An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session and the 40th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Yvon Godin  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Report stage (House), as of Nov. 5, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Supreme Court Act and introduces a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • March 31, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • May 27, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 29th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-232, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages). The bill would create a requirement that all individuals appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada be able to understand the proceedings before them in both English and French without the aid of an interpreter.

Our government is committed to promoting the use of both official languages in Canadian society. Canada's bilingual nature is a fundamental aspect of our national identity. As Canadians, we pride ourselves in our country's bilingual institutions. This is particularly the case with respect to the Supreme Court of Canada, which plays a fundamental role in our democratic society as the ultimate guardian of the values enshrined in the Canadian Bill of Rights and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court's mission statement, as set out in its public website, is to serve Canadians by leading the development of common and civil law through its decisions on questions of public importance. In the context of this mission, the court has declared its commitment to the rule of law, independence and impartiality, and accessibility to justice.

There is no doubt that the judges of our Supreme Court faithfully pursue these important goals on a daily basis. Indeed, the court consistently provides all Canadians with the highest quality of justice they expect and deserve.

Hon. members are well aware that the Supreme Court of Canada is recognized nationally and internationally as a model of collegiality, professionalism and superior capacity. Canadians may take tremendous pride in the stature that our judges hold around the world.

In light of the important role of the Supreme Court, as the pinnacle of our justice system, the government's overriding consideration in the appointment of judges to the court is, and must continue to be, merit based on legal excellence and personal suitability. Bilingualism remains an important factor in the assessment of candidates considered among other factors, including proficiency in the law, judgment, honesty, integrity, fairness, work habits and social awareness.

The composition of the court, including a number of judges, is established by the Supreme Court Act, which provides that at least three of the justices must come from Quebec. As a matter of long-standing practice, the composition of the Supreme Court of Canada has reflected regional representation with the remaining judges appointed from Ontario, Atlantic Canada, the Prairies and British Colombia.

The practice of ensuring regional representation guarantees that the most qualified and deserving candidates across the country are appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Bill C-232 proposes to circumvent this exemption, which would in fact hinder regional representation to the court.

We must draw a distinction between institutional bilingualism and individual bilingualism. Institutional bilingualism is a fundamental and historic component of the government's responsibilities in ensuring that both official language communities can be served in either English or French. Individual bilingualism, which is improperly advocated by Bill C-232 as a requirement, would undermine that component.

Currently, the Supreme Court, as an institution, provides services of the highest quality in both official languages. The proposed amendment would make bilingualism a pre-condition to appointment. Given the extraordinary complexity and the importance of the cases heard by the court, this would require the highest level of linguistic capacity necessary for understanding the most refined and difficult judicial arguments, based on extensive factual evidence in both official languages.

There are subtleties of language that many of our best legal minds across Canada may not have fully mastered, and the stakes are high. Our most important rights hang in the balance. It is the government's position that the proposed amendment is not necessary to ensure access to the court in either official language.

The court provides all its services and communications in English and French. In addition, every individual who appears before the court is free to use either English or French in written and oral proceedings. The court's decisions are issued in English and French, thereby also contributing to a growing case of bilingual case law that is accessible to all Canadians and others worldwide.

The goal of ensuring the rights of Canadians to be heard and understood in the language of their choice is already being fully met by the court. The current composition requirements of the Supreme Court Act, together with the historical practice of regional representation, allow us to preserve our important commitment to legal pluralism, while at the same time ensuring that Canadians are served by judges of the highest distinction and ability. It has provided Canadians with a strong and independent judiciary that is the envy of free and democratic governments throughout the world.

The effect of Bill C-232 would be to have linguistic considerations override the central consideration of merit by reducing the pool of otherwise highly qualified candidates in some regions of the country where there may be fewer lawyers and judges capable of hearing a case in both official languages. We recognize that there must be sufficient linguistic capacity in our courts to provide equal access to justice in both English and French. The government has been and will remain vigilant in seeking competence in both official languages to achieve this goal.

Thus, bilingualism will remain an important criterion in the process of selecting judges to Canada's Supreme Court. However, such a factor should not eclipse the overruling consideration of merit and legal excellence in maintaining and nurturing the fairest justice system in the world.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 29th, 2010 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am also very pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-232 introduced by my NDP colleague.

I am especially pleased to do so because I firmly believe that everyone, whether they speak French or English, has the right to be heard by someone who understands them. Of course, Mr. Speaker, you understand me, but if I am not lucky enough to have an interpreter who gives an excellent translation, you will not understand me.

Sometimes certain differences in terms of culture or language might not be properly understood. There are certain nuances in the language spoken by a particular group of people or nation that cannot necessarily be translated, regardless of the quality of the translation.

That is only one of the main reasons the Bloc Québécois and I personally believe strongly in this bill. Indeed, everyone is entitled to a full and complete defence. Everyone is entitled to be heard and understood by the Supreme Court judges who must rule on these matters. They are asked to make very important decisions and examine very serious issues. If they cannot read the files in their original language, they may not be able to understand the essence of the issue, not because of a lack of intelligence, but rather because of a lack familiarity with the culture associated with the other language.

When a judge cannot read newspapers or listen to the news in French, and cannot hear a conversation in French and understand the essence of it, how can that judge rule on potentially disturbing facts and on important decisions that may become part of case law?

I would like to give an example. Last week, from March 13 to 20, we were in Buenos Aires, Argentina. That week, a big story in Canadian papers, especially in Quebec papers—because there was a time when Quebec was a very religious nation, a nation of believers—was the scandal in Rome concerning pedophile priests. Apparently, the Pope had trouble removing pedophile priests from their functions.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, this was the top story on television and everyone was talking about it. It got constant airtime all day long. That is because people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, are still very religious. The news was of tremendous importance to them. However, in the United States, Canada and Quebec, other stories were on the front page. In the United States, the top story was the health care bill that Barack Obama was trying to get through the Senate and the House so that all Americans could have access to health care. Here, Afghanistan and the documents we were supposed to get from the government but had not yet received were still making headlines. We have received some documents since then, but they are so heavily whited out that they are unreadable.

Clearly, one nation's realities are not the same as another's. To understand these realities, the people who legislate and who decide what goes into a Supreme Court report or ruling must be able to understand not just the words, but the overall context. The people who do that have to be bilingual at the very least. The Commissioner of Official Languages was absolutely right. He dismissed claims made by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who was elected by a francophone majority and then had the gall to act against its wishes and, as a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, decide that English was the most important language for judges to speak.

I do not understand why that hon. member thinks an anglophone judge is better qualified and more knowledgeable than a bilingual francophone judge.

What is more, most francophone judges and lawyers speak English as well. We very rarely see a bilingual anglophone judge. Most anglophone judges have not bothered to learn French. But when someone wants to rise to such a high position, a position where they represent the people and make the important decisions, they should at least make the effort to learn both official languages of the country they represent. It is an indispensable condition.

It is hard to believe there could be a Supreme Court justice who does not understand French, who is unable to read and understand rulings that have been made and who has to rely on translations. Even though these texts are translated well and convey the meaning, basically, they do not explain motivations.

As the Liberal member was saying earlier, Quebec has decided to replace the religious school boards with linguistic school boards. I do not know if that has been done elsewhere, but the nation of Quebec has made the necessary decisions. Even if this is not being done elsewhere, the Supreme Court of Canada has to make decisions that reflect all of Canada, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

My honourable NDP colleague has mounted a strong defence of the Francophone cause. However, we must ensure that measures are in place to protect the rights of French-language communities—those inside as well as outside Quebec—in 10, 15 or 20 years. Every day, senseless decisions are made.

For example, the Vancouver Olympic Games showed that it is difficult to ensure respect for the French language. Not long ago, the citizens of Burnaby, British Columbia, received a brochure that was printed in five languages, but not in French. This was highlighted in our press review this morning. And yet, Francophones make up a fairly large segment of British Columbia's population. Why continue to deny it?

The City of Ottawa is bilingual. However, the mayor does not speak French; he cannot speak to citizens in French. When Ms. Harel wanted to run for mayor of Montreal, she was accused of not speaking English; she was never told that she speaks impeccable French. And yet, that is the case. It was not the English press, but the French press that objected to the fact that she did not speak English. We are quite concerned about the Anglophone minority. However, this should be the case for the Francophone community.

True concern for the Francophone community does not mean talking out of both sides of one's mouth. The Conservatives are very good at that, as demonstrated by their advertising campaign. One day, they will have to face the facts: the Francophones of Quebec and Canada will no longer be pushed around. We will not put up with it. We have rights and we will ensure that those rights are respected.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 29th, 2010 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, since March 20 was the 40th anniversary of the International Day of La Francophonie, I am happy and very proud to have the opportunity to speak about why the members of the House of Commons should support Bill C-232.

