Case has been winding its way through court system for a decade

The Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Alberta is not constitutionally required to enact laws in both French and English. (CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday issued a ruling that says there is no historical element that prevents the province of Alberta from passing and enacting laws in English only.

Two francophone Alberta men, Gilles Caron and Pierre Boutet, challenged traffic tickets they received more than a decade ago that were written in English only.

The pair claimed in particular that a decree dated from 1870 obligated the province to draft laws in both languages.

In a split 6-3 decision, a majority of the Supreme Court rejected that interpretation.

“Language rights have been conferred expressly,” the majority decision said.

It called the historical interpretation presented by Caron and Boutet a “complex amalgam of instruments, vague phrases, political statements and historical context.”

3 judges dissent

But three judges, including two from Quebec, said in their minority dissent that Alberta is required to publish its laws in both English and French.

According to them, history shows that there was a 19th-century agreement to protect legislative bilingualism in Alberta.

While today’s decision specifically addresses an Alberta case, it mentions in passing that this ruling is consistent with an earlier Supreme Court ruling that said Saskatchewan is not required to have bilingual legislation.

The background

Caron was issued a traffic ticket in Edmonton in 2003 that was printed in English.

He argued it was his right to be issued a ticket in French and have his trial conducted in French.

A trial judge tossed out the ticket in 2008, but an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge later overturned that ruling.

The Alberta Court of Appeal later heard the case and agreed that Alberta was not constitutionally required to publish all of its legislation in both languages.

Caron then took his case to the Supreme Court, where he lost on Friday.

“It is a sad day for us,” said Jean Johnson, president of l’ACFA, the French Canadian Association of Alberta. “We consider ourselves full citizens of Canada. It is therefore difficult to accept that because we live in Alberta, our historical linguistic rights are not recognized.”

Johnson said in a statement Friday the Supreme Court ruling confirms that the Alberta Languages Act passed in 1988, which imposed unilingualism, is constitutionally valid.

“It is important and essential for l’ACFA that a sincere conversation between the association representing francophones and the Government of Alberta be quickly held,” the statement said.

Source: CBC News