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The Practice of Language Rights in Canada

The Practice of Language Rights in Canada

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 272
  • Book Info
    The Practice of Language Rights in Canada
    Book Description:

    On what grounds should language rights be accorded in Canada, and to whom? This is the central question that is addressed in C. Michael MacMillan's bookThe Practice of Language Rights in Canada. The issue of language rights in Canada is one that is highly debated and discussed, partly because the basic underlying principles have been a neglected dimension in the debate.

    MacMillan examines the normative basis of language rights in Canadian public policy and public opinion. He argues that language rights policy should be founded upon the theoretical literature of human rights. Drawing on the philosophy behind human rights, the arguments for recognizing a right to language are considered, as well as the matter of whether such rights possess the essential features of established rights. Another model that is examined is the idea that rights are a reflection of the established values, attitudes, and practices of society. This analysis reveals that there is a significant gap between what a political theory of language rights would endorse and what garners support in public opinion. MacMillan also scrutinizes the federal and provincial contexts in the development of a language rights framework.

    From these explorations, a case is developed for a recognition of language rights that is consistent with the logic of human rights and that corresponds roughly with developing Canadian practice.The Practice of Language Rights in Canadais a unique contribution to the current literature not only because it conceives of language rights as a human right but also because it frames the whole debate about language rights in Canada as a question of values and entitlements.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7870-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    With the passage of the federal Official Languages Act in 1969, Canada began to both formalize and broaden the understanding of linguistic duality in Canada. This duality has since dominated public policy, despite periodic challenges from one quarter or another to the practices that have evolved from it. Subsequent to the passage of federal act, several provinces have enacted legislation in the language area, either to curtail perceived privileges or to impose language requirements within their jurisdictions. This has resulted in a hodgepodge of competing principles regarding language policy at the federal and provincial levels. Recently, a number of books...

  5. 1 Justifying Language Rights
    (pp. 10-36)

    The constitutional recognition of ‘language rights’ in Canada has not been accompanied by the articulation of a philosophical rationale establishing their status as rights. This is in part because language rights have been perceived as obviously outside the realm of human rights. Two decades ago, K.D. McRae observed, ‘It has seldom been argued that language rights are a universal human right, or a natural right of mankind’ and, further, ‘The question of linguistic rights should be kept conceptually distinct from “classical” human rights.’² McRae’s reasons stemmed from a recognition of the special characteristics of language rights and the complexities of...

  6. 2 The Practice of Language Rights: The Canadian Experience
    (pp. 37-63)

    An alternative theory of language rights can be approached through an examination of the practice in Canada. Richard Flathman emphasized that rights are grounded in the social practices of a community. Extending Flathman’s model to language rights, and their implementation in Canada, reveals the makings of social practice in support of language rights.

    The following is a sketch of the practice of language rights in Canada. National and regional public opinion polls have been used to determine regularities and conflicts about these rights. The public comments of participants in the public debates are also informative on the issues that these...

  7. 3 Legislating National Language Rights in Canada
    (pp. 64-99)

    Government legislation, and judicial interpretations thereof, play an essential role in defining the practice of rights in society. In this chapter the evolution of the status of language in the Canadian federal government will be analysed to determine the relationship between public perceptions and the conception of language rights that emerges in government legislation. Federal legislation has progressively extended beyond the limits of the social practice, while the constitutionally entrenched language rights remain firmly within it.

    The history of language rights in Canada is one of gradual evolution from informal custom to constitutional entrenchment. For much of Canadian history, language...

  8. 4 Quebec: Collective Rights to Language
    (pp. 100-138)

    For much of Quebec’s history, language policy was a product of Section 133 of the BNA Act and the customs surrounding Section 93, whereby denominational schools were effectively divided on English and French lines. Coupled with that, the government adopted alaissez-faireapproach to access to these schools, the result being that individual families chose which system to attend. Similarly, it has been the practice to provide health, social, and government services in both English and French.² Except for Sections 93 and 133, no language rights were embodied in legislation, but, insofar as these rights were recognized, it was by...

  9. 5 Legislating Language Equality: New Brunswick
    (pp. 139-162)

    In 1969 New Brunswick became the first Canadian province to adopt its own regime of official language rights. Prior to the introduction of the legislation, the government issued a policy statement explaining its objectives in language matters. Its principle objective was ‘to develop meaningful linguistic and cultural equality of opportunity in the public life of the province.’² It made explicit commitments to provision of government services in both official languages, bilingual government documents and publications, and education in both official languages. The statement also expressed an intention to imitate the federal government’s policy goal of permitting both English and French...

  10. 6 Equality of Languages: Theoretical Considerations
    (pp. 163-179)

    Perhaps the most neglected aspect of public debate over language rights in Canada concerns the claim to linguistic equality. As the debate intensifies, one of the contentious underlying issues is the implication of equal status of the languages. One recent commentary asserted ‘The corollary of the equal status principle is the recognition of a constitutional right to work in either official language’ and, furthermore, ‘equality between the two languages necessarily implies equality between the two language groups.’² Such conclusions offer a prescriptive interpretation of language equality, since its proponent admit that this is a recommendation on how the policyought...

  11. 7 The Status of Third Languages
    (pp. 180-207)

    In recent years the issue of language equality has been complicated by demands from a new quarter. Some Aboriginal spokespersons now seek equal status with English and French for their languages.² Such claims are not entirely novel. When the idea of official languages was first proposed in Canada, representatives of some allophone language groups argued unsuccessfully for some recognition of their languages. If language policy is to be based on concepts such as rights and equality, these proposals need to be seriously assessed and therefore invite more detailed examination of the basis for claims to equal status in general.


  12. 8 Contemporary Challenges to National Language Policy
    (pp. 208-233)

    Recently, the general thrust of national language policy has been criticized on grounds of both principle and practice. Several scholars have argued that national language policy is seriously misguided and is actually sabotaging its intended purpose. According to Kenneth McRoberts, ‘In many parts of Canada official bilingualism has become a discourse which has little relationship to social reality.’² He cited the case of Saskatchewan, where the opponents of the suppression of French as an official language in the legislature blithely ignored the demographic reality of the marginal presence of francophones in the province and, more particularly, in the legislature. McRoberts...

  13. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 234-238)

    Upon emerging from a suburban Tokyo train station three years ago, I sought vainly to identify a passerby on the street who might speak sufficient English to direct me towards a community festival we wanted to attend. All the Japanese street signs were completely indecipherable. I was totally unable to derive information from my immediate environment. Salvation came from my travelling companion who, noting that there was a dominant direction to the movement of the throngs of pedestrians, suggested that we act on the assumption that they were heading towards the same event that we were.

    This experience was a...

  14. References
    (pp. 239-258)
  15. Index
    (pp. 259-263)