Disputes over language issues have a long history in Canada, where the Federal Government is Officially Bilingual French and English, much to the consternation of many citizens. Only one province, New Brunswick, is also officially bilingual. The rest of the provinces and territories have a hodge-podge of rules where English is the de-facto language of government operations (but not officially), and other languages have some status. Only Quebec is officially unilingual French, but that is another story.
Though most of Canada operates in English, there are pockets of French throughout the country (outside of Quebec). Local governments and businesses seem to cater to the language(s) commonly spoken by residents without any need for regulation.
Where I live, there is a growing South Asian community. The local municipalities accommodate the new immigrants in their own language whether it is Urdu, Mandarin, Cantonese or Hindi. Business signs in my town and those neighbouring, are printed in a variety of languages to communicate with customers. This is as it should be, business owners should be free to communicate with their clientele in any way they wish, as long as no one's rights are violated.
But what if a town decides to impose a rule (a bylaw) on its citizens that dictates which language must be used on exterior signage? Such is the case in the Ottawa region. Ottawa, being the Capital, is available to citizens in both French and English since 2004. That might seem reasonable because it is a Federal town but within Ontario. The Ontario government offers French where warranted to its citizens, mostly in government building and services. What about private business in surrounding towns?
In 2008, the town council of Russell, on the South eastern border of Ottawa decided to make it mandatory for signs to be bilingual French and English. Of course this violates the freedoms of business owners and potentially could affect their business. Then there is the question of other languages as occurs in my own town? That issue, arguing the constitutionality of the bylaw, was brought to the Ontario Superior Court. The court found that the bylaw does not violate freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter, the bylaw stands.
In 2011the Ontario Court of Appeal granted permission for the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) to act as a friend of the court and appeal the previous decision of the Superior Court. The CCF "will argue that the impugned bylaw infringes freedom of expression because it compels and coerces individuals to express themselves in a language not freely chosen, and in only French and English."
I have an interest in this story because one of the appellants is a colleague from the Ontario Libertarian Party, Jean-Serge Brisson.
Jean-Serge has a long history of defending liberty in Canada and is one of the few Canadian Libertarians ever to have held public office. The appeal is this week in Toronto at The Court of Appeal for Ontario located in historic Osgoode Hall, Toronto.
The hearing is open to the public: 130 QUEEN ST W, Toronto, Ontario - Courtroom 10 at 10:30 am Thursday Feb. 2, 2012.
Case Number C52704 Galganov, Howard v. The Corporation of Twp. of Russel et al