The bill proposes that any judge appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada must be able to speak to the people in both official languages.

A number of organizations support this bill, which would ensure that statements made by someone addressing a Supreme Court judge are understood without the need for interpretation.

Canada's laws must be written in English and French so that judges and lawyers understand them well and the latter can better represent their clients.

The Supreme Court of Canada itself, citing a decision made in Ontario, recognized that Canadians should have the right to be served in the official language of their choice.

There are many francophones in my riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing in northern Ontario. It is up to all members in this House to tell the communities they represent that the government takes bilingualism seriously.

Any document tabled in the House of Commons must be tabled in both official languages. Every member has the right to speak in either of the two languages. It is just as important for this requirement to apply to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It is unbelievable that legislation requires the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tax Court of Canada to offer bilingual services, but not the Supreme Court.

I completely agree with my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst on this bill.

My constituents want bilingualism to be a requirement for judges of the Supreme Court of Canada.

My riding extends from Timmins to Sudbury to Thunder Bay, an area with a vibrant francophone community. In Hearst, for example, 99.9% of the people are francophone. Most of them are originally from Quebec.

Last year, one of the mayors wrote a letter to the government requesting that any judge appointed to replace a unilingual anglophone judge be bilingual so that citizens would be properly represented.

The Minister of Justice sent the following answer:

Dear Madam:

Thank you for your letter, in which you added your concerns about the appointment of a bilingual judge to the Superior Court of Justice in Cochrane, Ontario—at the time—to those raised by elected officials from the City of Hearst.

I would emphasize that the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting the development of minority language communities.

On the one hand, he recognized that these communities have a need, but on the other, he said that it is not necessary to recognize the needs of francophones when it comes to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Furthermore, I can assure you that this government is determined to ensure that our courts function as well as possible. One way to do that is to make sure that they can hear cases in both official languages.

He recognized that a need existed, but later on in the letter, he said that he would make sure people were receiving proper services. The government may have some influence, but ultimately, he is the one making decisions about who to appoint to the Supreme Court of Canada. Clearly, the government is not yet committed when it comes to official languages.

I worked for Probation and Parole Services for about 13 years. People who have to appear before a judge and want a French-language trial are often at a disadvantage compared to others because they have to wait until a French-speaking judge is available. Wait times in the courts are getting longer and longer. We want this kind of bill to pass so that nobody will have to wait any longer than anyone else for their trial.

I have encountered some problems with translation. Even though someone is interpreting the trial of the person who wants to be judged in French, it is not the same thing. During one of my elections someone needed a short sentence to be translated. The English sentence was: “Please post in window”.

It was translated as, “S'il vous plaît, poteau dans la vitre”. “Post” was treated as a noun instead of a verb, and the sentence became “Please stake into the window”! That is why it is not enough to say that translators are available. Even here in the government when documents are translated, we always have to double-check because not all translators have the same skills. That is why it is very important that a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who is going to hear the cases, is truly able to grasp the intention and meaning of the legislation. That is not really possible if one is unilingual.

As I was saying, I support this bill. I want to read a few comments made by certain judges and lawyers on their support for this bill. Graham Fraser said:

So when someone comes forward and says, or says about a candidate, that he is very competent, that he has all of this experience, but he doesn't have the ability to hear a case that's presented before the Supreme Court in the language in which that case is presented, then he is missing a critical competence. He is actually not as competent as a candidate for the Supreme Court who does have that ability.

Michel Doucet, a lawyer, said:

In my opinion, in a Canadian setting, with the legislation that we have and with our interpretation of bilingual legislation, to be competent to sit as a justice of the Supreme Court one must understand both languages.

I could read many more quotes like that, but more and more people support the fact that we need legislation to protect bilingualism in the Supreme Court of Canada. Its judges will understand both official languages. Lawyers and judges, and those aspiring to those professions, will realize they have to learn French to better serve the Canadian public.

Again, I support this bill introduced by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 29th, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-232, introduced by my colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

I was expecting this bill would be passed unanimously in Parliament. I read through the past debates in Hansard and was surprised to find that members of the Conservative Party were very reluctant to proceed, especially when they should be open-minded enough on principle to vote in favour of the bill at second reading and get the bill to committee. If they had any concerns or amendments, they could present them at committee and we could proceed from there.

I believe the Liberals are onside on this bill. The Bloc certainly indicated support. The NDP caucus is solidly onside. I also read with interest the speeches of other members of our caucus, the member for Outremont and the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I would like to echo their sentiments on this bill.

The bill puts in a new requirement for judges of the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter. That is all it does. That should not be difficult. When appointing judges at that level, we are dealing with extremely competent, qualified people who have considerable education and can understand concepts. Language training should not be a problem for people at that level.

Once again, I am a bit taken aback that Conservative members would present the view that they have.

My wife speaks Spanish and French. Members of her family have sent their children to French immersion schools in Manitoba for the last number of years. As other members have indicated, there is no shortage of French immersion schools in Manitoba. As a matter of fact, the number of people who go to French immersion is rising. That part of the school system is expanding and people are interested in sending their kids to French immersion schools.

My home province of Manitoba has had difficulties over the years. In terms of the province itself, I get questions about Manitoba politics. I was involved provincially for a number of years. There was an issue back in the 1970s which had its roots in 1890 when Manitoba passed the Official Languages Act, which rendered the province unilingual. In 1975 a unilingual parking ticket was issued to Georges Forest. That case and the Bilodeau cases targeted the 1890 Official Languages Act and they won. The province had to deal with the issue.

Rather than translate 100 years of old statutes, the NDP government of the day, of which I was a part, after negotiations with Société franco-manitobaine and the federal government, arrived at an agreement for a constitutional amendment which would have led to the expansion of French language services in Manitoba. We had an agreement. Société franco-manitobaine was in favour of all the new services that it wanted. The provincial government was in favour. The federal government was in favour.

Everything was proceeding as it should, but it was the Conservative opposition of the day that decided to make hay on the issue. It led to acrimony in the legislature, bell ringing, a virtual shutdown of the legislature and a virtual destruction of the government. The government at the end of the day backed down and said it would translate the laws, and that is what happened. What we did not want to happen, to spend millions and millions of dollars to translate 100-year-old laws, happened.

Having said all that, since that time French language services have expanded in Manitoba, so we translated the laws and now we have very good services. As a matter of fact our current premier, Greg Selinger, who is bilingual, who speaks French, has been personally in charge of French language services for the last 10 years, ever since he was the finance minister in 1999 when Gary Doer formed the government. I know he has attended francophonie conferences. He is very active on that file. I have certainly heard him in caucus enough on the issue. I think if we checked, we would find that French language services have expanded in Manitoba under the NDP, under Mr. Selinger, to the extent that there has not been a complaint, a story or any acrimony over the last 10 years. No one has complained that they are not able to get services in the French language.

Our solution at the end of the day has all worked out favourably, while it certainly caused a lot of political problems in the province, caused us to have a bad reputation across the country for a while partly because of some misunderstandings. I do not think there is or should be a role for parties to say one thing at one level in one place and then the opposite on the campaign trail, an election situation or another venue. That is what happened in Manitoba. The opposition basically took an issue and twisted it and tried to make political hay out of the situation.

At the end of the day, guess what? The opposition was successful in causing the government to back down, but the government was re-elected anyway. So the proof is in the pudding, and the proof is that playing angles that should not be played in issues like language, because they can be divisive, does not necessarily get the results we think we should be getting in the long run.

I thought I would deal with that issue because I read Hansard on this issue. Also, I do want to correct an error I might have made at the beginning of my speech when I indicated the Conservatives should support the bill at second reading. My whip, and the author of the bill, points out that we are at third reading right now. Having said that, my intention is still to encourage the Conservatives to come on side. We do have the majority now with all three parties supporting the bill. It makes sense to me that members opposite join the coalition, as they put it, to make this a unanimous bill rather than trying to find ways to slow it down and thwart what is essentially an excellent idea from the member. The member has already gone through a lot with the bill, given that the Prime Minister prorogued the House a few months ago and then we had to start over again when we just spoke on the bill a few months ago.

I am very pleased to have my time on the bill and I know the member wants to make his closing arguments.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 29th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the members who stood up here in the House to support the bill—the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, the member for Gatineau, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, the member for Laval, the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing and the member for Elmwood—Transcona—as well as all the members who support Bill C-232.

It is important to understand that Bill C-232 does not say that Supreme Court judges must understand French, but that they must understand English and French.

We are not trying to say that anglophone judges appointed to the Supreme Court have to understand French so that francophone judges do not have to learn English. We want the judges to actually speak both languages.

My argument has never changed, and I disagree with the Conservative government's position that it may be difficult to find qualified judges. That is what the Conservatives are saying.

