Images © Ted Wright
Canada's useless human rights treaties
Canada ratified most of the world's human rights treaties, which are international agreements that guarantee minimum standards for human civic, social and economic rights, educational rights and the protection of children. But Canada's signature on these treaties is a hypocritical pretense because Quebec's language laws ignore them.
The language of commercial signs
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The UN Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the binding treaty, called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that was based on that declaration, was drafted by the late Professor John Humphrey of McGill University and was signed by Canada in 1976. Professor Humphrey was also the first director of the UN's Human Rights Division. He supported CIT-CAN in opposing the Quebec language laws. He said "The only way to get anywhere [about Quebec's language rights violations] is to speak as loudly as possible and shame [Canada] into doing something" (Ottawa, 1993). Canada continues to violate Articles 19 and 50 of the Covenant.
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) for the respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) for the protection of national security or public order (ordre publique) or of public health or morals.
The provisions of the present covenant shall extend to all parts of federal states without any limitations or exceptions.
The UN's decision against Canada
In 1993 the UN Committee on Human Rights heard a case brought by Gordon McIntyre, an English-speaking Quebec undertaker, against Quebec's language law. At the time, the Charter of the French Language prohibited McIntyre from even identifying his business in English outside his building. Here is what the UN Committee wrote in its decision on the McIntyre case:
"While the restrictions on outdoor advertising are indeed provided by law, the issue to be addressed is whether they are necessary for the respect of the rights of others. The rights of others could only be the rights of the francophone minority within Canada under article 27 [of the Covenant]. This is the right to use their own language, which is not jeopardized by the freedom of others to advertise in other than the French language. Nor does the Committee have reason to believe that public order would be jeopardized by commercial advertising outdoors in a language other than French... The Committee believes that it is not necessary, in order to protect the vulnerable position in Canada of the francophone group, to prohibit commercial advertising in English. This protection may be achieved in other ways that do not preclude the freedom of expression, in a language of their choice, of those engaged in such fields as trade. For example, the law could have required that advertising be in both French and English. A state may choose one or more official languages, but it may not exclude, outside the sphere of public life, the freedom to express oneself in a certain language. The committee accordingly concludes that there has been a violation of article 19, paragraph 2."
But in Quebec, outdoor billboard advertising and public transit advertising is still prohibited in any language other than French. This violates both article 19(2) of the International Covenant and it also violates article 51, since the restriction applies only to Quebec. No other province restricts the language of commercial advertising. If you thought that freedom of expression was taken for granted in civilized countries you were wrong: free expression is suppressed in the Canadian Province of Quebec.
Access to English-language Education
UNESCO Convention/Recommendation against Discrimination in Education
Canada did not sign the Convention because education is a provincial jurisdiction and the provinces refused to allow Canada to sign the Convention on their behalf. Nevertheless, as a member of UNESCO, Canada is still bound by the Recommendation.
Section I (1)(c) of this convention prohibits discrimination in education:
1. For the purposes of this Recommendation, the term 'discrimination' includes any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education and in particular:
(c) Subject to the provisions of section II of this Recommendation, of establishing or maintaining separate educational systems or institutions for persons or groups of persons;
When permitted in a State, the following situations shall not be deemed to constitute discrimination, within the meaning of section I of this Recommendation:
(b) The establishment or maintenance, for religious or linguistic reasons, of separate educational systems or institutions offering an education which is in keeping with the wishes of the pupil's parents or legal guardians, if participation in such systems or attendance at such institutions is optional [our italics] and if the education provided conforms to such standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities, in particular for education of the same level;
When these sections are read together, the conclusion is inescapable. In the absence of choice, the establishment or maintenance, for linguistic reasons, of separate educational systems or institutions is discriminatory by definition.
Article 5 of this Covenant guarantees parents the right to establish private and/or religious schools that operate outside the state system.
Here are some paragraphs from Article 5 of this Covenant.
(c) It is essential to recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities, including the maintenance of schools and, depending on the educational policy of each State, the use and teaching of their own language, provided however:
(i) That this right is not exercised in a manner which prevents the members of these minorities from understanding the culture and language of the community as a whole and from participating in its activities, or which prejudices national sovereignty;
(ii) That the standard of education is not lower than the general standard laid down or approved by the competent authorities; and
(iii) That attendance at such schools is optional.
The law in Quebec
The passages in green apply to Canada's "national minority" of French Canadians, who comprise perhaps twenty-four percent of the total population. But Quebec's language law violates this treaty.
In Quebec, children of French-speaking parents are prohibited from attending English schools. English-speaking immigrant children are forced into French-language schools. There is no option. The right to attend an English public school in Quebec is hereditary, being passed from parents to their children, and so down the generations, establishing a "blood line" of people raised in Quebec who are eligible to attend English schools in Quebec. This "blood line" excludes all children of French-speaking parents from anywhere in Canada or the rest of the world, and it excludes English-speaking immigrants to Quebec from anywhere else in the world. If you thought that hereditary privileges disappeared along with feudalism, you were wrong: hereditary privileges live on in the Canadian Province of Quebec.
1 William Pitt the younger, British Prime minister 1783 -- 1801, 1804 - 1806.
fondation CIT-CAN foundation
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