Canada: La Charte De La Langue Française – Bien Vivante!

Last Updated: May 22 2018
Article by François Larose

Dans une décision récente, 156158 Canada Inc. c. Procureur général du Québec, la Cour d'appel du Québec a rejeté l'appel de décisions confirmant des utilisations prohibées de la langue anglaise en vertu de la Charte de la langue française (Charte). La décision confirme que la Charte est toujours très pertinente et, bien qu'elle limite la liberté d'expression et le droit à la liberté, ces limites sont raisonnables et justifiées par la loi.

Dans la décision initiale de la Cour du Québec, le juge de première instance a déclaré les entreprises défenderesses, toutes de la région de Montréal, coupables d'infractions en vertu de la Charte relatives à l'utilisation de l'anglais dans la publicité commerciale (affichage) alors que le français n'y figurait pas de façon nettement prédominante, sur des emballages sans version équivalente française ou dans des sites Web sans version française.

La Charte prévoit que le texte sur les emballages et dans les publications commerciales, comme les sites Web, doit être en français, bien que d'autres langues, comme l'anglais, puissent y être utilisées dans la mesure où elles ne l'emportent pas sur le français. En ce qui concerne l'affichage commercial, la Charte exige, depuis le début des années 90, qu'il soit en français, avec une version dans une autre langue étant acceptable que si le français est nettement prédominant - par exemple, lorsque le texte en français est deux fois plus gros que celui dans l'autre langue. Les dispositions initiales de la Charte sur l'affichage public commercial obligeaient l'emploi du français uniquement, mais elles ont été contestées avec succès devant la Cour suprême du Canada (CSC) puisqu'elles étaient contraires à la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés et à la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne du Québec, notamment le droit à la liberté d'expression et le droit à l'égalité. La nette prédominance du français dans l'affichage commerciale était en fait une suggestion de la CSC comme une alternative valide sur le plan constitutionnel qui serait justifiée au Québec, où la vulnérabilité de la langue française justifiait une protection spéciale.

De retour en 2014, où les entreprises défenderesses ont fait valoir devant la Cour du Québec que ces restrictions n'étaient plus justifiées en raison de la croissance de la langue française depuis les années 90. Elles ont également affirmé, se référant à une ancienne étude concluant que la langue française n'était pas en péril, que la CSC avait en fait fondé ses décisions antérieures sur des données périmées et incomplètes.

La Cour du Québec, tout comme la Cour supérieure en appel, ont rejeté leurs arguments réitérant que les décisions antérieures de la CSC constituaient des précédents contraignants. Onze de ces entreprises (appelantes) ont interjeté appel de la décision auprès de la Cour d'appel du Québec.

La Cour d'appel a rejeté leur appel.

La Cour d'appel a fait remarquer que l'exigence d'un texte français en sus (et non à la place) d'autres langues et d'une plus grande visibilité du français a été proposée par la CSC et suivie par le législateur québécois. Comme l'a déclaré la Cour d'appel, il n'appartient pas aux tribunaux de critiquer le choix du législateur de suivre ces suggestions de la CSC.

La Cour d'appel a également fait observer que la Charte constituait une réponse à l'évaluation de l'état vulnérable de la langue française au Québec par le gouvernement du Québec. Puisque le visage linguistique du Québec montre maintenant la prédominance du français au Québec, la Charte atteint son objectif.

De plus, ce visage linguistique ne se limite pas à l'affichage extérieur. Il peut s'agir de publications commerciales, qu'elles soient imprimées ou en version électronique – comme des sites Web.

Les appelantes ont soutenu que la Charte imposait un fardeau économique et psychologique aux anglophones, de sorte que leur droit à l'égalité était violé, mais la Cour d'appel n'a pas donné droit à leur prétention. La Charte ne les empêche pas de faire de la publicité avec le contenu de leur choix, dans leur propre langue. Plutôt, elle exige qu'une version française nettement prédominante soit ajoutée si elles font de la publicité dans une autre langue que le français.

Quant au droit à la liberté, la Cour d'appel réitère que les entreprises ne sont pas protégées par ce droit garanti par la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés et la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne du Québec. De plus, comme indiqué ci-haut, les appelantes peuvent continuer d'utiliser l'anglais pour promouvoir leurs produits et services - ce qui justifie également le rejet de l'allégation des appelantes selon laquelle les restrictions imposées par la Charte restreignent leur droit à la jouissance paisible et à la libre disposition de leurs biens.

La Charte a donc une fois de plus survécu à une contestation constitutionnelle de l'obligation d'utiliser la langue française, même si elle permet l'utilisation simultanée d'autres langues dans l'affichage commercial, sur les emballages et dans les publications commerciales, à condition que le français soit respectivement nettement prédominant (affichage) ou y figure d'une façon au moins aussi évidente (emballages et publications).

Fait intéressant, la Cour d'appel a soulevé la possibilité qu'il y ait un désavantage (comme des coûts supplémentaires de traduction, d'impression ou de création de site Web) pour se conformer à la Charte. Cependant, les appelantes n'ont pas fourni la preuve d'un tel désavantage devant le tribunal de première instance, de sorte que l'argument a été rejeté, laissant la possibilité d'un futur argument selon lequel le fardeau économique de la conformité à la Charte constitue une discrimination et viole le droit à l'égalité. Puisque cette possibilité a été soulevée par la Cour d'appel, il est fort probable qu'elle soit éventuellement plaidée de nouveau avec des preuves appropriées dans un proche avenir. À suivre ...

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