However, the ability to hear a case in both official languages is a skill. Opponents of the bill have often raised the point that highly qualified judges might be overlooked because they do not understand both official languages. That makes no sense. Given that the laws of this country have been written in both official languages without being translated, the ability to understand both versions of the law without translation is an important legal skill.

Mr. Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, said this:

So when someone comes forward and says, or says about a candidate, that he is very competent, that he has all of this experience, but he doesn't have the ability to hear a case that's presented before the Supreme Court in the language in which that case is presented, then he is missing a critical competence.

That is what the Commissioner of Official Languages said. He was appointed by the Conservative Party. I hope it trusts Mr. Graham Fraser. The Conservative Party has appointed Mr. Graham Fraser as Commissioner of Official Languages, and the Commissioner of Official Languages said that.

Then he said that the candidate is missing the critical competence:

He is actually not as competent as a candidate for the Supreme Court who does have that ability.

That is from the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The National Assembly in Quebec has expressed that it is in favour of the Supreme Court being bilingual, being able to understand the two languages. By saying that, it is the two groups that represent the two people who have founded this country, the anglophone and the francophone both being able to understand both languages.

A lawyer who was a teacher from the University of Moncton went to the Supreme Court. He was talking about Mr. St-Coeur and the translator was interpreting the name as “Mr. Five O'clock”. When we have a case like that, we have a problem.

The lawyer, Mr. Doucet, went to the Supreme Court about seven times. He added:

In the week after I had argued a case before the Supreme Court, I had an opportunity to hear the English version of my arguments on CPAC.... The translation did not allow me to understand my own words.

There is a problem then. The Supreme Court of Canada is there to show our country, to show by example. I think it is time to do this.

Just last week I had to raise a question in the House of Commons about appointments of two judges to the appeal court in Nova Scotia being bilingual, because the last time they replaced two bilingual judges with unilingual judges.

That is what I am putting to this House. I hope we have the support of all the members. Then that will become the past and when judges are appointed to the Supreme Court, they will represent what actually happens in our country, the two official languages of our country.

I think this would be the honourable thing to do. I hope I have the support of all of the members.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 19th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Madam Speaker, I want to sincerely thank the members of this House who supported my bill at second reading and in committee. Bill C-232 will now be debated at third reading.

I would have liked Parliament to be unanimous on such an important bill. Unfortunately, one political party, the Conservatives, refused to support it. I hope they change their minds.

I am pleased to see that my bill has reached third reading, and I am happy to speak once again during the debate on this bill, which will become part of Canadian history.

When this bill was studied in committee, we had the chance to see that it was very well received all across Canada. Lawyers who have appeared before the Supreme Court many times, French-language jurists' associations from across the country, the New Brunswick bar association, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes, and the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, have all come out in favour of this bill.

As I have explained many times before, Bill C-232 will ensure that Supreme Court justices understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter. This bill would correct a flaw that constitutes a threat to human rights in our country.

Currently, at the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal in our country, citizens' language rights are not respected. According to the Official Languages Act, every federal court has the duty to ensure that the language chosen by the parties is understood by the judge or other officer who hears those proceedings, without the assistance of an interpreter.

There is only one exception: the Supreme Court of Canada. That is rather ironic. In federal courts of appeal, the judges must understand both languages; however, that is not the case for judges of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The statutes of Canada are not written in one official language, then translated into the other. They are drafted bilingually, neither language taking precedence over the other. This means that the English law and the French law are inextricably linked and together form the Canadian law.

The ability to hear a case in both official languages is a skill. A point that is often raised by those opposing the bill is that very competent judges could be overlooked because they do not understand both official languages. That does not make sense. Given that the laws of this country have been written in both official languages without being translated, the ability to understand both versions of the law without translation is an important legal skill.

In this regard, Mr. Graham Fraser, the Official Languages Commissioner, said:

So when someone comes forward and says, or says about a candidate, that he is very competent, that he has all of this experience, but he doesn't have the ability to hear a case that's presented before the Supreme Court in the language in which that case is presented, then he is missing a critical competence. He is actually not as competent as a candidate for the Supreme Court who does have that ability.

On this same subject, Mr. Michel Doucet, a professor at the Université de Moncton who has argued before the Supreme Court at least seven times before, told the committee:

In my opinion, in a Canadian setting, with the legislation that we have and with our interpretation of bilingual legislation, to be competent to sit as a justice of the Supreme Court, one must understand both languages.

According to Christian Michaud, a lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court:

The issue of a judge's bilingualism, in these conditions, is not a merely political issue that only deserves lip service, but it is an issue of capability and competence so that a judge can fully carry out the duties of his position.

In committee, Marie-Claude Bélanger-Richard, vice- president of the Law Society of New Brunswick said:

Competency in law involves more than the pure legal principles. If you want to be a good jurist, you have to know the law; you have to know the application of the law, but also have some sense of equity and justice.

The argument that requiring candidates to be bilingual would exclude the best ones is absurd. Understanding both official languages without the help of an interpreter is one of the most important competencies for judges in Canada.

Another argument used by those who oppose this bill is that there are not enough bilingual candidates in the country. Once again, this argument does not stick.

Representatives from the University of Toronto have said that they will support this bill and, as soon as it is passed, they will tell lawyers who wish to become judges that they must start learning the other language. They also said that they would not start right away since it is not yet a requirement.

Universities have said that they will be ready, as soon as the law comes into force, to offer language training. Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, had this to say:

If Parliament were to pass this bill, it would send a powerful message to Canada's law schools that mastering both official languages is a prerequisite for full mastery of the law, and for qualification for the most important and prestigious positions in the Canadian judiciary.

These programs are not intended for the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada but for those starting out in their careers...Some law schools offer specialized courses. The University of Western Ontario, I believe, offers a specialized course for lawyers who want to master the technicalities of legal terminology in French. The earlier you learn a second language, the better.

Louise Aucoin, president of the Federation of Associations of French-speaking Jurists of Common Law, inc., also commented on this issue:

For those who may be wondering whether there are many bilingual or francophone lawyers in Canada, I'd like to point out that there are French-speaking jurists' associations in the four western provinces, in Ontario, in New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia. The seven francophone jurists' associations represent approximately 1,350 francophone jurists.

Over the last two years, a number of cases were heard without interpretation: the Halotier case, before the Yukon Court of Appeal; the Rémillard case before the Manitoba Court of Appeal; FFT versus NWT; the Caron case. These are all French cases which proceeded without interpretation.

Some people claim that no one is qualified in these provinces, but that is false. How many times have I heard people who oppose this bill—the Conservatives—say that it limits lawyers' and judges' chances of being appointed to the Supreme Court?

Violating the laws of this country, including language laws, to give someone the opportunity to sit on the Supreme Court should be out of the question. The Supreme Court, as well as appeal courts and federal courts, understand that this service is offered to all citizens.

It is the citizen who should feel at ease before the court and before the judge. The Conservatives should not refrain from changing the legislation to make this service bilingual just so they can play favourites with their cronies who do not speak both official languages.

Even the Commissioner of Official Languages says that if you want to be competent, you have to be able to understand your client and interpret what they are saying.

The only argument the government makes is that it will not be able to appoint who it wants, and it wants to choose very competent people. But we must recall very clearly that in order to be competent, as I said, you have to be able to understand the person. There are 33 million people in Canada. They cannot make me believe that they cannot find nine competent people who speak both languages.

I want one point to be very clear. I am not asking for there to be nothing but French speakers on the Supreme Court of Canada. Some English speakers understand English and French well. If they are English speakers, certainly they understand English, but they also understand French, both official languages, the languages of the two people who founded this country and who are supposed to be treated equally.

The Supreme Court has even made a decision in Ontario in which it said that it was not a matter of merely accommodating or providing services, it was also necessary to do so equally. At present, it is not equal.

If the legislation was written in both official languages, that is, if it was not interpreted, why would an individual agree, in the Supreme Court, that a judge not understand them in their own language and have to rely on translation? That is their final appeal.

Other opponents say they can rely on simultaneous interpretation. We have interpreters here, in the House of Commons. They have known me well for a long time. I am not criticizing our interpreters. They also work in the committees and they do a good job. Let me give an example. When I spoke at second reading, I started to speak as I normally do, a little fast, and the Speaker had to ask me to slow down a bit because the interpreters could not follow me. Think about if I were on trial, and the interpreter could not follow me, and the judge did not grasp everything they needed in order to render their judgment.

Justice John Major, an English-speaking former judge of the Supreme Court, testified. He said that during his time as a Supreme Court judge, he had used the services of interpreters and he received very good service. I would have liked to be there to ask him a question. With all due respect, if I, as a French speaker, use the interpretation service and I do not understand a word of the other language being translated, how can I know whether the interpreter is doing a good job? How can I know that if I cannot distinguish between the two languages? Justice Major of the Supreme Court said that he had received good service, but he does not know whether everything was interpreted properly. In order to be able to judge that, you have to understand both languages.

