Minority Rights

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Minority Rights QUESTION 1: Minority Rights and Entrenchment in Statutory and Constitutional Instruments The British North America (BNA) Act of 1867, among other things, guaranteed some set of minority rights for the Canadian minority groups. This section highlights the rights, their effectiveness, and factors that contributed towards the statutory establishment of the rights in the CBR 1960 as well as Constitutional entrenchment in 1982. The paper also explores some of the entrenchment rights and how they have proved useful in limiting government actions against the minority rights. The Minority Rights and Their Effectiveness The BNA Act 1867 had a few rights that sought to protect the Canadian minority. One such right was language rights. Section 133 provided that members of the legislature in the Quebec national assembly had a right to use either English or French. Consequently, any legislative records emanating from the legislature of the province or affecting the province had to be produced in both the languages. It also guaranteed the citizens in the province the right to use either of the languages before a court in Quebec or Canadian federal court, whether in respect to pleadings or other court procedures such as hearings. As of the time the Act was enacted, majority of the Canadian were English speaking with the French speakers being minority. French speakers were mainly found in the Quebec. By guaranteeing the right to use French, the statute sought to protect a minority who had the difficulty to use the English language. This right, however, proved not to be a very effective mechanism for protecting minority language rights for various reasons. First, while providing for bilingualism in Quebec parliament, not all the members of parliament were French speakers. In fact, the English speakers constituted majority. The English speakers could not understand their French counterparts if they spoke in French and vice versa. In effect, the French speakers still had to learn English, and possibly use it in legislative debates of crucial interest, otherwise fail to effectively communicate. Second, the BNA Act did not bind the legislature to observe the use of French; neither did it declare bilingualism an official position. In effect, it was difficult to compel the executive to use French when dealing with the French minority. The French Canadians therefore failed to get effective legal protection due to the challenges highlighted. Another crucial right was the educational rights of the religious minorities. Pursuant to section 93 of the BNA Act 1867, every province reserved a prerogative to make laws on its education policy, but such policies could not be prejudicial to the Denominational Schools. Essentially, these were confessional rights that sought to protect faith of individuals. This provision was sufficiently adequate to protect the minority religious groups, as it bound the state not to impose education policies that could jeopardize religious development though imposition of language that would make religious advancement difficult to contain. The French Catholic Canadians utilized this section as linguistic and cultural refuge though setting up confessional schools.

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