances Muriel Reid": The Quebec Court of Appeal rules that the Quebec government cannot require Quebec-based websites to conform with provincial language law, because the internet falls under federal jurisdiction.
* 2005: The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the interpretation of "major part requirement" in the "Charter of the French Language", limiting access to English-language public education, violates the "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms". The Court does not strike down the law, but presents the province with a set of criteria for bringing the law into conformity with the "Charter of Rights".

ee also

*Official bilingualism in Canada
*Official Languages Act (Canada)
*Spoken languages of Canada


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