Fundamental Freedoms - The Charter of Rights and Freedoms
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Official Languages of Canada
Access to French and English education

What it Means

Sections 16 to 22 confirm English and French as Canada's official languages. The languages are equal in status. Official language rights mean that:

  • people have the right to use French or English in courts set up by the federal government and in federal parliament.
  • federal laws as well as records and journals of federal parliament must be in French and English.
  • people have the right to use either French or English with the federal governments central offices and other places where there is a significant demand or where it is reasonable to expect services in both languages.

Parts of Canada's Constitution that existed before the Charter gave people in Quebec and Manitoba the constitutional right to:

  • use English or French in provincially established courts and in provincial legislatures, and,
  • have provincial laws in both English and French

The bilingual status of these Manitoba and Quebec are protected by section 21 of the Charter. In 1993, section 16.1 was added to the Charter, making New Brunswick Canada's third officially bilingual province.

Section 22 confirms that English and French language rights under the Charter do not limit customs or rights related to the use of other languages in Canada.

Lester B. Pearson, 1967. It is one of my secret hopes for Prime Ministers of the future that Canada will some day - perhaps in time for the bicentennial of Confederation, and through the desire of the people and the governments of the provinces - become a truly bilingual country from coast to coast - not by the compulsion of decree, but by the compulsion of desire.
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