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End the unfairness of official bilingualism. Stop wasting our tax dollars.

25 July 2017

Struggle for Human Rights in Canada  - Allan C.

The Canadian Government has a long history of human rights violations since the British colonies became the Dominion of Canada in 1867.  The Indian Act, The Chinese Immigration Act, and the internment of Japanese Canadians. Not one Japanese Canadian was charged with an act of disloyalty during the Second World War. The internment was unwarranted but racism took precedence.  The Government of Canada has formally apologized for these violations and needs to apologize for two more,  The Official Languages Act (OLA) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (The Charter).

The Liberal Cabinet of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau abused its power in 1969 when it introduced the OLA. Its purpose was to make Canada a bilingual country, not by freedom of choice but by force of legislation. How could such a bad law as the OLA be passed by a responsible government?  French-speaking Canadians do not like it and have used the notwithstanding clause to protect themselves from it.  English-speaking Canadians do not like it and ignore it as much as possible.  The OLA has only served to bring a resurgence of ethnic conflict between these two linguistic groups. 

The rise of a near-permanent class of professional politicians in Canada has produced an arrogant and autocratic federal government.  It has become an increasingly dictatorial one that follows a language policy that can only be described as a political irritation for the majority of Canadians. The OLA could not have been passed by parliament if the federal government had honoured the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Declaration) adopted by Canada in 1948.

So where is the Declaration today? It belongs to the people and they have a right to know where it is and why equal protection of all languages, as provided in the Declaration, was not put into their constitution.  In seeking answers we have to look back in history to the year 1948 in order to understand what are human rights, how did we obtain them and who do they belong to?

World War II was caused by political and military leaders who did not possess a culture of human rights.  The need for the protection of people from their own government, while not originally the purpose of the United Nations, was obvious. Born out of the atrocities and enormous loss of human life during that war many countries now believed the United Nations should embrace the protection of human rights as part of its mission.  The United Nations’ Human Rights Commission was formed and now captured the attention of the world. 

We should be proud that a Canadian, John Peters Humphrey, [1] was appointed Director of Human Rights for the United Nations Secretariat in 1946.  As director, and with the assistance of many other human rights advocates from around the world, he authored the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It was never easy work. There were clashes of personality and philosophy along with the complications of international politics as the Cold War took shape.  All citizens shared, for the most part, a common ideology and goal.  But to create a document that clearly defined the inalienable rights of global citizens, one that transcended political, societal, economic, ideological, and religious beliefs, was a monumental task.  The Declaration, which took two years to complete, is considered one of the world's greatest accomplishments and often referred to as ‘The Magna Carta for the People’. 

The Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December, 1948.  It was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of human rights belonging to people, not governments. These rights are inalienable fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being” These rights were to be protected by enshrining them within a nation’s constitution and used as a guide for governments to consider before the enactment of any laws. The Declaration identified 30 separate rights which belong to each and every Canadian citizen.

The Parliamentary Houses of Canada formed a joint committee to study the newly created Declaration before approving it.  They thoroughly understood the contents and the requirements for compliance.  They agreed the Declaration should be adopted by Canada.  The Liberal Cabinet of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent disagreed.  The Canadian delegation to the UN received a personal letter from St. Laurent expressing his concerns.  Canada abstained from the vote on the adoption of the Declaration in the Third Committee of the UN, blemishing an honourable record in international human rights.

William A. Schabas, [2] is a Canadian academic in the field of International Criminal and Human Rights law, and is considered ‘the world expert’ on the law of Genocide and International Law. Using archival documents now available, he did extensive research to find the real reason behind the Liberal Government's hesitation. 

The abstention by Canada astounded the UN members, especially our closest allies, Great Britain and the United States.  Canada now found itself amongst undesirable company, those who were not in favour of their citizens having these rights.  Canada’s reputation was at stake and senior bureaucrats quickly realized that they were playing with a hornet’s nest.  Lester B. Pearson was now aware of the dangers of abstaining and at his insistence, the Canadian policy was quickly readjusted. 

