Release: CCF defending freedom of expression: Mandatory bilingual sign bylaw unconstitutional

Release: CCF defending freedom of expression: Mandatory bilingual sign bylaw unconstitutional

he Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) today announced that it has been granted permission by the Ontario Court of Appeal to make written and oral arguments in defence of freedom of expression against a restrictive Ontario Township of Russell signage language by-law.

Bilingual small business owner Mr. Jean-Serge Brisson ordered a new sign for his store, with his business name in English and services listed in French. Shortly before he ordered his sign, Russell Township passed a municipal by-law requiring all new exterior commercial signs to be bilingual, with identical style and content in both Official Languages, except for the business name. Mr. Brisson’s new sign ran afoul of this by-law.

Together with language rights activist Mr. Howard Galganov, Brisson decided to challenge the constitutionality of the bylaw. However, in Galganov v. Russell Township, the Ontario Superior Court held that the bylaw does not violate freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On appeal, the CCF has been granted the status of “friend of the court”. It will argue that the impugned bylaw infringes freedom of expression because it compels and coerces individuals to express themselves in a language not freely chosen, and in only French and English. There are other Ontario municipalities with similar bylaws and other provinces engaged in a similar controversy about language restricting commercial signs.

CCF Executive Director and lawyer Chris Schafer said, “The CCF does not support language-restricting signage laws. We think they lack constitutional, evidentiary, and prudential justification”. Schafer added, “The bylaw unfairly affects the township’s immigrant population since it prohibits businesses from communicating with potential customers by signs in, for instance, Italian or Chinese.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation is a registered charity, independent and non-partisan, which defends constitutional freedoms through education and litigation.