Supporting Recognition of ASL/LSQ by Canada

On September 22, 2018, Canada’s Deaf community organized ASL/LSQ Recognition Awareness Day!  There was a rally on Parliament Hill and it was an honour for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) to be invited to participate in the Ottawa event.

CCD, which includes the Canadian Association of the Deaf as a member, fully supports Deaf Canadians’ call for ASL/LSQ to be recognized as official Canadian languages, because freedom of expression is a human right.  For Deaf Canadians, ASL/LSQ are essential to the freedom of expression. 

Canada has agreed to be bound by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and in doing so Canada committed to ensuring that Deaf Canadians “…can exercise their right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice, including the use of sign languages. …[And that it would] … facilitate the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of Deaf Communities, including sign languages and deaf culture…” 1

In addition, the recognition of Indigenous Sign Languages is mandated by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which also gives particular attention to Indigenous Deaf persons.

Despite having ratified the CRPD, Canada has not made ASL/LSQ an official language and Canada has been called to task about this by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which reviews the progress that countries are making on disability and human rights.  In its Concluding Observations concerning Canada, the CRPD Committee stated,

  Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information (art. 21)
39. The Committee is concerned by:
(a) The lack of official recognition of sign languages and that the training programmes for sign language interpreters do not meet minimum requirements to provide a high quality of interpretation;

40. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Recognize, in consultation with organizations of deaf persons, American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language (Langue des signes Québécoise) as official languages and their use in schools, and establish jointly with organizations of deaf persons a mechanism to certify the quality of interpretation services and ensure that opportunities for continuous training are provided for sign language interpreters; 2.

What this means is that the international community has noticed that Canada is not living up to its obligations to ensure that Deaf Canadians have full enjoyment of their right to freedom of expression.

It is noteworthy that the Committee called for Deaf people, through their organizations, to be involved in how ASL/LSQ are recognized as official languages. Remember NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US is a vitally important principle to keep at the forefront as our rights are being implemented.

CAD has informed us that there are over 45 countries around the world that have recognized their national Sign Languages through federal legislation. These countries are Ireland, Greece, Scotland, Mexico, New Zealand, and many more. However, Canada is one of the countries that has not yet recognized its Sign Languages.

It is regrettable that the Federal Government of Canada missed an opportunity to make ASL/LSQ an official language when it drafted Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier free Canada.  Before it is passed into law, Bill C-81 must be amended to include recognition of ASL/LSQ as an official language in Canada.  This is the message delivered on Parliament Hill on September 22, everyone who supports human rights is encouraged to call upon their Member of Parliament to support recognizing ASL/LSQ as official languages in Canada.

“I’m calling on Parliament and the Senate to amend Bill c-81 to include recognition of ASL and LSQ as official languages of Deaf people in Canada.”


~ Jewelles Smith


1. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Statement by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the International Day of Sign Languages.  Adopted during the Committee’s 19th session, held, from 14 February to 9 March 2018 in Geneva. Downloaded on September 21, 2018 from

2. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Concluding Observations on the Report of Canada. 8 May 2017. Downloaded on September 21, 2018 from