Framing Deaf Children’s Right to Sign Language in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms


  • Jennifer J. Paul
  • Kristin Snoddon School of Linguistics and Language Studies, Carleton University



Sign Language Rights, Deaf Children, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Disability Rights, Constitutional Law


Sign language rights for deaf children bring a unique perspective to bear in the fields of both disability rights and language planning. This is due to the lack of recognition in existing case law of the right to language in and of itself. Deaf children are frequently deprived of early exposure to a fully accessible language, and as a consequence may develop incomplete knowledge of any language. Thus, in the case of deaf children the concept of sign language rights encompasses rights that are ordinarily viewed as more fundamental to human equality. This paper will take as a starting point the historical treatment of the enumerated disability ground in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ section 15(1) guarantee of equality rights. We argue that in order to meet deaf children’s specific biological and linguistic needs, these children’s right to sign language also needs to be recognized as an analogous ground for protection from discrimination. Sign language rights are framed in terms of an immutable characteristic of all children, namely the biolingual process for language acquisition. The biolingual process is the experiential and innate ability to acquire language. 

Author Biographies

Jennifer J. Paul

Jennifer J. Paul has been a member of Law Society of Upper Canada since 2003, after earning her J.D. degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. She served for three years as Executive Director of the Ontario Association of the Deaf and is a leading figure in the Canadian deaf community's campaign for the recognition of deaf children's sign language rights.

Kristin Snoddon, School of Linguistics and Language Studies, Carleton University

Kristin Snoddon is an Assistant Professor at the School of Linguistics and Language Studies, Carleton University. Her research interests are in applied sign language linguistics and sign language planning and policy, particularly with regard to deaf children’s sign language rights in education. 


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How to Cite

Paul, J. J., & Snoddon, K. (2017). Framing Deaf Children’s Right to Sign Language in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 6(1), 1–27.