The C’est l’temps! movement: for or against civil disobedience?


Learning objectives

The student will:

  • Use the inquiry process to make an ethical judgment regarding the campaign of civil disobedience conducted by Ontario Francophones in the 1970s
  • Clarify the reasons that motivated some Francophone citizens to oppose Ontario laws and regulations
  • Put the events into the context of the values and attitudes of the time
  • Clearly communicate ideas through teamwork and oral and written discussion.
POWER component: “C’est l’temps!”


The “C’est l’temps!” popular protest movement, born in the fall of 1975, required nothing less than the “official recognition of Francophones as full citizens” (translated from the original) in Ontario. In the wake of Premier Bill Davis’ promises to provide administrative and judicial services in French, the movement claimed the right of Franco-Ontarians to speak French in the courts of their province. It further requested that the laws of Ontario be available in French, as they are in Quebec and New Brunswick. The leaders of the movement invited Francophones in the province to refuse to testify in English before the courts, and to demand a copy of any legal document in French, including driver’s licenses, traffic tickets, and change of address forms. More than twenty people were imprisoned for refusing to pay tickets they received in English. Support for the “C’est l’temps!” movement came from everywhere and attracted attention on a national scale when the mayor of Hull was also imprisoned in support of the cause. But some openly opposed the movement. The legitimacy of the acts of “civil disobedience” – the refusal to submit to established laws – was called into question. The situation drew the attention of Ontario’s elected officials, who then addressed the issue of Francophone language rights in the courts. In 1984, the new Courts of Justice Act recognized both English and French as the languages of Ontario's courts.

Based on an analysis of the “C’est l’temps!” theme, do you believe that the civil disobedience of Francophone citizens in Ontario was legitimate at the time? Students will have to answer this historical analysis question in the form of a virtual survey that considers the context, values and laws of Ontario in the 1970s. For the purposes of this activity, the concept of legitimacy refers to that which is considered good or ethically based.

Hyperlink :

« C’est l’temps ! »

Additional resources:

For An Officially Bilingual Capital Of Canada

Le mouvement C’est l’temps!(French only)

Activity description


The teacher reviews the process of inquiry necessary to complete the activity discussing the legitimacy of civil disobedience. This process seeks to guide students in responding to the analytical question presented in the activity, using their critical sense. The process includes the following steps:

  • Formulate analytical questions (What is my initial question? What should I address?)
  • Collect sources and organize information (What sources and data are available?)
  • Analyze and interpret the information collected (What do the sources reveal? What is the evidence?)
  • Evaluate and draw conclusions (What conclusions can be drawn from this analysis?)
  • Communicate the inquiry results (What is my response to the question?)


The teacher tells students about the work to be completed during this activity, which is to analyze the ethical dimensions of the campaign of civil disobedience carried out by Francophones in Ontario, as presented in the theme “C’est l’temps!”, and then to write a letter to a Canadian student in another province or elsewhere in Ontario explaining his/her commitment or refusal to engage in another campaign, such as the Movement for an officially bilingual Capital of Canada.

The teacher then introduces the notion of civil disobedience and explains that it refers to the assumed refusal of a person or group of people to comply with established law. In Canada, civil disobedience is not recognized by the courts, and is therefore punishable by law. But in some cases, citizens have used civil disobedience (voluntarily violating a law) by invoking the defense of necessity, which allows for a law to be violated in an extreme case when it conflicts with more fundamental social principles and values. In these particular cases, the laws in place must be demonstrated to be unfair. Leaders of the “C’est l’temps!” popular protest movement argued that Ontario's English laws were in conflict with Canadian laws and values with respect to bilingualism.

Next, the teacher explains to students that the question of civil disobedience legitimacy is an issue of historical importance linked to the ethical dimension. In many ways, we are confronted with the ethical dimension in our relationship to the past. For example, is it justified to celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11 of each year? Should we accept or condemn the civil disobedience of citizens who opposed the unilingual English laws of Ontario? To answer all these questions, it is important to understand the dimensions of ethical judgment.

Ethical judgments are evaluations of the past or the actions of our predecessors. These are studied in the light of contemporary values, while taking into account the context and conditions of the period, as well as the norms employed at the time of the events.

