The Human Rights Committee, established under article 28 of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights,
Meeting on 31 March 1993,
Having concluded its consideration of communication No. 359/1989 submitted to the Human
Rights Committee by J. Ballantyne and E. Davidson, and of communication No. 385/1989
submitted by G. McIntyre under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and
Having taken into account all written information made available to it by the authors of the
communications, and the State party,
Adopts its Views under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol.
1. The authors of the communications (initial submissions dated 10 April 1989 and 21 November
1989 and subsequent correspondence) are John Ballantyne, Elizabeth Davidson and Gordon
McIntyre, Canadian citizens residing in the Province of Quebec. The authors, one a painter, the
second a designer and the third an undertaker by profession, have their businesses in Sutton and
Huntingdon, Quebec. Their mother tongue is English, as is that of many of their clients. They allege
to be victims of violations of articles 2, 19, 26 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights by the Federal Government of Canada and by the Province of Quebec, because
they are forbidden to use English for purposes of advertising, e.g., on commercial signs outside the
business premises, or in the name of the firm.
The facts as submitted by the authors:
2.1 The authors of the first communication (No. 359/1989), Mr. Ballantyne and Ms. Davidson, sell
clothes and paintings to a predominantly Englishspeaking clientele, and have always used English
signs to attract customers.
2.2 The author of the second communication (No. 385/1989), Mr. McIntyre, states that in July
1988, he received notice from the CommissionerEnquirer of the "Commission de protection de la
langue française" that following a "checkup" it had been ascertained that he had installed a sign
carrying the firm name "Kelly Funeral Home" on the grounds of his establishment, which constituted
an infraction of the Charter of the French Language. He was requested to inform the Commissioner
within 15 days in writing of measures taken to correct the situation and to prevent the recurrence of
a similar incident. The author has since removed his company sign.
2.3 Mr. McIntyre's business was established over 100 years ago and in the 25 years under his
management has always operated without language constraints. Now he is allegedly disadvantaged
visàvis French speaking competitors who are allowed to use their mother tongue without
restriction. Of the seven funeral homes in the area, his is the only one operated by an
Englishspeaking Canadian serving the Englishspeaking community. Out of a total population of
15,600 in the town in question, some 5,600 inhabitants speak English. Bill No. 178, however,
prevents him from indicating in his commercial sign in English the service he provides. The author
alleges a loss of business and a reduced impact on passersby, who no longer identify his services by
an external sign.
2.4 Mr. McIntyre also claims that since he has "taken on the Government" a certain "fear factor"
discourages potential clients. It leads to hate calls, threats and ridicule in the press by suggestions
that he is a "racist".
3.1 The authors challenge sections 1, 6 and 10 of Bill No. 178 enacted by the Provincial
Government of Quebec on 22 December 1988, with the purpose of modifying Bill No. 101, known
as the Charter of the French Language (Charte de la langue française). The ratio legis of Bill No.
178, as stated explicitly by the Quebec legislature, was to override two judgments rendered by the
Supreme Court of Canada on 15 December 1988, declaring several sections of the Charter
unconstitutional. The official explanatory note preceding the text of the Charter states that only
French may be used in public billposting and in commercial advertising outdoors. It stipulates that
this rule shall also apply inside means of public transport and certain establishments, including
shopping centres. The authors claim to be personally affected by the application of Bill No. 178.
3.2 The authors furthermore claim that the "notwithstanding" clause contained in section 10 of Bill
No. 178 overrides the safeguards contained in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and
Freedoms (Canadian Charter) and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (Quebec
Charter). They point out that section 33 of the Canadian Charter, and its counterpart section 52 of
the Quebec Charter, allow for the suspension of protection against human rights violations.
3.3 The authors claim that these provisions, whenever applied, violate Canada's obligations under
the Covenant, in particular article 2. Exempting legislation from compliance with the provisions of
the Canadian or Quebec Charters of Human Rights and Freedoms effectively denies a remedy to
citizens whose rights have been or are being violated by the legislation thus exempted.
