House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.

Topics

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved that Bill C-232, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for supporting my bill.

The government has been refusing for far too long to establish an appointment criteria based on language proficiency for Supreme Court judges, thereby interfering in an alarming way with individual rights.

The consequences have been human rights violations which Canada cannot tolerate.

I am confident, however, that change is on the way because in 2009, year of the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, Canadians have decided to join forces and take action.

In an unprecedented move, francophones and anglophones from all backgrounds are coming together to support my bill, Bill C-232, to introduce a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter. This requirement will not apply to currently sitting judges.

We share the same goal: to restore a fundamental right of all Canadians, that is, the right to a fair and equitable trial.

Allow me to outline the context. As the hon. members probably know, 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. Both versions are equal in law. Canadian law is written in two inextricably interlinked languages.

The Official Languages Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensure that the historical progress achieved in this regard is preserved.

To understand the subtleties of the law and apply it integrally, one must, at the very least, understand both official languages. One must also be able to listen to the parties without the help of an interpreter to ensure that all rulings are completely impartial and objective. Otherwise, the outcome could be very detrimental to the parties.

To ensure that our rights are protected, Supreme Court justices must understand the law as written in both English and French. Simultaneous interpretation and translation are not good enough: they result in interpretations that often differ from the original meaning.

More and more Canadians agree that a judge on the bench of our country's highest court must not be partial or restricted to knowing only half of the law because he or she knows only one of the official languages.

Members of Parliament and Canadian citizens may one day find themselves before the Supreme Court of Canada. Some may find themselves living with the consequences of its rulings.

How would it feel to be the victim of injustice simply because one was not well understood?

What would happen if a judge could not get clarification as needed because of delays due to translation or interpretation?

What would happen if judges were to discuss the fate of individuals in a place not equipped with translation or interpretation services?

What might the consequences be?

As the Commissioner of Official Languages put it so well, “it's not through interpretation that we're necessarily going to understand all the aspects of the debate prior to a case being brought before the Supreme Court”.

The government must therefore pay closer attention to judges' skills. Certainly, all judges must have a good knowledge of the law, but language skills are just as important.

The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, stated the following:

—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.

On a related note, 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. The only exception to that rule? The Supreme Court.

It is not fair that the law applies to federal courts such as the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tax Court of Canada, but not to the Supreme Court of Canada. Why the exception? The law should be the same for everyone. Consider this example. Judges have been appointed, even though they are not bilingual, to the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tax Court of Canada. Everyone can have their trial in the official language of their choice, and the judge must be bilingual. The Tax Court of Canada has more than one judge, but only one judge is needed for the hearing. At the Supreme Court of Canada, however, certain cases require all nine judges. Those nine judges should therefore be able to understand the arguments in the client's language of choice.

The Supreme Court ruling handed down on February 5, 2009, in the Caldech case reminded the federal government of its constitutional duty to provide the public with services of equal quality in both official languages.

As the commissioner explained, this is an important principle that clarifies the scope of the Official Languages Act.

This ruling establishes that a broad view must be adopted when looking at equality, and that the government must consider the nature and purpose of the service in question when defining its linguistic obligations.

In Canada, French enjoys equality of status and use with English. No litigant, whether francophone or anglophone, should therefore be heard through interpretation or other measures before Canada's highest court.

Let us recognize the importance of making ourselves understood without interpreters or other interventions.

The Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law or FAJEF is of the opinion that the current method of appointing federal court judges, including Supreme Court judges, does not pay enough attention to language rights. According to the FAJEF, the fact that there is no mechanism for assessing candidates' language proficiency is evidence that it is not considered an important requirement when judges are appointed.

The right to use a language in court also includes the right to be understood directly in that language. What good is it to have the right to use your own language if the people you are speaking to cannot understand it? Each party must be able to be heard in conditions that do not put him or her at a disadvantage compared to the opposing party. That is the purpose of my bill.

To ensure that the Supreme Court makes fully informed decisions and that Canadians have the right to fair, equitable trials, I invite you to support my bill, Bill C-232. No one wants a misinformed judge to determine his or her future.

Make history by joining me and the following organizations, as well as all Canadians who have come out in favour of such a measure: 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, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Fédération franco-ténoise, the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse, the Société nationale de l'Acadie, the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, the National Assembly of Quebec, the Premier of Quebec and the Bloc Québécois, which wrote me to say it will support this bill. I certainly appreciate that gesture.

Without radically changing the current system, my bill will, in the long run, prevent appointments that go against the spirit of the law and the charter. In this way, we will more effectively honour language communities' rights, promote their equality and enhance their vitality.

I am also asking Parliament, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party to truly ensure that people's language rights are respected. For example, when the Supreme Court was established—or any other court or institution for that matter—it was created for citizens, for Canadians as well as for Quebeckers. The court was not set up to pit citizens against judges, it was set up to serve citizens. The service provided to citizens really should be in their own language.

I have a great deal of respect for our interpreters and the great work they do for us. I wish to thank them for it. However, the Supreme Court of Canada is the court of last resort, where judges will hand down a ruling that could impact our lives, that could change them forever. So, just imagine if the judge did not fully understand the arguments.

Mr. Michel Doucet, a lawyer, of the University of Moncton said:

When you win a case by a nine to zero decision, that's far from being a dramatic situation, but when you lose a case in a five to four decision, as happened to me at one point, and you've pleaded that case in French, you then go home and listen to the English interpretation that was made of your argument before the court in which three judges didn't understand French. As the judges had to listen to the argument through the English interpretation on CPAC, you wonder about what they understood.