Sometimes, I am in a committee, and I find that a witness is speaking too fast and the interpreter is not following. I cannot grasp everything the witness is saying. So if I do not know that the interpreter has made a mistake and if I do not understand the other language, how can I say whether the service I received was good or bad? I can only say that I was impressed.

And so this bill is very important. Its purpose is to ensure that both official languages are respected in the highest federal court in this country. The Bloc Québécois supports me, as do the Liberals. I hope the Conservatives, too, respect both the official languages of this country and will join us to vote for this bill, so that the Supreme Court will finally be given the chance to be bilingual in the years to come.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 19th, 2010 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, with all due respect, I would like to remind my colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, that unlike the Olympics, in order to be understood, it is not the speed of speech that is essential. But more practically, it is to be understood that is paramount.

To start, I would like to make something clear. On this side of the House, we have implemented a number of measures to protect and advance the issue of bilingualism in this country. I believe that languages can be used as a bridge or as a wall between peoples. In the House, these languages are often used both ways. I think that we need a lot more bridges.

After I was elected, I started studying to better communicate in French. However, I must admit that for an anglophone, it is a rather daunting task.

Today, in the House, we are debating a private members' bill from the member for Acadie—Bathurst, Bill C-232.

Bill C-232, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages), would amend the Supreme Court Act to require that, as a condition of appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, a candidate understand both English and French without the assistance of an interpreter.

I would like to repeat that the government is committed to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minorities in Canada, and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. Let me assure everyone that we are equally committed to maintaining the highest quality of judicial appointments to ensure that our judiciary continues to enjoy the respect and confidence of all Canadians.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting and assisting the development of official language minority communities. To that end, in June 2008, the government announced the “Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013”, which is an unprecedented government-wide commitment with a budget of $1.1 billion based on two pillars: the participation of all in linguistic duality and support for official language minority communities in the priority sectors of health, justice, immigration, economic development, and arts and culture.

The composition of the court, including the number of judges, is established by the Supreme Court Act, which provides that at least three of the justices must come from Quebec. The recognition of the civil law tradition of the province of Quebec makes it necessary that there be representation of Quebec judges on the court reflective of the bijural traditions of Canada.

However, it is important to recognize that the court has historically also reflected the regional composition of our country. The current practice is one which is based, by statute and historical practice, on the recognition of Canadian legal pluralism, as well as the regional diversity in the appointment process.

As a matter of long-standing practice, the composition of the Supreme Court of Canada has reflected regional representation with three judges appointed from Ontario, one judge from Atlantic Canada, one judge from the Prairies, and one from British Columbia. Given its status as the final court of appeal for all Canadian jurisdictions, it is of key importance that the government be in a position to draw upon qualified jurists from all regions of the country when making appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The effect of Bill C-232 would be to have linguistic considerations override the central consideration of merit by reducing the pool of otherwise highly-qualified candidates in some regions of the country where there may be fewer lawyers and judges capable of hearing a case in both official languages without the assistance of an interpreter.

To date, the government has made over 300 judicial appointments to Canadian courts. We are proud of each and every one of those appointments since they reflect the tangible embodiment of the principles of legal excellence and merit. The government will continue to make future appointments on this basis.

The overriding consideration in all judicial appointments is legal excellence and merit. Further criteria include proficiency in the law, judgment, work habits, writing and communication skills, honesty, integrity, fairness and social awareness. While bilingualism remains an important criterion considered in the nomination process, it is not, and should not be, an overriding factor in the appointment of judges to our highest court.

Our current process allows the government to take into account the bilingual capacity of candidates and to address the need for access to justice in both official languages. We are committed to ensuring that the federal judiciary's linguistic profile provides equal access to justice in either official language.

I would also point out that before making an appointment, consultations with the chief justice of the relevant court are taken into consideration to determine the court's needs, including linguistic capacity. The chief justice is well positioned to understand the needs of the communities served and to identify particular needs where vacancies arise. We also welcome the advice of any group or individuals on considerations which should be taken into account when filling current vacancies.

To ensure a rich pool of bilingual judicial candidates, the government continues to invite the French-speaking jurist associations and French-speaking communities to identify and encourage individuals, with the necessary qualifications, to apply and to share their recommendations with the Minister of Justice.

While we fully agree that linguistic ability is an important factor when a specific need is identified, merit remains the central and overriding consideration in making judicial appointments. The government is committed first and foremost to appointing the best qualified candidates. The government will continue to appoint excellent and committed candidates reflecting gender balance, cultural diversity and bilingual capacity.

The Supreme Court of Canada plays a fundamental role in our democratic society, particularly as the ultimate guardian of the values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is important that its members be jurists of great distinction and ability. For that reason, every care is taken to ensure that the best persons, by knowledge, experience and social awareness, are chosen to fill vacancies in the court.

The appointments to the Supreme Court over the past 130 years have proven to be successful in producing judges of the highest calibre for the court. Among the qualifies sought in potential candidates are outstanding intellectual capacity, superior ability in judgment writing, the capacity for innovative thinking on emerging legal issues, and sensitivity to the diverse values enshrined in the charter.

The eminent constitutional scholar, Peter Hogg, has offered the following description of the professional capacities and personal competencies of a Supreme Court of Canada judge as follows:

1. He [or she] must be able to resolve difficult legal issues, not just by virtue of technical legal skills, but also with wisdom, fairness and compassion.

2. [She] must have the energy and discipline to diligently study the materials that are filed in every appeal.

3. He must be able to maintain an open mind on every appeal until he has read all the pertinent material and heard from counsel on both sides.

4. [She] must always treat the counsel and the litigants who appear before [her] with patience and courtesy.

5. He must be able to write opinions that are well written and well reasoned.

6. [She] must be able to work cooperatively with [her] eight colleagues to help produce agreement on unanimous or majority decisions, and to do [her] share of the writing.

Canada can take pride in the quality of its judicial system and in the steps its taken to ensure its citizens have access to justice in either official language. The Supreme Court of Canada is a model of institutional bilingualism, which reflects the intent of Parliament that our national institutions be bilingual while not requiring bilingualism from each individual Canadian.

The government remains committed to ensuring quality and impartiality under the law. An important way to ensure such equality and impartiality is to continue to be guided by the principles of merit and legal excellence in the selection and appointment of judges to Canada's provincial, superior and federal courts and to the Supreme Court.

The risk of overriding merit for the sake of bilingualism is unnecessary. The goal of ensuring the rights of Canadians to be heard and understood in the language of their choice is already being fully met by the court. The court provides all of its services and communications in English and French. In addition, every individual who appears before the court is free to use either English or French in written and oral pleadings.

Ongoing language training is available to all members of the court. High quality interpretation and translation services are available during hearings before the court and all judges have the assistance of at least one or more bilingual law clerks.

The current composition requirements of the Supreme Court of Canada Act, together with the historical practice of regional representation, allows us to preserve our important commitment to legal pluralism--

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 19th, 2010 / 2 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House this afternoon to express my support for Bill C-232, which was introduced by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst.

Since I became a member of Parliament nearly six years ago, this member and I have sat together on the Standing Committee on Official Languages. We may not always see eye to eye, but we always work to the same end when it comes to bilingualism. We also promote bilingualism so that it plays an active role in Canadian society.

Today, the end is finally in sight for this bill my colleague introduced in the House, and I hope it will be passed in the near future.

My colleague from Bourassa introduced a similar bill, but it died on the order paper when the Conservative government hastily called an election in the fall of 2008.

This bill does not try to tell all Canadians that they have to be bilingual. That is not the purpose of the bill. But under this bill, all Canadians have the right to be heard in their own language in the Supreme Court. That is a huge difference. It is not imperative that all Canadians be bilingual, but we want every individual or lawyer who appears before the Supreme Court of Canada—the highest court in the country—to be able to use the language of his or her choice.

More and more, Canadians are realizing the importance of bilingualism, even though no one is required to be bilingual.

My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst named several organizations that support his bill. I will not repeat all their names, for I want to talk about something else. I would like to mention one, however, Canadian Parents for French. I say hats off to this group of anglophone parents who want to ensure that their children can receive an education in their second language. This will help them develop their bilingual skills in the areas of education, work and their social lives in general. This kind of organization or community group understands the importance of bilingualism. We must be able to continue supporting them.

Supreme Court judges sit on the highest court in the land. If someone is not satisfied with the Supreme Court ruling, we cannot tell them to plead their case to another court at a higher level. That is impossible, because that court is the highest court. Accordingly, we must provide adequate services to citizens who appear before it. To do so, we cannot forget certain things when trying a case.