4.1 The relevant original provisions of the Charter of the French language (Bill No. 101, S.Q. 1977,
C5) have been modified several times. In essence, however, they have remained substantially the
same. In 1977, section 58 read as follows:
"Except as may be provided in this Act or the regulations of the Office de la langue française, signs
and posters and commercial advertising shall be solely in the official language."
4.2 The original wording of section 58 was replaced in 1983 by section 1 of the Act to amend the
Charter of the French Language (S.Q. 1983, C56) which read:
"58. Public signs and posters and commercial advertising shall be solely in the official language.
"Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the cases and under the conditions or circumstances prescribed
by regulation of the Office de la langue française, public signs and posters and commercial
advertising may be both in French and another language or solely in another language ..."
4.3 The initial language legislation was struck down by the Supreme Court in La Chaussure
Brown's Inc. et al. v. the Attorney General of Quebec (1989) 90 N.R. 84. Following this, section
58 of the Charter was amended by section 1 of Bill No. 178. While certain modifications were
made relating to signs and posters inside business premises, the compulsory use of French in signs
and posters outside remained.
4.4 Section 58 of the Charter, as modified in 1989 by section 1 of Bill No. 178, now reads:
"58. Public signs and posters and commercial advertising, outside or intended for the public outside,
shall be solely in French. Similarly, public signs and posters and commercial advertising shall be
solely in French,
"1.Inside commercial centres and their access ways, except inside the establishments located there;
"2.Inside any public means of transport and its access ways;
"3.Inside the establishments of business firms contemplated in section 136;
"4.Inside the establishments of business firms employing fewer than fifty but more than five persons,
where such firms share, with two or more other business firms, the use of a trademark, a firm name
or an appellation by which they are known to the public.
"The Government may, however, by regulation, prescribe the terms and conditions according to
which public signs and posters and public advertising may be both in French and in another
language, under the conditions set forth in the second paragraph of section 58.1, inside the
establishments of business firms contemplated in subparagraphs 3 and 4 of the second paragraph".
"The Government may, in such regulation, establish categories of business firms, prescribe terms and
conditions which vary according to the category and reinforce the conditions set forth in the second
paragraph of section 58.1."
4.5 Section 6 of Bill No. 178 modified section 68 of the Charter, which now reads:
"68. Except as otherwise provided in this section, only the French version of a firm name may be
used in Quebec. A firm name may be accompanied with a version in another language for use
outside Quebec. That version may be used together with the French version of the firm name in the
inscriptions referred to in section 51, if the products in question are offered both in and outside
"In printed documents, and in the documents contemplated in section 57 if they are both in French
and in another language, a version of the French firm name in another language may be used in
conjunction with the French firm name".
"When texts or documents are drawn up in a language other than French, the firm name may appear
in the other language without its French version.
"On public signs and posters and in commercial advertising,
"1.A firm name may be accompanied with a version in another language, if they are both in French
and in another language;
"2.A firm name may appear solely in its version in another language, if they are solely in a language
other than French."
4.6 Section 10 of Bill No. 178 contains a socalled "notwithstanding" clause, which provides that:
"The provisions of section 58 and of the first paragraph of section 68, brought into effect under
sections 1 and 6 respectively of the present Bill, shall operate irrespective of the provisions of
section 2, paragraph (b), and section 15 of the Constitutional Act of 1982 ... and shall apply
notwithstanding articles 3 and 10 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms."
4.7 Another "notwithstanding" provision is incorporated into section 33 of the Canadian Charter of
Human Rights and Freedoms, which reads:
"1. Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an act of Parliament or of the
legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a
provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter."2. An Act or a provision of an
Act in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect shall have such operation as
it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to in the declaration.
"3. A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into
force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.
The State party's observations:
5.1 The communications were transmitted to the State party under rule 91 of the rules of procedure
on 26 May 1989 and 29 January 1990. The deadlines for observations was set for 26 July 1989
and 29 March 1990, respectively. On several occasions, the State party requested an extension of
time to make its submission, explaining that it needed more time as the issues involved were factually
and legally complex and concerned both federal and provincial areas of legislative competence.
