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Documents in Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

Documents on the Controversy Surrounding the Language of Commercial Signs in Quebec (Bill 178) December 1988

Debates in the National Assembly
[December 20, 1988]

M. Herbert Marx,
Minister of Public Security,
Liberal Party.


"[...] Our tribunals, and especially the Supreme Court of Canada, have told us that freedom of expression includes freedom of commercial advertising according to the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms and the Human rights act of Quebec. The Supreme Court of Canada has declared, and this is very clear in its judgement, that we can demand that French be used everywhere, even with a clear priority but without prohibiting English. The Court stated, as had all the lower courts, that a law that prohibits completely the use of another language is a law that contravenes freedom of expression, that it violates both Charters, that is the Canadian and the Quebec Charters.

"The proposed bill 178 does not respect the Quebec Charter of Rights. In this bill freedom of expression is suspended. It is suspended by two notwithstanding clauses, one that applies to the Quebec Charter of Rights and the other to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is for this reason that I cannot support this bill

"When I was professor of constitutional law at the Université de Montréal, I always taught my students that I was against the use of a notwithstanding clause to set aside fundamental freedoms. I was a commissioner for the Commission des droits de la personne du Québec for five years and I was opposed to the notwithstanding clause found in the Quebec Charter. When I was a member of the Opposition, I was always opposed to the use of the notwithstanding clause; I made speeches in the National Assembly to oppose the clause, during the debate on Bill 111 for example. I have written articles against the use of such a clause.

[English text]


"Mr. Speaker, I was elected in 1979 for the first time, reelected in 1981 and in 1985. On each occasion, I promised my electors that I would do my best to lift the prohibition on signs where you can have French and another language. Now, Bill 178 suspends this freedom of expression. There are two ‘notwithstanding’ clauses in Bill 178: one to suspend the freedom of expression provision in the Quebec Charter of Rights and one to suspend it in the Federal Charter of Rights.

"I tried my best in Cabinet, I tried my best in caucus that this would not happened (sic), and it did happened (sic). But, as I pointed out a few minutes ago, I have always been against the suspension of fundamental civil liberties with a ‘notwithstanding’ clause. I was against it as a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Montreal. I was against it as a commissioner at the Quebec Human Rights Commission. I was against it during my six years in Opposition. And, as a minister, I have not changed, I still have the same views. I am the same person, I have the same principles as I had before I was a minister. And, consequently, I have no choice whatever but to vote against this Bill and, in fact, not to vote with the Government. It is impossible for me at this time to make a 180° turnabout. I just cannot do it, it is a question of conscience, it is a question of principle".

Note from the translator: following the adoption of Bill 178, three anglophone cabinet ministers resigned from the government and, eventually, from the National Assembly. These resignations were to protest the adoption of Bill 178. The ministers resigning were: Herbert Marx, Clifford Lincoln and Richard French. Anglophone discontent with the Bourassa Liberal government was also expressed by the establishment, shortly thereafter, of the Equality Party. This essentially anglophone party electec four candidates in the provincial elections of 1989. It is estimated that where they fielded candidates, essentially in anglophone and allophone areas of Quebec,the Equality Party received between 70-78% of the anglophone vote.

© For the translation, 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College