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How to Achieve Quebec Independence
 

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CHAPTER 6

A sickening display of appeasement[65]

 

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 Supreme Court?

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,[66] merchants claimed the right to post unilingual English signs. In Ford,[67] 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 partially.

That sounds like a reasonable compromise to me.

It wasn’t.

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 have approved.

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 individual rights?

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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