5.2 In its submission of 28 December 1990, the State party objected to the admissibility of the
communications under article 5, paragraph 2(b), of the Optional Protocol to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It argued that domestic remedies had not been exhausted,
since the authors had made no attempt to challenge Bill No. 178 and to "seek redress from the
Canadian courts or other bodies that may be competent to resolve the issue pursuant to Canadian
5.3 The State party also stated that in at least two legal proceedings before the courts of Quebec,
litigants were challenging this legislation. K.N., charged on 30 January 1990 on two counts of
contravening the Charter of the French Language, was scheduled to appear before the Court of
Quebec on 19 December 1990, when the trial date was to have been set. In another case pending
before the Court of Quebec, H.S. was charged in June 1990 on two counts of contravening the
Charter by displaying a welcome sign outside his bakery in 35 languages. The respondent was
scheduled to appear in court on 28 February 1991.
5.4 The State party further submitted that Quebec law provides the possibility for the authors to test
the constitutional validity or application of Bill No. 178 through the use of an application for a
declaratory judgment and referred to national jurisprudence in which certain provisions of the
Charter of the French Language were declared to be of no force or effect.
5.5 The State party also pointed to the availability of the Federal Court Challenges Programme,
which alleviates the financial hardship associated with the conduct of such litigation and states that
the legal issues raised would be within the scope of the programme and the authors could, therefore,
seek funding from the programme for the purpose of contesting the restrictions imposed by the
Exhaustion of domestic remedies:
6.1 With respect to the requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies, the authors maintain that
following the enactment of Bill No. 178 there are no effective remedies which they could pursue.
They refer to the relevant judgments of the Superior Court to the District of Montreal, the Appeal
Court and the Supreme Court of Canada.
6.2 In particular, the authors of the first communication claim that because Bill 178 applies in spite
of Canadian human rights laws and because the notwithstanding clauses of the Canadian and
Quebec Charters, when invoked, suspend human rights as guaranteed, inter alia, by international
human rights norms, they are denied an effective remedy within the meaning of article 2, paragraph
3, of the Covenant.
6.3 With regard to steps taken to assert their rights, the authors refer to numerous letters addressed
to various provincial and federal authorities by individuals and lobby groups with no effect. As to
judicial remedies, the authors explain that the Supreme Court's decision in La Chaussure Brown's
et al., which supports their plea, has no effect in view of the subsequent Quebec legislation which
makes any further challenge of section 1 of Bill No. 178 futile.
6.4 As to the possibility of initiating proceedings for a declaratory judgment, the authors contend
that the very existence of the "notwithstanding" clause renders Bill No. 178 immune to challenge.
6.5 Mr. McIntyre states that he has written to the Prime Minister of Canada, the leaders of the
Opposition, members of the Senate of Canada and the premiers of all provinces, only to receive a
number of replies that express various forms of support and indicate that Bill No. 178 indeed
violates the right to freedom of expression andruns contrary to both the Canadian and Quebec
Charters of Human Rights. As a member of the Chateauguay Valley English Speaking People's
Association, he helped to organize a demonstration in Ottawa and to circulate a petition, which
gathered some 10,000 signatures and was subsequently sent to the SecretaryGeneral of the United
6.6 In a case submitted by other complainants, the Superior Court held, on 28 December 1984,
that section 58 of the Charter of the French Language, in so far as it prescribed that public signs and
posters and commercial advertising shall be solely in French, was inoperative from 1 February
6.7 The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment and allowed an appeal declaring Section 68 of the
Charter, in so far as it prescribed that only the French version of a firm name is to be used, to be
inoperative from 1 January 1986 by reason of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
and from 17 April 1982 by reason of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
6.8 The authors argue that both the Quebec and federal courts have thoroughly considered the
implications of the challenged provisions and that they have found them in violation of relevant
constitutional provisions. The authors stress that while recognizing that there are reasonable limits to
the exercise of human rights, the courts have held that the prohibition of the use of any other
language than French in commercial signs was neither an appropriate nor a justifiable remedy against
threats to the French culture. In particular, they found that the obligation to use only French on
commercial signs and in advertising violated the right of freedom of expression and constituted
discrimination based on language.