For instance, my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst gets carried away now and again, but that is his nature. He uses expressions that are unique to him. In a speech, however, the expressions are just as important as the vocabulary one uses. Before a court, people speak passionately to get their point across. A judge's perception can be very different if simultaneous interpretation is used. Once again, it is not that the simultaneous interpretation is bad. On the contrary, it is an excellent service.

However, as we all can appreciate, defendants and their lawyers may talk so quickly that their way of speaking and the words they use could have completely different meanings for a francophone judge and an anglophone judge. Accordingly, judges must be able to speak and understand both official languages, so that defendants can be guaranteed that they can make themselves understood before the Supreme Court. If it does not work, at least they will have the satisfaction of knowing they took their case as far as they could.

They will have to take comfort in that fact that they were able to make their point fully without getting the impression that interpretation worked against them.

We have argued that the words used will be translated. My family name is D'Amours. It would be translated as Alove by those who can translate. That is not the same; it might be someone else's name. The purpose of this example is to show that this sort thing can make a difference when in court. I can completely change the meaning of a sentence or expression.

Bill C-232 introduced by my colleague does not require every Canadian to be bilingual and undergo training in both official languages. It provides that a citizen or lawyer will be able to plead a case before the highest court in the land in the language of their choice, knowing that the people in front of them understand what they are saying.

We are not talking about introducing a fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh language at the Supreme Court. We are talking about this country's two official languages: French and English. Both French and English-speaking people in my riding expect me to address them in their own language. People expect that much of a private member. They expect it even more when they go before the highest court in the land. They expect that they will be addressed in their own language and that the final judgment will be made on the basis of the message that was conveyed.

The Conservatives can say they are making an effort regarding the bilingualism of judges. The Supreme Court judge who replaced Justice Bastarache is bilingual, but this cannot just happen from time to time; it has to happen every time, with an emphasis on the word “every”.

I do not know why the Conservatives are against Supreme Court judges being bilingual. Very few people are against my colleague's bill. However, my colleague has realized that a number of members opposite are against the bill. We see that they are out of touch with reality.

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Private Members' Business

March 19th, 2010 / 2:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be speaking today about Bill C-232, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages).

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-232 for the following reasons.

This bill seeks to make the understanding of French and English without the assistance of an interpreter a requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court. The Official Languages Act provides that English and French have equality of status and use. It is the right of any citizen to use French or English before Canada's courts, based on fundamental linguistic rights and the Official Languages Act, which already recognizes the importance of being understood without the assistance of an interpreter before federal tribunals such as the Tax Court of Canada, the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal. Furthermore, simultaneous translation can create problems because it does not allow adequate reaction time to interrupt someone, to ask questions, whether for the justice, the lawyers or even the individuals subject to trial who have a right to be able to understand all the nuances and subtleties of each language

For all these reasons, we support this bill.

The Constitution and the Official Languages Act state that English and French are the official languages, and that they have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and the Government of Canada. Under the Constitution and the Official Languages Act, there is full and equal access in both languages to Parliament, to the laws of Canada and to courts.

The Official Languages Act provides the details and conditions for access to the courts in both official languages. Under the law, federal courts other than the Supreme Court of Canada—at this time—have the duty to ensure that any officer who hears proceedings: is able to understand English without the assistance of an interpreter, if English is the language chosen by the parties for the proceedings; is able to understand French without the assistance of an interpreter, if French is the language chosen by the parties for the proceedings; is able to understand both languages without the assistance of an interpreter, if both English and French are the languages chosen by the parties for the proceedings.

As recognized by the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law, a member of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, Canada's Official Languages Act recognizes the importance of being understood before federal tribunals without the assistance of an interpreter. The same law should apply to the Supreme Court of Canada. Ironically, the Officially Languages Act currently excludes the Supreme Court from these conditions, even though it is the highest court in the country.

The Bloc Québécois thinks that this should change, which is why it supports Bill C-232, currently before the House.

We keep hearing that Canada is our country. But we can appear before a Supreme Court judge and they are not required to understand French, our language. This would not happen if Quebec were a sovereign nation. This is one of the main issues.

The original bill, introduced in the 39th Parliament, which required Supreme Court judges to understand both official languages, got a number of reactions and received considerable support, in particular, the support of the Quebec National Assembly. On May 21, 2008, all the members present at the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion that stated:

That the National Assembly of Québec affirm that French language proficiency is a prerequisite and essential condition for the appointment of Supreme Court of Canada judges.

The Premier of Quebec said:

Knowledge of French is important, very important. It is not a choice. And the message we are sending today to the federal government is that it is not optional—

He added that this motion was a “requirement”.

To know a language is to know a culture, a reality. And those who are called on to interpret that reality and make decisions that will have a very important impact on our lives have to know that reality through our language.

—open federalism must ensure that judges appointed to the Supreme Court by Ottawa know Canada's two official languages.

The Standing Committee on Official Languages also looked at the issue of comprehension of the two official languages by Supreme Court judges during the 39th Parliament.

In its fourth report, which was released in May 2008—I was there—it “recommends that the government ensure that the judges that they appoint to the Supreme Court are bilingual”, in other words, that they speak French and English.

I should note that the Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages refused to support this motion, which was similar to Quebec's motion. That is deplorable. Some of those Conservatives were Quebec francophones who renounced their own language. And that is terrible.

The Canadian Bar Association decided to take a stand in favour of requiring that future Supreme Court judges be bilingual. The association supports a merit-based process for appointing judges, but believes that bilingualism should be one of the selection criteria.

In May 2009, Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser came to testify before the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which was then looking at the issue of access to justice. I will quote from what he said:

Every Canadian’s right to use English or French in Canadian courts is one of the basic language rights set out in our constitutional framework.

To ensure that all litigants have true access to the superior courts in the official language of their choice, it is essential that these courts have a sufficient number of bilingual judges at their disposal. The appointment process must therefore ensure the bilingual capacity of superior courts. Otherwise, access to justice in both official languages is compromised...

To date, the federal government’s responses to the recommendations of my predecessors and the House of Commons and Senate committees have been timid and largely inadequate.

...

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, it seems to me that knowledge of both official languages should be one of the qualifications sought for judges of Canada’s highest court. Setting such a standard would prove to all Canadians that the Government of Canada is committed to linguistic duality. I find it essential that an institution as important as the Supreme Court of Canada not only be composed of judges with exceptional legal skills, but also reflect our values and our Canadian identity as a bijural and bilingual country.

Access to justice is one of the cornerstones of our judicial system. The insufficient bilingual capacity of the superior courts and courts of appeal of the provinces and territories means that a significant segment of the Canadian population is being denied the right to access justice in the official language of its choice.

...A review of the appointment process is essential to ensuring equal access to justice in both official languages.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

March 19th, 2010 / 2:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in support of the member for Acadie—Bathurst's bill, Bill C-232, which is very important for the House to debate. I also acknowledge the tireless work that the member for Acadie—Bathurst does in defence of official languages and for being such an excellent watchdog when the government fails in its duty to uphold the official languages of this country.

I am an anglophone from western Canada. It is interesting that two members from western Canada are speaking about the bill today. One is opposed, but I am very much in favour.

I will talk a bit about why it is so important. First, the legislation provides a clear signal for all levels of the judiciary in our country. When legislation is introduced in Parliament, it comes to us in both official languages. We know it is absolutely our right in the House to be heard in either language of our choice.

As you rightly pointed out, Madam Speaker, sometimes we provide some challenges for the interpreters here. Whatever language we choose to speak, sometimes our passion about a particular subject will have speak very quickly and it does not allow the interpreters to keep up with the speed of our speech. That deprives the members, who listen in that other language of their choice, of their right to hear what the member has said.

Many of us in the House have had experiences where, either because of the noise in the House or the rapidity of our speech, we have been unable to have our words heard by members who listen in another language. That very challenge is why it is incumbent, when we talk about Supreme Court justices, that the justices are fully fluent in both of our Canadian languages, English and French.

People who have their cases heard before court in whatever language of their choice should have a comfort level that the justices are able to understand in whatever language the case is presented. It seems fundamental to me, and Canadians agree, that we do have two official languages.

I want to digress just a little for a moment and talk about why this is so important. By taking it out of the realm of talking about English and French and putting it into another realm, I think it may be easier for people to understand why it is absolutely essential that we honour the Official Languages Act and recognize that people have the right to be served in their language of choice at all levels.

It is probably no surprise to many members of the House that I will talk about indigenous languages. Members may not be aware that in 1989 the Assembly of First Nations declared March 31 as National Aboriginal Languages Day. I will use some other people's words to talk about why that is so important.

Last year in the Yukon legislative assembly, Mr. Cardiff rose in recognition of National Aboriginal Languages Day. He said:

It is said that language is culture. A person's culture is expressed most clearly in the process of their language use. Thinking patterns, values and actions are all underlaid by language expression. Daily use of the language means that the culture is strong and that it is passed on.

