Free Speech in Canada?

I know that in the US, they have the first amendment that guarantees free speech. I was wondering what kind of freedom of speech clauses we have in our constitution? Is there anything that guarantees us the freedom to express any of our opinions?

NB I put this thread in Genderal Questions, not Great Debates. I want factual answers, don’t get into the whole Liberal dominated media thing, I already know about that.

Well, whatever you say, if you say it in Quebec, even on the Web, it had better be in French.

And the signs that advertise your business, or the packaging of Kosher food, must also be in French. Yiddische es verboten.

Just as an aside, does Canada even have a constitution, as such? I know that the United States has the oldest actual constitution in the world (since countries such as England don’t use that name).

Or am I just misinformed?

AFAIK, the original constitution for Canada was the original British North America Act, which layed everything out like a constitution if it wasn’t acting as one.

Then sometime in the 80’s they redid the whole thing and had the queen sign it.

Now, back to the original question…

The Constitution Act of 1980 states the following in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (emphasis mine):

So yes, we do have the right to free speech. Of course, Quebecers have to speak twice as loudly in French as we do in English, but this is a small price to pay. :slight_smile:

You forgot


So there is no guarantee really.

I think the above is what gives us out guarantee. Of course, there are limits, but I like the idea the government considers it a right rather than a favour.

If they really considered it a right, they wouldn’t have to include the weaselly “reasonable limits” and “notwithstanding” clauses. They called it the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a reason.

So we have the freedom to speak freely, rather than the right to do so? :confused: What precisely is the difference between a right and a freedom?

I’m not trying to be smartass, I’m genuinely perplexed.

Here andhere.

The difference is pretty much semantic. Rights are defined positively, and freedoms are defined negatively.

The RCMP has a nice way of putting it: “A right guarantees intervention by the state when protection is required. A freedom, on the other hand guarantees no intervention by the state when an individual exercises that freedom.”


Certain forms of commercial expression must be in French. Personal expresson does not have a langauage requirement.

That is a gross mischaracterization.

Due to rights and freedoms often being in conflict with one another, it is seldom possible to have absolute rights and freedoms immune from restriction.

Put it this way, does freedom of speach extend to my entering your bedroom and screaming my manifetsto at you in the middle of the night? Or does freedom of expression extend to your then nailing you up on your wall, calling it art, and charging admission? Of course not. There would be conflict with the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

As per the process set out in the Charter and the ensuing judicial interpretations, any impingement of a freedom or right should be very carefully reviewed to see if it is justifiable. To simply dismiss such a balancing as negating freedoms and rights, and to dismiss the balancing process as being “weaselly”, misconstrues the Constitution and our democratic and legal processes.

Make that “. . . nailing me up on a wall . . .”


Our Constitution, including the Charter, and judicial interpretations, protect your freedom to say anything you please, however, there are some restrictions.

There are civil restrictions concerning slander and libel. Similarly, there are criminal restrictions concerning defamatory libel, though enforcement is rare.

There are still some old restrictions concerning blasphemous libel on the books, but I don’t know if they would still hold up. More recently, however, there are new laws prohibiting the promotion of hatred, which are much more practicable, though so new that their judicial interpretations are still a little rough around the edges.

There are criminal restrictions concerning sedition, but these restrictions are not to be confused with genuine political dissent, which is strongly protected.

There are various criminal restrictions concerning threats, harassment, nuisance, disturbing the peace, etc. Of contention is degree to which police go in protecting the peace at the expense of political dissent during public demonstrations.

There are also criminal and regulatory restrictions on porn, though such restrictions are gradually being loosened with regard to consenting adults, and are being tightened with regard to children. There is contention over sexual morality laws.

There are regulatory restrictions concerning commercial expression. Most are non-contentious, but some are tremendously problematic, such as the Quebec language laws.

If you wish to have a look at the laws, the federal ones can be found at , and the provincial ones can be found on the various provincial sites by drilling down through .

Muffin said:

Well, I admit I was using some hyperbole to make a point. I didn’t think anyone would take me literally as if I was saying you couldn’t speak English on the street. Still, your statement that

is not entirely true, in my opinion. For example, some Quebec parents do not have the right to choose which language their children receive instruction in at school.

You state that “certain forms of commercial expression must be in French”. Indeed, the labeling of Kosher Passover matza, signage at ethnic delicatessens and restaurants, etc. must be in French. To describe or justify such idiotic edicts with the phrase “certain forms of commercial expression” is disingenuous.

That only applies to publicly funded schools, not privately funded schools.


Disengenuous? No. Accurate, yes.

Commercial communication is provincially regulated. Quebec is a French province, not a bilingual province. Certain forms of commercial communication, particulary communication with the public, are regulated to ensure that Francophones in a Francohone state are guaranteed the use of French.

Reviewing which communications are regulated and which are not, and whether such regulations should be made, can make for a fine debate, but this is not the forum for such a debate.

For the record, I am deeply concerned that Quebec has failed to protect minority linguistic rights in its promotion of Francophone linguistic and cultural self-determination, but this is not the place to go into such concerns in depth.

Karl, there’s an important qualifier in the article you linked to: “English public school.” In other words, in Quebec you have to meet certain criteria in order to have the public pay for your children to be educated in English, which is the minority language in Quebec.

The same occurs in the anglophone provinces: you must meet certain qualifications, set out in the Constitution, to have a right to have your children educated in French * out of public funds.*

This isn’t a free speech issue - it’s a question of the qualifications to have minority language education paid for by the public. The Canadian Constitution grants more rights in this area than under the American Bill of Rights, by providing a constitutional guarantee of minority language education. So far as I know, the First Amendment does not guarantee education in Spanish for the hispanic minority, paid for out of public funds. [Note to our American friends: I’m not talking about school programs geared to bringing Spanish-speaking children up to par with anglophones children; I’m talking about a completely separate, autonomous Spanish education system, paid for by the public.]

before this gets booted to GD -

Let me guess - it’s the govt which decides if something is “dissent” v. “sedition”, right?

Does Canada have judicial review of such rules/laws, and to what extent has such review favored the “freedom” of speech, as opposed to endorsing limits thereron?

And the Quebec language debacle is laughable - just as it was progressing economically, it does something to discourage anyone from wanting to do business there. Bright!

It goes without saying that there must be some compromise when rights conflict, but that’s not what the charter says. It doesn’t mention reconciling conflicitng rights; it just says that there can be “reasonable limits”. Of course opinions can and will differ about what is “reasonable”.

However, the notwithstanding clause is the more dangerous one, because it basically says that the government can do anything it wants regardless of anything in the charter. As long as that is the case, the rights and freedoms laid out in the charter aren’t really guaranteed.

Muffin’s response pretty much covered it. I would just add that a right is something you are entitled to; a freedom, on the other hand, is something you are being allowed to have, without necessarily being entitled to it in an absolute sense.