6.9 The authors argue that the Supreme Court's judgment in the La Chaussure Brown's et al. case
directly applies to their situation. Bill No. 178, however, overrides the Court's judgment and
operates notwithstanding section 2(b) (freedom of expression) and section 15 (equality) of the
Canadian Charter. The authors contend that it would be futile to go to the courts in view of the
certain application of the "notwithstanding" clauses of the Canadian or Quebec Charters.
6.10 In addition, the authors complain that the Federal Government of Canada has not used its
constitutional authority under section 90 of the Constitution Act, 1867, to disallow or set aside a Bill
of a provincial government allowing fundamental human rights to be disregarded.
The Committee's decision to join consideration of the communications and to declare them
7.1 Pursuant to rule 88, paragraph 2, of its rules of procedure, the Committee joined consideration
of the two communications at its fortieth session in October 1990.
7.2 During its forty-first session in April 1991, the Committee considered the admissibility of the
communications. It disagreed with the State party's contention that there were still effective remedies
available to the authors in the circumstances of their cases. In this context, it noted that in spite of
repeated legislative changes protecting the visage linguistique of Quebec, and despite the fact that
some of the relevant statutory provisions had been declared unconstitutional successively by the
Superior, Appeal and Supreme Courts, the only effect of this had been the replacement of these
provisions by ones that are the same in substance as those they replaced, but reinforced by the
"notwithstanding" clause of Section 10 of Bill 178.
7.3 As to the State party's contention that Bill 178 can be and is being challenged before the
Quebec courts, the Committee noted that the issues raised in the cases before the local courts were
not the same as those before the Committee and thus could not bear upon whether the authors of
the communications still had remedies to pursue. The Committee further noted that the
"notwithstanding" clause, which is not applicable to the provision(s) at issue in the proceedings
referred to by the State party, remained applicable to Section 58 of Bill 178, the provision at issue
in the communications before the Committee. It therefore concluded that no effective remedy was
available to the authors in respect of their claim.
7.4 On 11 April 1991, therefore, the Committee declared the communications admissible.
The State party's request for a review of admissibility and submission on the merits;
authors' comments thereon:
8.1 In a submission dated 6 March 1992, the Federal Government requests the Committee to
review its decision on admissibility. It notes that the number of litigants who contest the validity of
Bill 178 has grown, and that hearings before the Court of Quebec on the issue were held on 14
January 1992. The proceedings continue, and lawyers for the provincial government were
scheduled to present Quebec's point of view on 23 and 24 March 1992.
8.2 The State party contends that Quebec's Code of Civil Procedure entitles the authors of the
communications to apply for a declaratory judgment that Bill 178 is invalid and adds that this option
would be open to them regardless of whether criminal charges had been instituted against them or
not. It argues that consistent with the well-established principle that effective domestic remedies
must be exhausted before the jurisdiction of an international body is engaged, Canadian courts
should have an opportunity to rule on the validity of Bill 178, before the issue is considered by the
Human Rights Committee.
8.3 The State party further argues that the "notwithstanding" clause in Section 33 of the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms is compatible with Canada's obligations under the Covenant, in
particular with article 4 and with the obligation, under article 2, to provide its citizens with judicial
remedies. It explains that, firstly, extraordinary conditions limit the use of Section 33. Secondly,
Section 33 is said to reflect a balance between the roles of elected representatives and courts in
interpreting rights: "A system in which the judiciary is given full and final say on all issues of rights
adversely impacts on a key tenet of democracy - that is, participation of citizens in a forum of
elected and publicly accountable legislatures on questions of social and political justice ... The
'notwithstanding' clause provides a limited legislative counterweight in a system which otherwise
gives judges final say over rights issues".
