Section 16-22 : Official Languages of Canada - Canadian Heritage

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Section 16-22 : Official Languages of Canada

Section 16

Official Languages of Canada

  1. English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.
  2. English and French are the official languages of New Brunswick and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the legislature and Government of New Brunswick.
  3. Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality of status or use of English and French.

Section 16 (1) confirms that English and French are Canada's official languages. It also says that these languages have equal status in terms of their use within and by all federal institutions. The province of New Brunswick is also officially bilingual.

Section 16.1

  1. The English linguistic community and the French linguistic community in New Brunswick have equality of status and equal rights and privileges, including the right to distinct educational institutions and such distinct cultural institutions as are necessary for the preservation and promotion of those communities.
  2. The role of the legislature and government of New Brunswick to reserve and promote the status, rights and privileges referred to in subsection (1) is affirmed.

Section 16.1 was added to the Charter in 1993. It makes clear that the English- and French- speaking communities of New Brunswick have equal rights, and that the government of New Brunswick has a duty to protect and promote those rights.

Section 17

  1. Everyone has the right to use English or French in any debates and other proceedings of Parliament.
  2. Everyone has the right to use English or French in any debates and other proceedings of the legislature of New Brunswick.

Section 18

  1. The statutes, records and journals of Parliament shall be printed and published in English and French and both language versions are equally authoritative.
  2. The statutes, records and journals of the legislature of New Brunswick shall be printed and published in English and French and both language versions are equally authoritative.

Section 19

  1. Either English or French may be used by any person in, or in any pleading in or process issuing from, any court established by Parliament.
  2. Either English or French may be used by any person in, or in any pleading in or process issuing from, any court of New Brunswick.

Section 20

  1. Any member of the public in Canada has the right to communicate with, and to receive available services from, any head or central office of an institution of the Parliament or government of Canada in English or French, and has the same right with respect to any other office of any such institution where
    1. there is a significant demand for communications with and services from that office in such language; or
    2. due to the nature of the office, it is reasonable that communications with and services from that office be available in both English and French.
  2. Any member of the public in New Brunswick has the right to communicate with, and to receive available services from, any office of an institution of the legislature or government of New Brunswick in English or French.

Sections 17, 18, 19 and 20 all deal with similar issues: the equality of the French and English languages in particular situations. For example, everyone has the right to use English or French in Parliament (section 17). This means that, for example, a witness before a Parliamentary committee may use either official language.

Furthermore, federal laws must be published in both English and French (section 18), and everyone has the right to use French or English in any court established by Parliament, including the Supreme Court of Canada (section 19).

Members of the public have the right to communicate with the federal government in either English or French. The government must provide services in both languages at all of its central offices and in other locations where there is a significant demand for them or it would be reasonable to expect them (section 20).

Sections 16 to 20 make clear that official languages rights apply both to the federal government and to the provincial government in New Brunswick. Residents of New Brunswick also have the right to use French or English when they deal with their provincial government.

Section 21

Nothing in sections 16 to 20 abrogates or derogates from any right, privilege or obligation with respect to the English and French languages, or either of them, that exists or is continued by virtue of any other provision of the Constitution of Canada.

The purpose of section 21 is to protect language rights that already exist in other parts of the Constitution. In particular, the Constitution gives the people of Québec and Manitoba the right to use either English or French in the legislatures and before the courts of those provinces, and the right to have provincial laws adopted in both English and French.

Section 22

Nothing in sections 16 to 20 abrogates or derogates from any legal or customary right or privilege acquired or enjoyed either before or after the coming into force of this Charter with respect to any language that is not English or French.

Section 22 ensures that the rights in the Charter to use English or French do not create a limit on rights to use other languages that may exist under other laws.

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