A sickening display of appeasement
Canada must end because even its Supreme
Court -- an allegedly objective institution that is supposed to be guided by the
rule of law -- appeases Quebec nationalists.
Can you provide an example of what you claim is appeasement by Canada’s
The Court’s December 15, 1988 decision on the language of commercial signs
provisions of Bill 101 is the best example.
In the grand scheme of things, the language that store owners put on their signs
is, for me, not nearly as important as Bill 101’s language of education,
francization, and official language provisions. However, the sign law, as
it is popularly known, is the law’s most symbolic part, impacts important rights
and freedoms, and its treatment by the Supreme Court leaves a lot to be desired.
The decision comprised two cases. In both, Quebec merchants challenged those
provisions of Bill 101, designed to achieve a French-only visage linguistique,
that required businesses to post unilingual French signs and have unilingual
French names. In Devine,
merchants claimed the right to post unilingual English signs. In Ford,
merchants wanted the right to post signs in another language alongside French.
The Court ruled that, on the face of it, legislation requiring a particular
language on commercial signs infringed upon freedom of expression guarantees in
the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights and equality guarantees in the Quebec
charter. However, the Court also found that legislating the requirement of
French -- even its “marked predominance” -- while not disallowing other
languages was a reasonable limit to those freedoms. The Ford merchants,
therefore, won their case in full and the Devine merchants only
That sounds like a reasonable compromise to me.
Of all the possibilities that could have been sanctioned by the Court, “marked
predominance” was far from a liberal, unfettered construction. Indeed, “marked
predominance” is one notch below “unilingual French only” that the Court could
Why was this so wrong?
The Court gave into temptation and strayed from the path of liberal
interpretation that tradition and the rule of law demanded when dealing with
individual rights and freedoms. The Court realized that the sign language case
would be historic in its implications and that the fate of Canadian
Confederation could very well be reflected in its outcome. Could the aspirations
of the quebecois to preserve and promote their distinct position in the
so-called Sea of English surrounding La Belle Province be realized within
the Canadian context? Could these aspirations be reconciled with the concept of
Sounds to me like the Court was trying to do a good thing.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. However good or bad the
judgment, Canada’s Supreme Court had no business sticking its nose where it
didn’t belong by venturing into areas outside its mandate. Such is the stuff of
politics, not law.
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