8.4 Lastly, the Government affirms that the existence of Section 33 per se is not contrary to article 4
of the Covenant, and that the invocation of Section 33 does not necessarily amount to an
impermissible derogation under the Covenant: "Canada's obligation is to ensure that Section 33 is
never invoked in circumstances which are contrary to international law. The Supreme Court of
Canada has itself stated that 'Canada's international human rights obligations should [govern] ... the
interpretation of the content of the rights guaranteed by the Charter'." Thus, a legislative override
could never be invoked to permit acts clearly prohibited by international law. Accordingly, the
legislative override in Section 33 is said to be compatible with the Covenant.
8.5 In another submission, made through the Federal Government of Canada, the provincial
government of Quebec contends that the communications under review do not reveal a breach of
articles 2, 19, 26 or 27 by Quebec. As regards article 27, Quebec asserts that historical
developments since 1763 amply bear out the need for French speakers to seek protection of their
language and culture. Even if it were concluded that the dominant position of English speakers in
Canada did not prevent the authors from invoking article 27 of the Covenants, its travaux
préparatoires indicate that its aim was rather to protect specific linguistic rights, in particular in the
spheres of education, justice, public administration and cultural and religious institutions:
"Accordingly, this article may not be invoked in support of the complainants' claims because, even if
it applied to them, the right to commercial advertising and the right to use the business names they
wish to include in the advertising do not come within its scope, ratione materiae. Consequently, the
claims ... are incompatible with the provisions of the Covenant".
8.6 In respect of the authors' claims under article 26, the Government of Quebec points out that
Sections 58 and 68 of the Charter of the French Language, as amended by Sections 1 and 6 of Bill
178, are general measures applicable to commercial advertising which lay down the same
requirements and obligations for all tradesmen, regardless of their language. They treat equally all
people who seek to advertise in Quebec. The authors of the communications have provided no
evidence to show that they were treated differently from other tradesmen, or that the turnover of
their businesses declined as a result of the adoption and application of Bill 178.
8.7 The Government of Quebec points out that in the linguistic sphere, the notion of de facto
equality precludes purely formal equality and makes it necessary to accord different treatment in
order to arrive at a result that restores the balance between different situations. It contends that the
Charter of the French Language, as amended by Bill 178, "is a measured legislative response to the
particular circumstances of Quebec's society, for which, in the North American context and in the
face of the domination of the English language and the ensuing cultural, socio-economic and political
pressures, 'francification' ('Frenchification') is still in an exposed position".
8.8 The requirements of Sections 58 and 68 of Bill 178 are said to be deliberately limited to the
sphere of external public and commercial advertising, because it is there that the symbolic value of
the language as a means of collective identification is strongest and contributes most to preserving
the cultural identity of French speakers: "the linguistic image communicated by advertising is an
important factor that contributes to shaping habits and behaviour which perpetuate or influence the
use of a language". Quebec concludes on this point that Bill 178 strikes a delicate balance between
two linguistic communities, one of which is in a dominant demographic position both nationally and
on the continent as a whole. This aim is said to be reasonable and compatible with article 26 of the
8.9 In respect of the authors' claim under article 19, the Government of Quebec submits that the
alleged violation does not come, ratione materiae, within the scope of application of article 19. In
its opinion, "freedom of expression as referred to by the Covenant primarily concerns
political,cultural and artistic expression and does not extend to the area of commercial advertising.
Thus there are no grounds in article 19 of the Covenant for the allegations made by the authors ..."
Quebec adds that the historical background and the fact that the evolution of linguistic relations in
Canadaconstitutes a political compromise do not justify the conclusion that the requirement to carry
out external commercial advertising in a certain way amounts to a violation of article 19:
"Even if this were not the case, freedom of expression in commercial advertising requires lesser
protection than that afforded to the expression of political ideas, and the Government must be
allowed a large measure of discretion to achieve its objectives".