To develop a good understanding of ethical judgment in history, the teacher introduces students to the following principles:

  • Ethical judgments represent a particular form of value judgments. Not all judgments are ethical in nature. Only those that serve to defend or condemn a practice or idea perceived as being ethically justifiable in terms of human behavior (e.g. 21st century modern life is much better than that of our grandparents) are ethical judgments.
  • Ethical judgments in history must take into account the context of the period. The formulation of ethical judgments is based on the values and norms of contemporary society (e.g. gender equality). It would be imprudent to impose those judgments on our ancestors without taking into account the historical context, since many of the practices or behaviors regarded as out of date today were quite acceptable in another era (e.g. compulsory child labor). We can condemn the actions of the past, but we must do it in a way that is fair. We must put past actions into a context that does not neglect the beliefs and values of the period (e.g. was it acceptable in the 1970s to have unilingual English laws in Ontario?).
  • Reserve and prudence are in place before expressing an ethical judgment. In history, it is vital to refrain from formulating personal judgments before studying the whole question. It is often dangerous to lay blame or to make a modern judgment without first consulting all the sources and taking into consideration the particular context of the period (e.g. was civil disobedience possible and justifiable in the 1970s in Canada, under what conditions?).

The teacher also emphasizes that ethical judgment includes looking at the responsibility of the actors for the actions they have taken, or not taken. To do this, we must consider two types of responsibility: the responsibility of witnesses to history, and that of subsequent generations. This involves determining the responsibility that certain individuals (prime minister, mayor, chief of police, etc.) or certain organizations (government, judicial system, etc.) may share in the course of history. But it is also important to establish the potential responsibility of subsequent generations for acts committed at a given time (e.g. to what extent do people today have responsibilities for decisions made at other points in history?).


The teacher: 

  • Explains the work to be completed during this class discussion activity, and introduces the research question: Do you believe that the civil disobedience of Ontario's Francophone citizens was legitimate at the time?
  • Asks each student to take a stand on this question, according to an evaluation scale ranging from total disagreement (0) to total agreement (10).
  • Invites a few students to express their position on the issue.
  • Provides each team with Worksheet 1: Analyzing the ethical dimension, which will be used to organize and analyze student information for the discussion.
  • Explains that their work to analyze the ethical dimension of civil disobedience during the “C’est l’temps !” campaign must take into consideration the:
    • historical context (what were the positions, values ​​and laws in place during the 1970 civil disobedience campaign?)
    • contemporary context (what are the positions, values ​​and laws currently in place in Ontario society?)
  • Introduces Worksheet 2: Evaluating the class discussion to get students to re-evaluate their initial position in light of other arguments.
  • Invites students to view the virtual exhibition section on the “C’est l’temps!” campaign.
  • Observes and guides student work in analyzing information and data from the virtual exhibition, as well as the link to the CRCCF’s virtual exhibit dedicated to “Mouvement C’est l’temps!” (in French only)
  • Encourages students to read and make sense of the historical sources included in the virtual exhibition to find relevant information and evidence to support their team decision.
  • Ensures that each team completes Worksheet 1 and provides a detailed answer to the inquiry question (using the back of the sheet if necessary).


The teacher:

  • Arranges the desks in a "U" shape to facilitate an exchange that promotes interaction and possible changes in position.
  • Asks students to choose a seat based on their assessment of the issue after pointing out that each end of the U represents a clearly stated position: either "totally agree" or "totally disagree" (the teacher can assign seats according to the varying positions students may hold).
  • Starts the discussion by inviting the students at the ends of the U to present their points of view, including the reason for their position as recorded on Worksheet 1.
  • Continues the discussion by engaging with students sitting in different places, inviting them to present different points of view on the subject and to engage in an exchange (the teacher may also present different points of view, if necessary).
  • Asks students to complete Work Sheet 2: Evaluating the class discussion.
  • Invites students to reconsider their initial position based on the arguments presented by their classmates, and to change their spot in the classroom as needed.
  • Collects Worksheets 1 and 2 to provide a detailed answer to the inquiry question.

Suggestions to encourage learning  

The teacher: 

  • Asks students to reflect on the impacts of the “C’est l’temps!” movement by considering another debate on Francophone issues, this time in a contemporary context.
  • Invites students to view the virtual exhibition section, “For an officially bilingual capital of Canada.”
  • Instructs students to use the principles of ethical judgment presented earlier in the activity.
  • Asks students, individually or in pairs, to analyze the ethical dimension of another societal debate, such as an officially bilingual city of Ottawa, presented in the virtual exhibition. This exercise will be used to write a letter to a Canadian student in another province or elsewhere in Ontario in which the writer explains his or her commitment or refusal to engage in another campaign such as an officially bilingual Ottawa. The drafting of this letter can be an individual activity, or the activity of a small group reflecting on the ethical dimension.