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(Legislative) bilingualism in Alberta?

This is the second post about language rights. Today the Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case that, if successful, would require all legislation in Alberta to be published in both French and English. It is interesting to note that the same type of case concerning Manitoba and Saskatchewan went to the Supreme Court in the late 1980s. Manitoba had to translate all legislation, though Saskatchewan was not required to.

It is also important to note that full bilingualism is not at issue; instead, the appellants are seeking a more narrow form of legislative bilingualism. This would mean that all laws would have to be published in English and French – services would not have to be provided in both languages.

Essentially, the appellants argue that Alberta joined Canada after the Queen promised that “all your civil […] rights will be respected” (in what was called the Royal Proclamation of 1869). There are two questions: (1) do “civil rights” (“droits acquis” in French) include legislative bilingualism? And (2), if so, is the Royal Proclamation a Constitutional document? The case is further complicated by the fact that, when Manitoba joined Confederation, it clearly provided that all laws had to be published in both languages (section 23 of the Manitoba Act). However, there is no analogue section in the Alberta Act.

The Supreme Court usually takes about 7-10 months to release a decision. It will be interesting to see if Alberta will have to hire a few translators for the fall.

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