8.10 The Government of Quebec concludes that the right to commercial outdoor advertising in a
language of the authors' choice "is not protected by any of the provisions of the Covenant and, even
if such a right was implicitly provided for therein, the Charter of the French Language, as amended
by Bill 178, in terms of any possible infringement of such a right, is reasonable and designed to
achieve objectives compatible with the Covenant." In any event, the Charter of the French
Language, as amended by Bill 178, may provide Quebec with a means of preserving its specific
linguistic character and give French speakers a feeling of linguistic security.
9.1 In their comments on the above submissions, the authors of communication 359/1989 deny the
existence of effective domestic remedies. They contend that "simply put, the 'notwithstanding' clause
automatically renders all domestic remedies exhausted because there is no recourse available to
plead human rights violations." They note that the defence arguments in the cases currently pending
before the Quebec courts are not based on Sections 2(b) and 15 of the Canadian Charter or
Sections 3 and 10 of the Quebec Charter, which guarantee freedom of expression and protection
against discrimination based on language. In the La Chaussure Brown's et al. judgment, the
Supreme Court struck down basically the same legislation as a violation of the aforementioned
guarantees. Because of the "notwithstanding" clause in Section 10 of Bill 178, the authors argue,
they are precluded from even asking the Court to consider whether the law runs counter to the
Charter guarantees of freedom of expression and protection against discrimination.
9.2 The authors contend that the same logic applies to the Government's suggestion that they seek a
declaratory judgment: "Indeed the La Chaussure Brown's et al. decision has already ... decided
that the law violates human rights. The point is ... that Bill 178 operates 'notwithstanding' the
Charters, so that the Court could not consider such a question on its merits." In this context, the
authors further point out that under Canadian law, they are unable to invoke the provisions of the
Covenant before the domestic courts.
9.3 The authors reject the Federal Government's arguments on the application and limitations on
Section 33 of the Canadian Charter as devoid of any basis in reality. They argue that any attempt to
minimize the impact or emphasize the difficulty in applying the "notwithstanding" clause must fail
when one considers the ease with which Quebec was able to implement the "Loi concernant la Loi
Constitutionnelle de 1982", and the effects this has had in terms of curtailing the protection afforded
by the Canadian Charter. Furthermore, the speed with which Bill 178 was enacted - one week after
the Supreme Court's decision in La Chaussure Brown's et al. - belies the contention that the
"notwithstanding" clause is subject to extraordinary limitations or is only applied in rare
9.4 The authors dismiss the argument that the "notwithstanding" clause strikes a "delicate balance"
between the power of the legislative authorities and the judiciary. They affirm that Section 1 of the
Canadian Charter already provides such a balance by subjecting human rights to such reasonable
limits prescribed by law which are justified in a free and democratic society. Section 9(1) of the
Quebec Charter contains limitations to the same effect. In the authors' opinion, there is no
justification, political expediency apart, for the presence of the "notwithstanding" clauses.
9.5 Finally, the authors reject the affirmation that the "notwithstanding" clauses are compatible with
Canada's international human rights obligations. Thus, the overriding provision of Bill No. 178 can
be maintained only because of the existence of these clauses. The authors submit that Canada has
failed to take all necessary steps to comply with its obligations under the Covenant and the Optional
9.6 In a further comment, counsel to Mr. McIntyre reiterates that Bill No. 178 violates fundamental
rights protected by the Covenant. He argues that while Quebec has pointed to figures which show a
slow decline in the use of French across Canada, it omitted to point out that, in Quebec, French has
been gaining ground on English and the English community is in decline. Furthermore, while Quebec
has portrayed the 1982 constitutional amendments as an attack on the French language, it can on
the contrary be argued that Section 23 of the amended Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been
particularly effective in assisting the francophone population outside Quebec.
9.7 Counsel to Mr. McIntyre dismisses Quebec's view that the English minority is particularly
well-treated as "highly tendentious". On the contrary, he argues, this minority has been subjected to
"systematic discouragement" since 1970, a conclusion endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada
in the case of Quebec Association of Protestant School Boards v. A.G. Qué. (1984).
