In the Spring of this year, a New Democrat Member of Parliament from Quebec introduced a Bill in the House of Commons. The Bill called for a change in the law such that all judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada would be fully bilingual, French and English. Translation services would no longer be provided.
The Bill just passed with the combined support of the Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois. No Conservative voted in favour of the amendment.
From there, the Bill was sent to the Senate for a vote, which has not yet been held.
The professional organization that represents Canadian lawyers is meeting this week in Niagra Falls, Ontario. A lawyer from Alberta brought forward a resolution at the Canadian Bar Association’s annual meeting, urging the Senate to defeat the Bill. The resolution passed with significant support.
So, why does the Bar believe that the Bill should not be passed ? For several very good reasons
including the reality that fine legal minds with acknowledged expertise could be overlooked if they do not speak both of Canada’s official languages.
Our current Chief Justice Madam Justice McLachlan would not have been appointed to our highest court if the law at the time prescribed an ability to hear cases in both French and English.
The Supreme Court of Canada represents all of Canada with sitting judges who hail from western, prairie and eastern provinces. The chances of maintaining a balanced court would be jeopardized if the Bill were to become law.
Aboriginal leader Phil Fontaine described the Bill as “elitist”. At its most base level, the Bill suggests that Quebecers are advancing this legislation in the hope that their interests will be better served.
As it is, most of the appointees to this prestigious and learned group of legal scholars learn to speak French after their appointment. It seems to have worked well in the past and there is no good reason to change it.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang