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Bill 101’s first legal blow

The Story

Brutal, colonial, cruel and archaic is how Quebec Premier René Lévesque describes today's Supreme Court decision as seen on CBC Television. In a unanimous decision, Canada's highest court rules that parts of Quebec and Manitoba's language bills are unconstitutional. According to the ruling, French and English must be treated equally in the legislature and the courts as well in any tribunal or commission that acts like a court. Ottawa applauds the ruling saying it demonstrates the strength of federalism. Observers call today's ruling largely symbolic since it only affects the language used in the legislature and the courts. Lévesque condemns the decision as unacceptable and storms off from the press conference.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 13, 1979
Guest(s): René Lévesque
Reporter: Jason Moscovitz
Duration: 1:38

Did You know?

• A group of Montreal lawyers successfully challenged Bill 101 on the basis that it violated sections of Canada's 1867 Constitution Act, which entrenched official bilingualism in the National Assembly and the courts.
• Quebec's English-speaking lawyers assumed an increasingly prominent role as leaders of the anglophone community due to the decline of the traditional business elite, writes Garth Stevenson in his book Community Besieged.

• Manitoba was included in the Supreme Court ruling where the courts had been conducted in English only for 89 years, explains CBC's Stuart Langford. Legally that meant Manitoba faced the monumental task of legally translating almost 100 years of provincial laws into French. In Quebec it was a different story because English versions of laws passed by Parti Québécois were on file.


Fighting Words: Bill 101 more