Mr. Edzerza's mother language is Tahltan, but he unfortunately grew up without the ability to speak it. He talked about the impact of his language and culture on growing up. He said:

—the Council of Yukon First Nations did a Yukon regional health survey, called Reclaiming the Well-being of Our People. The survey results showed 87 percent of those surveyed said loss of their language had a very negative impact on their lives today, and 91 percent of youth and children rate that knowing their traditional language is very important to them.

He goes on to say:

In 1994, Elder Percy Henry gave a powerful message to all people about language when he said...“A car with no gas can't go. A tree with no branches can't grow. So as native people who have lost their language, part of us is gone. Your spirit is strong; your fire inside of you is strong; you have it all when you speak your own language.”

That speaks very powerfully in our country. Both francophones and anglophones, if they should end up in a Supreme Court justice situation, need to be understood.

Many of the nuances being presented in an argument, even if it is not around a justice issue, can be lost in interpretation.

In speaking about the importance of language, I want to refer to the comments of an expert in the area. Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, said:

--it seems to me that the knowledge of both official languages should be one of the qualifications sought for judges of Canada's highest court. Setting such a standard would prove to all Canadians that the Government of Canada is committed to linguistic duality. I find it essential that an institution as important as the Supreme Court of Canada not only be composed of judges with exceptional legal skills, but also reflect our values and our Canadian identity as a bijural and bilingual country.

We have heard some arguments in this House, although not many, that appointments to the Supreme Court bench should be based on merit.

Where I live in Nanaimo--Cowichan, there is a very strong francophonie association. French immersion courses are oversubscribed. People on the west coast are very interested in being fluently bilingual, being able to speak both English and French, because that is what our country is about.

I would argue that by establishing that Supreme Court justices will be bilingual, we will be sending a very clear message that when people enter law school and have some ambitions to being appointed to the bench, they will take the responsibility to learn both English and French in order to be considered for that kind of appointment.

Graham Fraser indicated:

If Parliament were to pass this bill, it would send a powerful message to Canada's law schools that mastering both official languages is a prerequisite for full mastery of the law, and for qualification for the most important and prestigious positions in the Canadian judiciary.

Canadians are very intelligent people. If bilingualism is a job requirement to be a Supreme Court justice, they will understand that they must be fluent in both English and French. I encourage all members of this House to support the member for Acadie—Bathurst's very fine piece of legislation and vote yes on it.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members’ Business

May 26th, 2009 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to rise on Bill C-232, which amends the Supreme Court Act. I am in favour of this bill not only because it was introduced by an hon. member from New Brunswick, where I come from, but also because I think official bilingualism is very important for New Brunswick and the entire country. Bill C-232 is intended to amend the Supreme Court Act in this direction.

Judges will be chosen from the people described in clause 1 and will have to understand French and English without the help of an interpreter. Canada’s francophones have a right to be served in their own language, especially in the courts and most especially in the Supreme Court. That is a basic right for all Canadians, regardless of whether they live in Quebec or in my riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

Like many other francophones in Canada, the Acadians in my riding are not all bilingual by any means. They find it hard to express themselves and understand various expressions in English. We speak English or French depending on how we learned our mother tongue. I learned French on the rinks and in the schools of New Brunswick, and I married an Acadian woman. It is the language I support here.

The Supreme Court justices should be able to understand and speak French. Canada is a bilingual country and who better to set an example than the judges of the highest court in the land? I think that all members of Parliament should understand the importance of this bill and support it. Canada is a country that was built by the French and English. We should ensure, therefore, that everyone is served in the language of his or her choice, especially before the Supreme Court.

There are laws in this country guaranteeing linguistic rights. The first is section 16(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says that “English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges...”. It is a matter of equality. This was not the situation in 1986 when the Supreme Court heard the case of the Société des Acadiens v. Association of Parents for Fairness in Education, and when the Supreme Court wrote that there was no equality right for French in this country. That was corrected, however, in the Supreme Court’s Beaulac decision. In addition, section 18 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says “...both language versions [French and English] are equally authoritative”. This means there is equality under Canadian law.

In English, the Official Languages Act says that any journal, record, act of Parliament, et cetera, shall be made, enacted, printed, published and tabled simultaneously in both languages, and most importantly, both language versions are equally authoritative. This is the law of the country.

In the case of Société des Acadiens v. Association of Parents, it was not accepted that an accused had a right to translation when being presented with a criminal charge. As I mentioned, this was corrected by the decision in Beaulac, a 1999 Supreme Court decision, under the pen of then Mr. Justice Bastarache. It was decided to completely reject the law in the case of the Société des Acadiens and say that, “To the extent that Société des Acadiens stands for a restrictive interpretation of language rights, it is to be rejected”.

That has been the law of the country with respect to accused persons since 1999. There were two judges in that decision, the late Antonio Lamer and the current sitting member, Justice Binnie, who disagreed with the decision, but on the grounds that a criminal case should not be purported or extended to make constitutional law. Whether or not we agree with those justices is a matter of debate here.

That is the first and best reason why we should follow this bill. There is another reason though and it is the best evidence rule. This is a common law-created rule which suggests that from the 18th century forward, the best evidence is to be used. What does that mean? It means that the best the nature of the case will allow is the quote from the 1745 decision of the English courts.

What better evidence can there be before a judge of the highest appellate court in this country, who wants to interpret what is being said, other than to understand exactly what is being said? It goes to the very nature of advocacy before our highest court.

In a bit of a segue, we are talking about all nine judges of the Supreme Court being able to understand, not necessarily speak but understand, both languages. Imagine that if there were judges who came from the province of Quebec or parts of New Brunswick where there are only unilingual French-speaking candidates, imagine the shoe on the other foot, so to speak. If an English litigant hired the best lawyer he could find in Ottawa to make an argument at the appellate level on a very important case to that litigant, and the judges were divided four-four and it came down to one judge who could not understand English, there would be an outcry. The English litigant would say, “He is not listening to my argument. He is listening to the interpreter”.

We all admire our interpretation people in this Parliament and across the courts. It is a wonderful instrument, but the very nature of interpretation means that they are taking words and forming them in their own artistic belief as to what the speaker intends. That may work in solemnizing marriages. It may work in giving out change in an arcade, but it does not work at the highest level of advocacy in this country.

The advocates who are before the Supreme Court of Canada will tell us that 90% of the cases that are decided by the court are decided when a judge of the court asks them a question, and their response wins or loses the case for them. If that answer has to go through an artistic interpretation of what the advocate meant, justice is not being done.

There is an argument that maybe the best qualified individuals will not be chosen. That is like saying that eight of our nine Supreme Court justices right now are not the highest qualified judges in the country. I think they are.

The level of bilingualism in law schools all across this country has greatly improved over the years.

Many law faculties across this country teach common law in French and civil law in English, and the two marry quite well together.

Just a final word on the evils of translation. Translation is impossible. Interpretation is an art. An English language recording of a conversation may be put into evidence in court, but so will the transcript. That proves that in courts of law across this country, more evidence is better. Better understanding is the best evidence rule, and as I said at the beginning of my speech, all of that sensible, irrefutable, logical argument that we have to have the best evidence and the advocates have to be understood in the language they use is trumped in this case.

Canadian law reflects the equality of Canada’s two official languages, that is to say, English and French.

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Private Members’ Business

May 26th, 2009 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too am extremely proud to support this important bill, Bill C-232, introduced by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. The bill proposes an extremely simple criterion for determining whether a person can be appointed to the Supreme Court or not:

In addition, any person referred to in subsection (1) may be appointed a judge who understands French and English without the assistance of an interpreter.

It is difficult to determine the degree of understanding of another language necessary to carry out a task. In Quebec, the first criteria were set out under legislation governing the practice of certain professions some 45 years ago. These requirements changed over the years and were in particular incorporated into bill 22, the first recognition of French as the official language of Quebec. They are now part of the Charter of the French Language. For instance, as a general rule, in order to become a member of a profession, to join a profession, a person must have the appropriate knowledge of the French language to practice that profession.

There are many pitfalls along the path to that knowledge. I remember the language tests of the day when I worked as a lawyer for the Conseil de la langue française, and then for Alliance Québec. These are extremely delicate matters, and that is why I really like this very simple and direct choice which does not require anything further. It simple states that one must be able to understand the English and French languages without someone else interpreting them.

Others have pointed out the importance of being able to grasp subtleties, and very often judges need to grasp and work with certain complicated ideas and concepts. We are spoiled here in the House. We have world-class interpretation. We are indeed extremely lucky to be able to count on the remarkable contribution of these women and men who work so closely with us. I use that order because the women are by far the majority.