When the Declaration came before the plenary Assembly three days later, Canada had joined the near consensus and voted in favour.  Canadian hesitation was principally due to discomfort in the Federal Cabinet with substantive norms enshrined in the Declaration, including Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Association.  The evidence suggests that provincial jurisdiction was a pretext for federal politicians who wanted to avoid national and international rights commitments.  In doing so, the Canadian Government deliberately misled both international and public opinion by concealing its opposition to the Declaration behind procedural arguments. 

Schabas’s findings point towards Quebec’s Padlock Law.  It denied both the Presumption of Innocence and Freedom of Speech to individuals.  St. Laurent could have used the federal power of disallowance to nullify the Padlock Law, one of the most draconian laws ever passed in Canada but he chose not to intervene.  He did not want to alienate rural voters in Quebec who continued to support the Liberals federally even as they supported the Union Nationale provincially.  Faced with a dilemma, St. Laurent chose to protect the Liberal Party and his position rather than adopt the Declaration. He put his own self interest ahead of his duty as Prime Minister of Canada.

When Quebec threatened to separate from Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau faced a similar dilemma as Louis St. Laurent.  Without Quebec, the liberal party would be decimated and he would no longer be the prime minister. Quebec was making outrageous demands, they wanted a new constitution that would expand Quebec’s area of legislative jurisdiction and establish a bilingual and bicultural Canada. 

  1. Unilingual French in Quebec and official bilingualism in the rest of Canada.  
  2. The Prime Minister of Canada and all members of parliament to be bilingual.                                      
  3. All federally appointed judges to be bilingual.                                                                                      
  4. All federal agencies, RCMP and military to be bilingual.
  5. Now, they want Ottawa, Canada’s national capital, to be declared a bilingual city.

Trudeau had a clear responsibility to say "NO" to this form of black mail; instead, he capitulated and gave Quebec’s nationalist party far more power than they were entitled.  This coup d’etat of an existing regime by a group of French politicians was approved by parliament.  With the passage of the OLA, language rights that formally belonged to the people now came under the control of the federal government.  Did Trudeau put his own self interest ahead of his duty as Prime Minister of Canada?

Pierre Trudeau, as a professor of law, knew that the OLA would face a legal challenge if the Declaration was entrenched in the Constitution.  Article 2 was a major obstacle in his plan to promote the use of the French language throughout Canada.

Article 2  - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: - Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

“Without distinction “ means the separation of people according to their race, religion, language, etc.  The Declaration was designed to prevent governments from giving special status, privileges or protection to one group at the expense of others.  Its purpose was to prevent hostility and tension between groups that could lead to violence and civil wars within a nation.

Trudeau changed Article 2 of the Declaration by removing the words “without distinction” and the word “language” before placing his version in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. In doing so he knowingly and deliberately violated Article 30 of the Declaration.

Article 30 - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: - Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

This means that no country, group or individual can violate any article set forth in the Declaration by using another article or document to justify such action. The Canadian government made a commitment to the people that it would hold the Declaration in trust until it could be enshrined in the Constitution.  Did Trudeau commit a breach of trust when he altered the Declaration?  The Canadian Criminal Code, Section 122, makes it an offence for an official to commit a breach of trust in connection with the duties of his office. 

When something is taken from the owners without their consent, it is theft and justice requires restitution. This can only be done by revisiting the Constitution, removing the corrupt version of human rights and replacing it with the original, unaltered Declaration. This would be extremely difficult, but not impossible. Until this is done the Rest of Canada is heavily burdened with a French constitution.  

Canada has a well educated population with each generation better educated than the previous. Are human rights important to Canadians or are they content to leave things as they are? The following facts may help reach a better understanding.

A common language is the most unifying force known throughout history and is determined by the people and the territory they occupy.  The common language in Quebec is the French language while the common language in the ‘Rest of Canada’ is the English language.  No single language is better than another, they are only different. Language is more powerful than race, ethnicity, more powerful than common experience or even religion. What unifies a people is their common language. 

Official bilingualism, forced upon a nation without their consent, is an anomaly not compatible within a democracy. [3] It is no different than forcing an unwanted religion upon them. The French argument for official bilingualism is based on the claim that Quebec is a founding nation. This is remarkable since Quebec was not a nation before Confederation and it is not a nation today. This myth needs to be put to rest.

