Ford v. Quebec (Attorney General)
In this landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Canada the court struck down Bill 101 of the 'Charter of the French Language', a law restricting the use of commercial signs written in languages other than French.
The government of Quebec appealed the decisions of the Quebec Superior Court and Quebec Court of Appeal that ruled Bill 101 violated the freedom of expression provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The initial claim against the Quebec government was brought by five small-business owners who had posted advertisements and signs that were bilingual (French and English), and were then subsequently fined for violating the Charter of the French Language by the 'Commission de surveillance de la langue française' and instructed to post only unilingual signs in French. The claimants petitioned that the relevant provisions (ss 58, 69, 205-208) of the Charter be declared inoperative and of no force or effect.
The Court dismissed the Quebec government's appeal on the basis that "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 and therefore the expression contemplated by ss. 58 and 69 of the Charter of the French Language - "commercial expression" - is expression within the meaning of both s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter and s. 3 of the Quebec Charter. These sections infringed the freedom of expression guarantee under both Charters since commercial expression, like political expression, is a form of expression deserving of constitutional protection because it serves 'individual and societal values in a free and democratic society', and (above its intrinsic value as expression) it plays a significant role in enabling individuals to make informed economic choices, 'an important aspect of individual self fulfilment and personal autonomy'.
Secondly, under section 10 of the Quebec Charter, a "distinction, exclusion or preference" based on one of the grounds listed in s. 10 is discriminatory when it "has the effect of nullifying or impairing" the right to full and equal recognition and exercise of a human right or freedom. Section 58 of the Charter of the French Language applied to everyone (the requirement of the exclusive use of French) regardless of their language of use, yet in effect impinged 'deferentially on different classes of persons according to their language of use' and so due to its effect or impact on persons according to their language of use, s. 58 created a distinction based on language within the meaning of s. 10 - nullifying the right to full and equal recognition and exercise of the freedom of expression.
Furthermore, the relevant provisions were not demonstrably necessary or proportionate for the achievement of the legislative purpose of the Charter of the French Language - enhancement of the status of the French language in Quebec and to ensure its survival.
URL Link: http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/1988/1988scr2-712/1988scr2-712.html
Author Organisation: Supreme Court of Canada