Challenge to linguistic rights is a true test of democracy


The volunteers and employees of the Canadian Court Challenges Program have remained faithful to the cause. They still believe in the program that allows equality rights and language rights test cases to make their slow and costly way through our court system.
They are hanging on despite the fact that over 300 cases being funded by the CCP have been left in limbo, thanks to program cuts by the federal Conservatives last fall.  
The government cut the program without even consulting the official minority language communities that relied on its work. Francophone groups outside of Quebec and Anglophone groups in Quebec were outraged. The result was 118 complaints lodged with the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, in Ottawa.
Among the groups that asked for the CCP to be reinstated were the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada (FCFA) and the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN).
The FCFA is taking the government to court over the CCP issue. The government has basically told the commissioner that it is not going to act on his recommendations to reinstate the program. Meanwhile, Fraser has asked for permission to intervene in the court case to present evidence on how the lack of the CCP will have a negative impact on Canada's official minority language communities.
This court challenge is essential. As with all CCP cases, it is a test case. The outcome will clarify the definition of the government's obligation under the Official Languages Act.
Is it better to have a well-defined position or one with a little wiggle room? That is the question surrounding amendments to the Official Languages Act that oblige federal government departments to take positive measures to ensure the vitality of official minority language communities.
It is a question that Graham Fraser knew would come his way sooner or later. According to the role of the commissioner of official languages, Fraser is a bit of a referee, watching the game and checking that everyone is playing by the rules. But when rules are amended, it can leave room for creative solutions or for negligence.
In shutting down this program, the Conservative government has stated its opinion - loud and clear - about the importance of protecting equality and minority language rights.  Canada is seen as a democratic country by the world. If we wish this to truly be the case, we need to have an institution such as the CCP that can ensure we are advancing in the knowledge and in the application of equality and linguistic rights.
The Harper government is being a bully. The commissioner of official languages is defending the rights of Canadians, rights that are protected under the charter. Such is the true test, and the real price, of democracy.