ARCHIVED - Ottawa, November 6, 2003

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The Supreme Court of Canada clarifies the role of the courts in protecting language rights

The Commissioner of Official Languages, Dr. Dyane Adam, today applauded an historic Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Doucet-Boudreau case, in which she intervened. Further to this decision, the courts must grant remedies that will fully uphold the rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court also reiterated that minority official-language education rights are intended to correct past injustices and to actively enhance the vitality of these communities.

"In its decision, the Supreme Court confirms that where there is a right, there is recourse. I am delighted with this decision because it clarifies how far the courts must go in granting useful and effective remedy when a Charter right has been violated. This decision will have significant repercussions on official-language minority communities across the country, over and above education rights," Dr. Adam stated.

It may be recalled that the applicants, Francophone parents and the Fédération des parents acadiens de la Nouvelle-Écosse, had asked the Nova Scotia Department of Education and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial to provide homogeneous programs and high school facilities in French in five municipalities. The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia found in their favour. In his judgment, Justice LeBlanc also ordered the parties to appear before him again to report on the efforts made to comply with the schedule set out in the judgment. The province appealed and the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal then reversed Justice LeBlanc's judgment.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the role to be played by the courts when language rights are violated: "The affirmative promise contained in s. 23 of the Charter and the critical need for timely compliance will sometimes require courts to order affirmative remedies to guarantee that language rights are meaningfully, and therefore necessarily promptly, protected." (Page 17)

"I believe the message will be heard loud and clear by governments this time. It is unfortunate that citizens have had to appeal to the courts again to uphold their constitutional rights. In this case, the efforts of a few will certainly lead to significant gains for all official-language minority communities in the country," the Commissioner concluded.