In terms of the law, it is not always the same. I was also responsible for the translation of Manitoba’s laws. I revised the translation of all of Manitoba’s laws and regulations after the Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that Manitoba had to repair a historic wrong and start translating all its laws. I mention this point in particular to illustrate the importance of the message. Today, again, Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, was talking about the urgent need to have bilingual judges on the Supreme Court. Apart from the reasons I just mentioned, that is to say, how important it is to understand the nuances and so forth, requiring these judges to be bilingual is a powerful symbol.

When someone is a member of a linguistic minority, whether an anglophone in Quebec or a francophone in the rest of Canada, how can he expect the people before whom he is appearing to be sensitive to his case when it is about language rights—basic rights in a society with two official languages—if they are feeling defensive because they do not speak both official languages?

If someone never took the trouble to learn the other language or never was encouraged to do so, will he have the necessary sensitivity to decide a case of this kind? When I say someone who never took the trouble, I do not mean to criticize. We should look at it the other way around. What an incentive it would be for young law students to go back to school in order to perfect their knowledge of French. They could choose to have an internship with a company or a judge in order to improve or polish their latent knowledge of French, which they had learned a little in high school or in French immersion but which they had never really worked on.

We have two legal systems in Canada. We are bijural, therefore, in addition to bilingual. The common law can be expressed as well in French as in English, as I just mentioned in the case of Manitoba. Quebec’s civil law has an English version which can be found in the Civil Code of Quebec. Both versions are equally authoritative, as has been determined, expressed and reinforced by the Official Languages Act and by decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada.

How can we continue with this anomaly? When people appear before any other court whose judges are appointed by the federal government, it is a constitutional right to have a judge who can listen to them, serve them and understand them in their own language.

There is only one exception. Do my colleagues know what it is? It is the Supreme Court. It is this incongruous exception that the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst wants to correct with Bill C-232, and that is why it is so easy to support him in this effort.

Canada is lucky to have two legal systems and incredibly lucky to have two official languages. I think that many people will see the powerful signal we are sending today as a reason to go and acquire a knowledge of French that is appropriate to the exercise of one of the highest offices in our country, a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada.

I listened closely to the Liberal member who spoke earlier. I do hope that what he said reflects the official position of the Liberal Party of Canada. We will see when the time comes to vote. That said, despite all that the Conservatives have said to try and convince us that they have recognized linguistic duality as a reality in Canada, I think they will vote against this bill, even though it is exceptionally clear. We shall see.

Anyway, we in the NDP are not speaking from both sides of our mouths on that issue. We do not hesitate to say that, with the opportunities we are given in this country to learn both languages, anyone who knows that a particular job requires that he or she be bilingual, will be motivated to learn his or her second language. This year is the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Official Languages Act. Similarly, anyone who aspires to a senior role in government now has an incentive to learn the other official language. Nearly all senior positions require a knowledge of both official languages.

I had the opportunity to work in several provinces. I worked on the political scene for a long time in Quebec and Quebec City. When I came to Ottawa, I was quite shocked, not to say disappointed. I had always thought—it was naive of me, I realize it now—that official bilingualism existed and was alive in the federal public service. As it turns out, that bilingualism was largely an illusion.

In parliamentary committees, one must not try to get an answer in French, even from people who have had to prove their knowledge of French in order to obtain the job that brings them before the committee. There is still a big difference between the two sides. The francophones who appear before the committee and who fill important roles within the administration always try to respond in English—even though English might be their second language and they have learned it, but it still might be a little difficult for them—to a Conservative member who asks a question in English, for example. They make an effort, even though they are francophone and they are working hard at their English to be able to answer.

I am our finance critic on the Standing Committee on Finance. Government officials sometimes appear before our committee. We know they have had to demonstrate some knowledge of French in order to advance to their position. I am thinking of the person responsible for financial institutions who appeared last year. Although we were asking this woman questions in French, she stubbornly refused to answer in French. She consistently answered in English. That is very common, especially in the financial sector, and it is unfortunate. Clearly, the incentive that once existed is no longer working or it is no longer enough to make people want to retain the French they have learned.

If this bill passes, I think all the students embarking upon their legal studies at one of Canada's law faculties in September 2009 will always bear in mind that, in order to make it to the most important position a lawyer can aspire to, they must possess knowledge of languages. I am convinced that if these young, brilliant students have not already taken the time to learn French, or English as the case may be, they will find the time and the incentive to do so, since this will push them closer to that level of excellence, which includes, in a society with two official languages, the imperative need to know both official languages.

For that reason, and in closing, I wholeheartedly support my colleague's proposal. Furthermore, I would like to congratulate him for finding the right text and wording, a way to express it, that will win everyone over.

I hope this will translate into a vote of support by the Liberals. We have already obtained the support of the Bloc. We will watch the Conservatives closely.

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Private Members’ Business

May 26th, 2009 / 6 p.m.
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Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-232, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages). This bill would introduce a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter.

The government firmly supports the promotion of English and French in Canadian society. As Canadians, we are proud of our bilingual institutions and especially the Supreme Court of Canada, which plays a fundamental role in our democratic society as the ultimate protector of the values set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government's commitment to ensuring our courts have sufficient linguistic capability to guarantee access to a court in one or the other of the official languages applies to the Supreme Court of Canada as well.

The Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, makes the appointments to the Supreme Court. The justices in this court must be of the highest calibre. Accordingly, persons with the best legal knowledge and abilities must be chosen to fill the available positions.

The Supreme Court Act provides for the composition of the court and the number of judges. It provides that at least three justices must come from Quebec. The composition of the Supreme Court of Canada reflects regional representation. The rest of the judges appointed come from Ontario, the Atlantic provinces, the prairies and British Columbia. The practice of ensuring regional representation guarantees that the most highly qualified and deserving candidates in the country are appointed to serve on the Supreme Court.

That does not mean, however, that everyone appointed to the court must be bilingual. In fact, the special nature of the Supreme Court as the highest court in the land and the fact that it has only nine judges from the various regions of Canada prompted Parliament to make an exception to the application of subsection 16(1) of the Official Languages Act in 1988. Bill C-232 proposes to circumvent this exception. This would harm regional representation on the court.

The government's position is that the proposed amendments are not needed to guarantee access to the court in one or the other official language. The Supreme Court, as an institution, makes all its services and communications available in both official languages. Anyone appearing before the court has the choice of using English or French, in the presentation of both legal proceedings and arguments. The decisions of the court are also published in both official languages, and this helps establish ever expanding bilingual jurisprudence for all Canadians to consult.

The court shows on an ongoing basis that it is capable of performing its duties at the highest level in both official languages. There is nothing to indicate that the court has provided less than the highest quality legal services Canadians deserve and expect. I would ask hon. members to bear in mind the risk that the passage of this bill represents, especially since no one has implied that the justice meted out by the court is of anything less than the highest quality.

The proposed changes would make bilingualism a prerequisite for appointment. In view of the complexity and great importance of the cases heard by the court, judges must have more than perfect linguistic skills to understand subtle, complex legal arguments based on a profusion of factual evidence. An obligatory requirement like this would limit the pool of qualified candidates from parts of the country where the percentage of judges able to hear cases in both official languages is not as high as in Quebec or New Brunswick, for example.

The government obviously agrees that linguistic skills are a major factor in the process for selecting judges to sit on superior courts, including the Supreme Court. We will continue to give them ample consideration, as we did in our last appointment to the court, Justice Thomas Cromwell, an eminent jurist who is perfectly bilingual, highly qualified, and very worthy.

That being said, the Supreme Court is at the very apex of our legal system, and in view of the important role it plays, the government feels that the overriding factor in the appointment of judges is and must remain merit based on legal excellence and personal aptitude.

Bilingualism is an important factor in the evaluation of candidates, but only one factor among others, including proficiency in the law, sound judgment, work habits, honesty, integrity, a sense of fairness and a social conscience.

We are very aware of the fact that our courts must have sufficient linguistic capacity to provide equal access to justice in French and English.

We should also distinguish between institutional bilingualism, which is historically part of the government’s responsibility to ensure that Canadian citizens are served in both English and French, and individual bilingualism, as advocated in Bill C-232.

At the present time, the Supreme Court, as an institution, provides services of the highest quality in both official languages.

The effect of Bill C-232 would be that linguistic considerations would overshadow the most important consideration of all, merit, by reducing the pool of otherwise highly qualified candidates from parts of the country where there may be fewer lawyers and judges who are capable of handling cases in both official languages.

It is not necessary to run the risk that the merit principle will be pushed aside out of a concern for bilingualism. The court already fully meets its objective of ensuring that Canadians have a right to be judged in the official language of their choice. All court services and communications are provided in both English and French.

All the current judges on the Supreme Court, with one exception, are perfectly proficient in both official languages and able to try cases in either official language without an interpreter. The judges also have the benefit of ongoing language training.