The decline of the French language as a percentage of the Canadian population occurred through the process of immigration and language shift where people move from speaking one language to a more dominant language. Should the French language be treated differently?  NO!  Enshrining the Declaration in the constitution would have provided protection for all languages, not just the French language. As for being a distinct society, we have many distinct societies in Canada.

According to census information there are over 50 distinct languages and many more native dialects spoken throughout Canada.  The Dominion Lands Act (1872) encouraged English, Irish, Scots, Norwegians, Swedish, Germans, Ukrainians and many others to settle in the three prairie provinces.  Farmers, store keepers, ranchers and businessmen all came.  Within 42 years, 1.2 million immigrants brought with them their different cultures, languages and religions.  In 1914, they did not hesitate to join their fellow Canadians from across Canada when it came time to put on a uniform and fight for their country.  This mixture of different races and different cultures came together as Canadians and died by the thousands in the mud of Flanders, they captured Vimy Ridge, broke the Hindenburg line, and led the advance into Germany.  The battles they fought and the valour they displayed made Canada a nation in the eyes of the world. 

The words “official” and “minority” languages impliy that one language or one culture is better than another.  The United States, our nearest neighbour, does not have an official language and does not identify languages as being either official or minority because it bears the stigma of racism.  Great Britain does not have an official language for much the same reason and did not give Canada an official language.  The only mention of language in the British North American Act (BNA) is Section 133.  This section simply made it possible to use the two most common languages, English and French, in the federal Parliament, the Legislature of Quebec, the courts in the province of Quebec, and the federal courts. The BNA committed neither the federal government nor the public service under its jurisdiction to official bilingualism.  The idea that a normal society is a unilingual one or even a bilingual one is simply a myth.  Canada, like the vast majority of the world’s countries, is a multilingual, multicultural society. 

Are language rights in the Charter legal rights only, justiciable in court but without deeper moral foundation? Canada’s largest language group, those who speak the English language, have not asked for special attention.  Why should the French language enjoy a special status not given to any other language group in Canada? 

How can we make sense of a constitution where built-in limitations to the French language such as significant demand (Section 20) or restrictions of application of the French language to areas where numbers warrant? 

Do these mean proportional representation or unlimited representation? Nor does it make sense that a bilingual civil service only serves to disenfranchise the majority of Canadian citizens from seeking a meaningful career in the federal civil service or our military. Why should they be forced to learn a language that has limited use outside the province of Quebec? 

Unless language rights can be shown to be grounded in moral considerations, then the equality which the Charter accords them is illusionary, a consequence of politics rather than principle. [4]

Would independence provide two normal states free from deep linguistic tensions? It is wildly unrealistic to think that Quebec would ever agree to equal protection of all languages. A powerful argument in favour of the ‘Rest of Canada’ separating itself from Quebec is that the Constitution cannot guarantee equal treatment for all linguistic groups and the possibilities for genuine reform are negligible.  If language protection in the Constitution satisfied the demands for justice, that would weaken the case for separation.

Canada needs a Constitution that is not racist, a Constitution that centres around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not a corrupted version placed there by politicians. 

Canada’s political parties have always been interventionist ones that believe they can shape society according to their own political beliefs.  They fail to accept the fact that they are elected representatives, not the rulers of a nation.  An autocratic government can be removed quickly and efficiently with our first-past-the-post electoral system.

[1] John Peters Humphrey: The father of Human Rights; lawyer, diplomat, scholar and human rights advocate.

[2] William A. Schabas: Canada and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1998) 43 McGill Law Journal 403

[3] Dominique Schnapper: Linguistic Pluralism as a serious challenge to democratic life: Eccles des Hautes                  

Etudes en Sciences Sociales; 

[4] Leslie Green: “Are Language Rights Fundamental?” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 25.4 (1987) : 639-669

“Where, after all, do universal rights begin?

In small places, close to home.

Unless these rights, have meaning there,

they have little meaning anywhere.”



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