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Significant cases that have advanced language rights

Over the past 40 years, French-speaking citizens have often had to appeal to the courts to have their language rights recognized and respected. Over the years, many cases have advanced the interpretation and enforcement of those rights, including the following:

1990: The Mahé ruling

In this decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a group of Francophone parents from Edmonton who had been demanding the right to administer their own schools since 1984. The Supreme Court also recognized that section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives minority parents the right to manage and control their children's schools. The Court further ruled that the quality of instruction received by the linguistic minority must be equal to that of the instruction given to the majority. 

1998: Reference re Secession of Quebec

In this ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada included respect for minorities as the focus of the four fundamental principles that it believes should be taken into account when interpreting the Canadian Constitution. This principle of protection of minorities was specifically addressed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling on the Montfort case (2000). 

1999: The Beaulac decision 

This decision by the Supreme Court of Canada radically changed the perception of language rights in the country. The Court ruled that those rights must in all cases be interpreted according to their purpose, i.e., to maintain and enhance the vitality of official language communities and the principle of true equality. The Court also declared that institutional language rights (those guaranteed by the Charter and the Official Languages Act, for example) require governmental measures and thus create obligations for the State. 

2000: The Arsenault-Cameron ruling

In this decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of parents in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, who for six years had been demanding a school in their community instead of having to send their children to another school 30 km away. In rendering its decision, the Supreme Court noted that the language rights referred to in section 23 of the Charter must be interpreted according to their purpose: to remedy past injustices and to assure the official language minority of equal access to quality instruction in its language under circumstances that favour the development of the community. 

2000: The Montfort ruling

In the Montfort case, the applicants contested the decision by the government of Ontario to close the only French-language hospital in the province, an institution at which health services are available in French at all times, and one that plays a unique role in the education and training of Francophone health professionals in Ontario. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice decided that under the unwritten constitutional principle of protection of minorities, the government could not close an institution that was so important to the Franco-Ontarian community.  

2009: The Desrochers v. Canada (Industry) ruling

In the Desrochers v. Canada (Industry) case, the Corporation de développement économique communautaire francophone CALDECH had filed an action in the year 2000 against the North Simcoe Community Futures Development Corporation in Ontario, arguing that the latter did not offer services in French that were equivalent to those offered in English. In 2009, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by CALDECH, indicating that the alleged deficiencies were beyond the scope of application of Part IV of the Official Languages Act. However, this is still a pivotal judgment, since in terms of linguistic equality, the Court recognized the possibility that similar services in English and French might not help achieve true equality and that distinct services must be defined. The Court also recognized that the development, supply and delivery of community economic development services must be done with participation by the communities affected by those services. 

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