Furthermore, although French minorities in the rest of Canada have often been treated unfairly in the
past, this situation is now improving. As a result, counsel denies that historical or legal arguments
would justify the restrictions imposed by Bill No. 178 in the light of articles 19, 26 or 27 of the
9.8 Counsel contends that in respect of the causal connection between the language of outdoor
commercial advertising and the perceived threat to the survival of French, Quebec merely tries to
reargue its unsuccessful defence in the case of La Chaussure Brown's et al. He reiterates that there
is no connection between the contested legislative provisions and any rational defence or protection
of the French language.
9.9 Counsel asserts that in respect of the alleged violation of the right to freedom of expression,
there is no reason to exclude commercial expression from protection. Any distinction between
commercial and non-commercial expression would be difficult to operate, and, moreover, the notion
of freedom of expression has been interpreted in a broad and liberal manner by the Supreme Court
of Canada in recent years.
9.10 Finally, in respect of Section 33 of the Canadian Charter, counsel contends that since the rights
to freedom of expression and protection from discrimination are protected under the Covenant,
Section 33 cannot be used as a tool which would render these rights inoperative: "Section 33, while
not invalid ab initio, is inoperative with regard to these rights which Canada is under an international
obligation to uphold".
Review of admissibility:
10.1 The Committee has taken note of the parties' comments, made subsequent to the decision on
admissibility, in respect of the admissibility and the merits of the communications. It takes the
opportunity to explain its admissibility findings.
10.2 The State party has contended that as the issue of the validity of Bill No. 178 is before the
Quebec courts and the authors may apply for a declaratory judgment that the Bill is invalid, the
communications remain inadmissible. The Committee notes that the State party has not replied to
the argumentation set out in its decision on admissibility, as reflected in paragraphs 7.2 and 7.3
above. From the State party's submission, it further appears that the cases pending before the courts
of Quebec concern the offence provisions of Bill 178 and not the "notwithstanding" clause in Section
10 thereof, nor Section 33 of the Canadian Charter and Section 52 of the Quebec Charter. This
clause remains applicable to Section 58 of the Charter of the French Language, as amended by
Section 1 of Bill 178. Any challenge of Section 58 based on alleged violations of fundamental
freedoms is therefore bound to fail.
10.3 It remains to be determined whether a declaratory judgment declaring Bill No. 178 invalid
would provide the authors with an effective remedy. The Committee notes that such a judgment
would still leave the Charter of the French Language operativeand intact, and enable the Quebec
legislature to override any such judgment by replacing the provisions struck down by others
substantially the same and by invoking the "notwithstanding" clause of the Quebec Charter. On the
basis of precedent, and in the light of the legislative history of Bill 178, such a course of action is not
merely hypothetical. The net result, a continued ban on languages other than French in outdoor
advertising, would remain the same. Furthermore, a declaratory judgment would not pronounce on
the compatibility, with international obligations assumed by Canada, of the "notwithstanding" clauses
10.4 The Committee has further reconsidered, eo volonte, whether all the authors are properly to
be considered victims within the meaning of article 1 of the Optional Protocol. In that context, it has
noted that Mr. Ballantyne and Ms. Davidson have not received warning notices from the
Commissioner-Enquirer of the "Commission de protection de la langue française" nor been
subjected to any penalty. However, it is the position of the Committee that where an individual is in
a category of persons whose activities are, by virtue of the relevant legislation, regarded as contrary
to law, they may have a claim as "victims" within the meaning of article 1 of the Optional Protocol.
10.5 In the light of the above, the Committee sees no reason to review its decision on admissibility
of 11 April 1991.
Consideration of the merits:
11.1 On the merits, three major issues are before the Committee:
(a) whether Sec.58 of the Charter of the French Language, as amended by Bill 178, Sec.1,
violates any right that the authors might have by virtue of article 27;
(b) whether Sec.58 of the Charter of the French Language, as amended by Bill 178, Sec.1,
violates the authors' right to freedom of expression; and
(c) whether the same provision is compatible with the authors' right to equality before the law.
