Getting legal help

Language rights

Rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that English and French are the official languages of Canada, with equality of status and equal privileges.

Specifically, the Charter gives individuals the right to use either English or French in any court established by Parliament (section 19) and for communicating with and receiving services from any central office of an institution of the federal government where this is justified by the demand for the language and the nature of the office (section 20).

Right to a trial in the official language of one's choice

Section 530 of the Criminal Code gives the accused the right to apply to be tried in the official language of his or her choice, provided the application is made within the time limit set by the judge at the accused's first appearance in court. This right is guaranteed even if the accused speaks the other official language. This means that if the accused chooses French, counsel for the prosecution, the judge and the jury must be able to understand French and speak it during the trial.

Canada's and Ontario's official languages legislation

These laws set out specific information on the obligation of the federal government and the Government of Ontario, as well as their various institutions, to communicate with the public in both official languages and with individuals in the official language of the individual's choice, both verbally and in writing.

The Official Languages Act specifies the types of documents that must be bilingual. Regulations and policies pursuant to the Act define the circumstances in which local offices must provide services in both official languages.

The Government of Ontario's French Language Services Act requires that all services provided by government agencies be offered in French in government offices that are located in or serve a designated area. There are currently 25 designated areas.

Active offer

The Official Languages Act states that every federal institution that is required to communicate with and provide services to individuals in both official languages is responsible for taking appropriate measures to make it known to members of the public that documentation and services are available in either official language at the choice of any member of the public (sections 28 and 29).

The Government of Ontario also adheres to the active offer concept. In his Presentation to the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services, the French Language Services Commissioner states that active offer is a key element of French language services in Ontario.