High quality interpretation and translation services are provided during court hearings and all judges are assisted by one or more bilingual employees.

The current requirements of the Supreme Court Act regarding the composition of the Court and the historical practice of regional representation allow us to fulfill our important commitment to legal pluralism, while ensuring that the people of Canada are served by judges who are very distinguished and extremely proficient.

The current court structure has provided Canadians with a solid, independent legal branch that is the envy of free, democratic countries around the world.

The quality of the current members of the Supreme Court of Canada and their commitment to the job demonstrate how seriously the current government and previous administrations have always taken their responsibility to appoint judges to the highest tribunal in the land.

Bilingualism is one important factor in the process for selecting judges. However, it should not be allowed to outweigh the most important factor of all: a candidate’s merit and legal excellence.

For the reasons just outlined, we recommend that the members oppose Bill C-232.

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Private Members’ Business

May 26th, 2009 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, enough is enough. This bill is quite simple. It deals with the traditions that have existed at the Supreme Court of Canada for a long time. The Conservatives say that they will oppose the bill introduced by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, which puts in place something that is already a tradition in this country.

Why? It is quite simple. A Supreme Court justice is not fully competent unless he understands both common law in English and the civil code in French. This is the minimum qualification for becoming a Supreme Court justice. However, the Conservative government refuses to accept the facts. It is precisely because it is incapable of understanding the qualifications required in the Supreme Court of Canada that Bill C-232 was introduced by the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

We have just been told that the Conservative government does not think that British Columbians can speak French. That just goes to show how out of touch the Conservative government is with the people, particularly the people of British Columbia. In the past, the Minister of Finance has even said that his Canada starts at the Atlantic Ocean and ends at the Rocky Mountains. He left out British Columbia entirely. It is clear that the Conservative government does not understand that British Columbia is one of the provinces in which the francophone population is growing in absolute numbers.

When I was a child, there were only two francophone schools. Now there are dozens of them. We have sixty or so in British Columbia because we have francophones from all over. We have a whole rainbow of francophones from Africa, Asia, Europe, Quebec of course, Acadia and western Canada. They all speak French as their first language, and that is changing British Columbia tremendously.

That is not all. More students attend immersion schools in British Columbia than anywhere else in Canada. Our schools are packed. Sometimes parents wait in line all weekend long to register their kids at these schools.

For the Conservative government to suggest that British Columbians cannot speak French is insulting. It is simply not true. It is insulting to the people of British Columbia and to people elsewhere in Canada.

With respect to qualifications, it is clear that people are going to immersion schools and even to management schools. These people understand French well, can speak it, and are studying law. At some point in time, they will meet the minimum requirements for the Supreme Court: they will understand common law in English and the civil code in French.

I certainly do not understand this drive by the Conservatives to lower standards. We have seen it in a whole variety of things, such as air safety, transportation safety, and food safety.

The Conservative government always seems to want to push for lower qualifications. There are two basic qualifications for a Supreme Court judge: the ability to understand the civil code in French and the ability to understand common law in English. Those are simple and important requirements only at the Supreme Court level. The Conservatives do not seem to understand that and that is why we have the bill that is before us today.

The idea that higher standards and stronger qualifications are not taken into consideration is something that I find objectionable. That we need a lower standard of service, that we do not need the qualifications that have served us well in the past seems, in many areas, to be the objective of the Conservative government.

That is why the Conservatives are opposing this simple but important private member's bill put forward by the member for Acadie—Bathurst. The bill would reinforce those qualifications and standards to ensure that every Supreme Court judge understands the civil code in French as well as common law in English. I would be equally opposed if the Conservatives appointed unilingual Francophones who do not understand common law in English because the function of the Supreme Court is too important to do that.

However, that is not what the Conservatives are saying. They seem to be saying they are just going to choose whatever standards they want. We have seen what that has meant in a whole variety of areas. We have seen poor financial management from the government. Those qualifications are unfortunate, but that is the net result. We have seen a whole variety of lower safety standards. We see this drive from the government that does not make sense.

I do not accept lower qualifications and I do not think any member of Parliament should. We should set a higher bar and this legislation would set the bar to what traditionally we all understood, that a Supreme Court justice needs to understand common law in English and the civil code in French. It is very simple. Nothing has to go through translation, nothing has to go through interpretation. Supreme Court judges must be able to function adequately in the two official languages, so that they can pass through the two legal codes that are often written in two different languages.

That is the issue that is before us. We hope that the Liberal Party of Canada will support this bill. We know that the Bloc Québécois said it would support the bill and that the NDP has always been consistent when it comes to the issue of official languages. It is not just the member for Acadie—Bathurst who is fighting a pitched battle to win respect for the official languages in Canada. The entire New Democratic Party has done so since it was formed, and not just at the federal level, but in all the provinces, including mine, British Columbia. It is the NDP that has brought about these changes to respect linguistic duality in Canada.

In British Columbia, a French-language school system was created under an NDP government, as in Saskatchewan. In Manitoba, the official languages bill was introduced and implemented by an NDP government. In Alberta, it was Léo Piquette, an NDP MLA, who pushed for respect for the official languages. In the Yukon, it was an NDP government that introduced the bill to respect French and English. In Ontario, the college system was put in place by an NDP government, and in the Atlantic provinces, NDP MLAs were among those who pushed hardest for language rights.

We are not two-faced. When a New Democrat talks about official languages in British Columbia, Manitoba or the Atlantic provinces, he or she pushes for mutual respect and linguistic duality. We do not act like certain other parties that may say they are in favour of the official languages in this House, but who start attacking the official languages as soon as they leave Ottawa.

We have seen this with the Conservative Party, with the Reform Party and, sadly, with the Liberal Party in western Canada. Outside Ottawa, the Liberal Party has always attacked francophones at the provincial level. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party has a sad history of saying one thing in Manitoba, British Columbia or Saskatchewan, but another thing in Ottawa.

We are consistent. We are the only party in the history of the country that has always been consistent on the issue of official languages. That is why we fully support this bill. That is also why we support the principle that a judge should have the qualifications to become a Supreme Court justice. In other words, judges must be able to understand common law in English and the civil code in French. That is why we will vote for this bill.

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Private Members’ Business

May 26th, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the House which, through the democratic process, has debated Bill C-232. This legislation is important for all Canadians using either official languages. My arguments can be summarized with the following question: do we accept the fact that our country has two official languages?

I also want to thank the members for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Hochelaga, Outremont, Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, Burnaby—New Westminster and Fundy Royal, for their comments.

I would like to correct something that the member for Fundy Royal said. He said that the member for Acadie—Bathurst had mentioned that interpreters in the House of Commons were less competent than other ones. I never said that, and the member should apologize. That is not what I said. I said that in committees—and this has nothing to do with the quality of our interpreters—when a person speaks rather quickly, like me, sometimes the interpreters cannot keep up with that person. They ask me to slow down. In committee, we often get messages from interpreters telling us that we talk too fast. They ask us to slow down a bit.

Let us imagine that we are at the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, and that a judge or a lawyer says that he did not understand something. This is the highest court in the land, in a country that claims to be bilingual, that has two official languages and that passes legislation in Parliament that is drafted in English and French. So, I am asking myself a question. When a judge has heard a case and returns to his office, does he take an interpreter with him to translate the French act, or to read the English legislation? Where is the justice here?

Four or five years ago, the current Prime Minister of Canada did not speak French as well as he does now. He has learned French, and I congratulate him for doing so. He knows that if he wants to serve our country, he must speak both languages. I will make no bones about the fact that, seven years ago, the NDP leader also did not speak French as well as he does now. He made an effort. However, the judges on the Supreme Court of Canada do not have to make that effort. They hear cases, but the citizens involved cannot go to the United Nations to appeal the decision. The Supreme Court of Canada is the last resort.

There will be a vote tomorrow evening. I am calling upon Parliament to support Bill C-232, which states clearly that the judge must be capable of reading and understanding the law in both of this country's official languages. Voting in favour of this bill at second reading means it will go to committee and there it will be studied and we will hear from experts. The Canadian Bar Association, the Association des juristes d'expression française du Canada, the Young Bar Association of Montreal, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, the Quebec Community Groups Network, and even the Premier of Quebec support the bill. They can see that it is a good bill. Why not study it in committee?

The Conservators choose not to. They do not even want it to go to committee. This is regrettable, coming from a government that claims to respect our two official languages. Even the Commissioner of Official Languages says it is essential to send a message. Even university spokespersons from Toronto say it would be a good thing. In four or five years, someone aspiring to a position on the Supreme Court will learn both official languages.

That would show respect for the two communities in our country.

I sincerely call upon the House of Commons for its support. This bill can be studied and then we will decide whether it will become law in this country, but let us give it a chance.