11.2 As to article 27, the Committee observes that this provision refers to minorities in States; this
refers, as do all references to the "State" or to "States" in the provisions of the Covenant, to ratifying
States. Further, article 50 of the Covenant provides that its provisions extend to all parts of Federal
States without any limitations or exceptions. Accordingly, the minorities referred to in article 27 are
minorities withinsuch a State, and not minorities within any province. A group may constitute a
majority in a province but still be a minority in a State and thus be entitled to the benefits of article
27. English speaking citizens of Canada cannot be considered a linguistic minority. The authors
therefore have no claim under article 27 of the Covenant.
11.3 Under article 19 of the Covenant, everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this
right may be subjected to restrictions, conditions for which are set out in article 19, paragraph 3.
The Government of Quebec has asserted that commercial activity such as outdoor advertising does
not fall within the ambit of article 19. The Committee does not share this opinion. Article 19,
paragraph 2, must be interpreted as encompassing every form of subjective ideas and opinions
capable of transmission to others, which are compatible with article 20 of the Covenant, of news
and information, of commercial expression and advertising, of works of art, etc.; it should not be
confined to means of political, cultural or artistic expression. In the Committee's opinion, the
commercial element in an expression taking the form of outdoor advertising cannot have the effect of
removing this expression from the scope of protected freedom. The Committee does not agree
either that any of the above forms of expression can be subjected to varying degrees of limitation,
with the result that some forms of expression may suffer broader restrictions than others.
11.4 Any restriction of the freedom of expression must cumulatively meet the following conditions: it
must be provided for by law, it must address one of the aims enumerated in paragraph 3(a) and (b)
of article 19, and must be necessary to achieve the legitimate purpose. While the restrictions on
outdoor advertising are indeed provided for by law, the issue to be addressed is whether they are
necessary for the respect of the rights of others. The rights of others could only be the rights of the
francophone minority within Canada under article 27. This is the right to use their own language,
which is not jeopardized by the freedom of others to advertise in other than the French language.
Nor does the Committee have reason to believe that public order would be jeopardized by
commercial advertising outdoors in a language other than French. The Committee notes that the
State party does not seek to defend Bill 178 on these grounds. Any constraints under paragraphs
3(a) and 3(b) of article 19 would in any event have to be shown to be necessary. The Committee
believes that it is not necessary, in order to protect the vulnerable position in Canada of the
francophone group, to prohibit commercial advertising in English. This protection may be achieved
in other ways that do not preclude the freedom of expression, in a language of their choice, of those
engaged in such fields as trade. For example, the law could have required that advertising be in both
French and English. A State may choose one or more official languages, but it may not exclude,
outside the spheres of public life, the freedom to express oneself in a language of one's choice. The
Committee accordingly concludes that there has been a violation of article 19, paragraph 2.
11.5 The authors have claimed a violation of their right, under article 26, to equality before the law;
the Government of Quebec has contended that Sections 1 and 6 of Bill 178 are general measures
applicable to all those engaged in trade, regardless of their language. The Committee notes that
Sections 1 and 6 of Bill 178 operate to prohibit the use of commercial advertising outdoors in other
than the French language. This prohibition applies to French speakers as well as English speakers,
so that a French speaking person wishing to advertise in English, in order to reach those of his or
her clientele who are English speaking, may not do so. Accordingly, the Committee finds that the
authors have not been discriminated against on the ground of their language, and concludes that
there has been no violation of article 26 of the Covenant.
12. The Human Rights Committee, acting under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol to
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is of the view that the facts before it reveal a
violation of article 19, paragraph 2, of the Covenant.
13. The Committee calls upon the State party to remedy the violation of article 19 of the Covenant
by an appropriate amendment to the law.
14. The Committee would wish to receive information, within six months, on any relevant measures
taken by the State party in connection with the Committee's Views.
* Five concurring and dissenting opinions, signed by eight Committee members, are appended to
the present document.