Language rights refer to civil rights that individuals have to choose a minority language for legal and educational communication, whether heard privately or publicly. In Canada, a bilingual country, you have the option to select the English or French language in most provinces.
Fitting into the local culture and learning both official languages remains a challenge for many Canadians, which is why every citizen is guaranteed language rights. Immigration in Canada sees approximately 200,000 new citizens each year, giving the country a stellar reputation for “open arms.” Many immigrants may only speak one language.
Even among native Canadian citizens, an estimated 26 million Canadians only speak English or French, but not both. The language barrier can cause significant communication problems, particularly in legal situations.
Here at OTD Ticket Defenders, a legal services company, we remain sensitive to the needs of immigrants and residents who may and may not understand certain charges filed against them, such as traffic tickets or other violations that could have serious consequences.
By Canadian law, every person has the right to hear and respond to charges in a language they understand. Language rights encourage a bilingual legal system and economy for all English and French-speaking citizens.
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What are language rights?
According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, established in 1982, French and English language communities are guaranteed “language rights” by the government. According to Section 23, three types of right exist for Canadians:
- Right of access to instruction in the mother tongue, French or English
- Right of educational facilities for a minority language
- Right for minorities to maintain and develop their educational facilities
Since the year of Confederation in 1867, the country has established English and French as official languages. In 1969, the government recognized English and French as having equal status, thanks to the Official Languages Act. The intention was to make sure Canadians had access to federal services in the language of their choice.
In 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau fought for the inclusion of the Charter of Rights in the Constitution of Canada. His intent was for French-speaking communities outside Quebec to not only to get a legal explanation but also receive their educational rights in a minority language.
Today, it remains the federal government’s responsibility to communicate with Canadian citizens in the language of their choice.
According to the 2011 Census, 86 percent of Canadians speak English, while 30 percent speak French, and less than 2 percent speak neither official language.
When government sites use the term “official language minority community,” the language refers explicitly to English speaking communities in French-majority Quebec and French-speaking communities throughout the rest of the country.
In some regions, such as the Northwest Territories of Canada, more official minority languages are recognized, such as Chipewyan, Inuinnaqtun, and Cree. To some degree, territorial courts allow citizens to use minority languages in legislative proceedings.
However, access to services in other minority languages is limited by the local demand for the minority language.
Why are language rights important?
Language rights do come up in situations when a person has been charged by the police with a traffic violation and does not understand the full extent of charges. Even native tongue Canadians may find themselves confused when considering situations related to licensing, insurance, penalties, and court appearances.
Imagine the confusion if you (or someone you know) get charged with a traffic violation and yet do not speak the majority language in that province.
Charges may include anything from traffic violations or accidents to cannabis charges, cell phone usage while driving, hit and run, red light camera tickets, speeding, and theft. If the police charge you, they must also explain all charges and options in your official tongue, as guaranteed by a bilingual government.
How do your language rights impact your traffic tickets?
Legal loopholes do often come up, such as the case of a Franco-Manitoban lawyer who challenged a speeding ticket because the official who pulled him over did not explain the charges in French. The officer should have responded in the driver’s first language since the motorist was pulled over in a French-majority community.
Furthermore, Canadians should not have to ask for bilingual services, since the law states these rights are “actively given.” Even if the officer was not bilingual, he could have called and dispatched a French-speaking officer to explain the charges legally. In the case of the charged lawyer, he claimed officers should be bilingual.
However, not every province in Canada is bound by bilingual rights. Some provinces, such as Alberta, have ruled in favor of traffic officers, despite motorists arguing that they were not served in their minority language. Very often, these cases are appealed and sometimes go to the Supreme Court, as one CBC Radio show details.
The same rights that could overwhelm other minority language speakers in Canada could someday affect you too. Laws are put in place to protect you and ensure you that you:
- Understand the explicit allegations as filed
- Have a legal defense
- Can communicate back and forth without any linguistic confusion
At OTD Ticket Defenders, founded by retired Provincial and Municipal Prosecutor Ron Harper, we remain sensitive and informed of all language rights that citizens have, even in unique situations when there’s a miscommunication problem.
Remember that every Canadian, whether natural-born or immigrating, has legal rights to hear charges in their official native tongue and respond to charges in a language they understand.
If an officer issued you a traffic ticket and you’re not sure what to do, contact OTD Ticket Defenders and let us help. We can help explain the situation, as well as the possible repercussions of the charges associated with the ticket.
In a consultation, our team can also help you look for ways to reduce the charges, or perhaps throw the case out if your rights have been neglected. At the very least, we can always make sure you have someone representing you that speaks your minority language, and that can make a defense for you.