R. v Rémillard

Language rights and services to the public
Provincial Court of Manitoba
2005 M.J. 212
Province or Territory: 

The Provincial Court of Manitoba considered the scope of the City of Winnipeg’s obligation to issue bilingual offence notices.

The accused had received speeding tickets in Winnipeg through an image capturing system. They challenged the validity of the tickets, given that the information regarding the offences was written on the bilingual forms in English only, which they argued was contrary to Part 9 of the City of Winnipeg CharterFootnote 1 (Winnipeg Charter) and municipal by-law no. 8154/2002 (By-law). Accordingly, the Court first had to determine whether the tickets sent to the accused were consistent with the City of Winnipeg’s language obligations, and secondly, whether the City had taken all reasonable measures to fulfill its language obligations. The Court found in the accuseds’ favour: it noted that the City had a duty to provide fully bilingual documents and notices to residents of the Riel districtFootnote 2 and had not taken the necessary measures to comply with its obligations in these circumstances.

Interpretation of statutory framework

The Court first recalled the modern method of interpretation, according to which the words of an act are to be read “in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament.Footnote 3 It then considered the principles of interpretation to be used in language rights matters set out by the Supreme Court in BeaulacFootnote 4 and noted that the interpretation “must not only remain mindful of the concept of substantive equality, but it must also be compatible ‘with the preservation and development of official language communities in Canada.’Footnote 5

Scope of the City of Winnipeg’s language obligations

In order to determine the City’s language obligations, Joyal J. examined Part 9 of the Winnipeg Charter and the By-law. The Winnipeg Charter provides that documents and notices sent out by the City to residents of the Riel district are to be in both official languages.Footnote 6 It also provides that the City is required at all times to have in full force a by-law respecting the implementation of Part 9 of the Winnipeg Charter, which contains a schedule identifying the date after which each service described in the By-law will be provided in both official languages at an office also designated in the By-law.Footnote 7

The Court found that two of the By-law’s main objectives provided for standardization in the delivery of municipal services to the Riel residents in French. In view of the principle of substantive equality, standardization means that residents of the designated area “have a right to not only a predictable and standardized service, but also a service which [...] is indistinguishable from that which Anglophone residents receive.Footnote 8 In short, the Court was of the view that the residents of Riel were entitled to services in French that were as readily accessible as and of a comparable quality to those offered in English. After reviewing the facts, it concluded that by not providing the accused with a fully translated offence notice, the City was offering an inferior service to its Francophone residents, both in terms of quality and accessibility.

In response to the Crown’s argument that the duty to provide fully bilingual documents might infringe on the right of a peace officer to swear offence notices or other information in the official language of his or her choice, the Court noted that peace officers are free to draft and swear documents in the language of their choice, so long as the documents are later translated. The creation of a bilingual document through translation does not infringe upon the officer’s right to use the official language of his or her choice.

In so doing, the Court concluded that the offence notices sent to the accused did not fulfill the City’s obligations to send the residents of Riel fully bilingual documents and notices.

Measures taken by the City to comply with its language obligations

Under subsection 452(3) of the Winnipeg Charter, the City’s language obligations are subject “to such limitations as circumstances make reasonable and necessary, if the city has taken all reasonable measures to comply with this Part.” Based on this provision, the Crown argued that it had made considerable efforts to translate the offence notices. However, in reviewing the evidence, the judge found that the Crown did not justify its use of the current system, which does not allow fully bilingual documents to be provided. Also, the Crown did not show that it is impossible or difficult to change the system, nor did it establish that measures had been taken to improve the coordination of provincial services and the City’s initiatives to provide bilingual documents. Consequently, the Court came to the conclusion that the City had not made the necessary effort under the circumstances to fulfill its language obligations, adding that the measures to be taken were not unreasonable.

Court’s jurisdiction to grant a remedy

On this point, the Court accepted the accuseds’ argument that it had jurisdiction to grant a remedy. The fact that subsection 452(3) was included in the Winnipeg Charter indicated that the City could be called on to defend the reasonable character of its efforts to comply with its language obligations. Thus, contrary to what the Crown had argued, filing a complaint with the Ombudsman is not the only possible recourse for allegations of the City’s failure to observe the Winnipeg Charter or by-laws.

Since the City failed to fulfill its obligation to provide fully bilingual offence notices, the Court considered that they contained a formal defect. Joyal J. consequently quashed the offence notices and dismissed the charges against the accused.


Footnote 1

City of Winnipeg Charter, S.M. 2002, c. 39.

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Footnote 2

City of Winnipeg ward where the By-Law applies.

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Footnote 3

R. v Rémillard, [2005] M.J. No. 467 (QL) at para. 39

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Footnote 4

R. v Beaulac, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 768.

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Footnote 5

R. v Rémillard, [2005] M.J. No. 467 (QL) at para. 42.

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Footnote 6

City of Winnipeg Charter, S.M. 2002, c. 39, s. 456(1). Under subsection 451(1), “designated area” means the area of the Riel Community, the area in which all of the accused in this case reside.

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Footnote 7

City of Winnipeg Charter, S.M. 2002, c. 39, s. 460(1). Under subsection 451(1), “designated area” means the area of the Riel Community, the area in which all of the accused in this case reside.

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Footnote 8

R. v Rémillard, [2005] M.J. No. 467 (QL) at para. 58.

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