Objective and history of the Court Challenges Program

The Government of Canada has allocated an annual investment of $5 million for the modernized Court Challenges Program. Each year, a minimum of $1.5 million will be dedicated to the clarification of official language rights. The remainder will be dedicated to the clarification of human rights guaranteed under the Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as official language rights.

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Objective of the Court Challenges Program

The objective of the Court Challenges Program is to provide individuals and groups in Canada with financial support to access the courts for the litigation of test cases of national significance. This support is also intended to clarify and assert certain constitutional and quasi‑constitutional official language rights and human rights in Canada.

Expected results

The expected results of the Court Challenges Program include the following:

  • individuals or groups have access to funding to initiate or participate in test cases pertaining to rights and freedoms covered by the Program;
  • perspectives of individuals or groups who receive funding are presented before the courts in test cases; and
  • rights and freedoms covered by the Program are clarified and strengthened.

Independent organization

The Court Challenges Program is implemented and administered by a third party to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest on the part of the Government of Canada.

The University of Ottawa has been selected as the independent organization to implement, administer and promote the Court Challenges Program. This includes administering both Expert Panels, which will make decisions pertaining to Program funding.

Expert Panels

Two independent Expert Panels, an Official Language Rights Expert Panel and a Human Rights Expert Panel , are responsible for rendering decisions regarding the Court Challenges Program funding.

Both Expert Panels receive administrative support from the University of Ottawa and report to this independent organization.

The members of the Expert Panels were selected based on their expertise in the relevant legal areas, through an open, transparent and merit-based process.

A Selection Committee, composed of senior government officials and experts on official languages and human rights, recommended a short-list of qualified candidates for each of the two Panels to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie.

Funding priorities

Under the CCP, funding will be directed toward:

  • test case development;
  • test case litigation; and
  • legal interventions.

Targeted rights

The CCP will support official language rights and human rights derived from the following:

  • Official language rights protected by:
    • sections 93 and 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867;
    • section 23 of the Manitoba Act, 1870;
    • sections 16 to 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the "Charter");
    • any parallel constitutional provisions; and
    • the linguistic aspect of freedom of expression in section 2 of the Charter when invoked in an official language minority case.
  • Justiciable parts of the Official Languages Act, which include:
    • certain sections of Part I (Proceedings of Parliament);
    • certain sections of Part II (Legislative and Other Instruments);
    • Part IV (Communications with and Services to the Public);
    • Part V (Language of Work);
    • Part VII (Advancement of English and French); and
    • section 91 (Staffing).
  • Human rights protected by the Charter under:
    • section 2 (fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion, expression, assembly and association);
    • section 3 (democratic rights);
    • section 7 (life, liberty and the security of the person);
    • section 15 (equality rights);
    • section 27 (multiculturalism) – when raised in support of arguments based on equality rights; and
    • section 28 (gender equality).

History of the Program

Between 1978 and 2006, the former Court Challenges Program was instrumental in helping Canadians to clarify and assert official language and equality rights guaranteed under Canada’s Constitution. The former Program was cancelled in 2006. However, in 2008, following an out-of-court settlement, the Government of Canada committed to funding previously approved Court Challenges Program cases (now called legacy cases) and to establishing the Language Rights Support Program.

The modernized Court Challenges Program combines the former Court Challenges Program and the Language Rights Support Program with a more streamlined approach.

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