Just imagine, that is what a lawyer had to say about his arguments. He also said:

I listened to the English interpretation of my argument, and I understood none of it.

This is what he said before the Standing Committee on Official Languages, here in Ottawa. Michel Doucet added:

I have a lot of respect for the interpreters and the work they have to do. It must be quite complicated to do it in a political context; I can imagine what it must be in a judicial context, where every word counts—

When I was a union representative, a lawyer taught me how to conduct myself during arbitration arguments.

Sometimes, it is all about how you present yourself to the judge or the arbitrator and whether you can make an impression on them. However, how can you do that when you are presenting arguments about a law if he does not understand?

In Canada, in this country, there has been sufficient reflection about this.

In our country now, people have come to understand that if we are going to have two official languages and if the law is written in English or in French, not interpreted, how could we accept that after going to court the interpretation may come from someone else on the same law that we do not accept in the House of Commons?

I will repeat this part because it is important. The law is written in French and in English. This Parliament has decided that legislation would not be translated. It is drafted in both official languages. At the Supreme Court of Canada, interpreters can translate legislation for a judge, but this is not permitted in Parliament. Supreme Court judges have the fundamental responsibility of enforcing and interpreting the law. If the law is written in French as well as in English, I think that the judge does not have a choice. He has to be able to understand it in both official languages. That is what is requested, and it is important.

The language that we speak does not matter. When a lawyer makes representations before the judge, with all due respect, the interpreter can make mistakes because the lawyer is like the member for Acadie—Bathurst and speaks so fast at times that the interpreter does not have enough time to translate everything he says. How many times have I risen in the House to make a speech and had interpreters comment that I gave them a hard time? Imagine now the judge who is trying to understand a lawyer making a presentation.

For these reasons, I am requesting the support of the House of Commons so that, finally, the next judges appointed to the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land, will understand both official languages. That is really important. I will count on the understanding of my hon. colleagues, where this matter is concerned, on behalf of all Canadians. The court is there for the citizens, not the judges.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his bill. I would just like to know whether the bill requires that judges be perfectly bilingual when they are appointed or whether it allows a grace period so that appointees can improve their knowledge of the other language.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for that very important question. The bill is clear: judges must be bilingual when they are appointed. The idea is not that they will try to learn the other language after they are appointed. If that were the case, a person would have to do without a judge who understands a bill or an act in both official languages for the next four years, while that judge learns the other language.

The bill is clear. It is not retroactive. The judges in place would remain, but the requirements of the bill would apply to future appointments. My colleague may recall that every time a judge is appointed to the Supreme Court, the whole country calls on the government to appoint a judge who understands both official languages, not someone who will learn them. The Supreme Court of Canada is not a school.

For example, there is no requirement that deputy ministers be bilingual. They say they will learn the other language, but they do not. We do not want the same thing to happen with the Supreme Court. My bill states clearly that all judges appointed to the Supreme Court must know our country's two official languages.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst on his bill. I have a question for him.

He has just made the point that Supreme Court judges should be able to understand French and English, and we agree with him. He has also just pointed out that deputy ministers and senior public servants should meet the same requirement.

What about ambassadors who represent Canada and are unilingual? What about designated bilingual positions held by unilingual people? What concerns does he have about these situations?

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the concern lies in the fact that two weeks ago—the House was not sitting last week, since we were working in our ridings—at a Standing Committee on Official Languages meeting, witnesses were asked what language the deputy minister spoke when meeting with employees who all speak French. The witnesses replied that he spoke in English, because he does not speak French. The same is true of ambassadors.

However, it goes beyond that. What is needed is a message from the Conservative government, which says it respects Canada's official languages, confirming whether it will support a bill such as this one. Will this begin at the top? Does the Supreme Court of Canada belong to Canadians? By that I mean: is it a place where Canadians can be understood? Or does it simply serve to provide appointments for judges? Should judges or lawyers be given such a responsibility simply because they are well liked? The question we must ask is this: does this serve the well-being of our citizens? If an individual thinks that the law has been broken and wants to take the matter to court to seek justice, it is important that that individual is properly understood.

We are not asking for the moon and the stars. I hope no one will suggest that nine bilingual judges cannot be found, when there are 33 million people in Canada.

I have too much confidence in the people of this country, no matter what province they come from. There are good lawyers and good judges who speak both languages and could step into this position. Someone can be very competent when it comes to the law, but if he or she does not understand what is being said, how can that person be a good judge? I say this with all due respect to our judges.

Once again, this is why I am asking the government and all political parties—whatever their allegiances—to support this bill, in order to serve as an example that comes from the top, and demonstrate that Parliament has decided that the Supreme Court of Canada must respect language rights. This matter concerns the Official Languages Act and judges who cannot speak both languages. We must lead by example.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on second reading of Bill C-232, an act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages), introduced by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst. He is also one of the vice-chairs of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. He works hard on the committee to advance both the rights of minority communities and Canada’s linguistic duality. This bill to amend the Supreme Court Act would introduce a requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter.

The English and French languages have shaped Canadian society from its very beginnings. First of all, we had the aboriginal languages and then the languages of the various cultural communities that have joined us. English and French are basic to our identity as Canadians and are at the heart of who we are.

The Government of Canada knows how important it is to support the development of the official language minority communities. In June 2008, it announced the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008-2013. This is a five-year, government-wide plan with a $1.1 billion budget. It is based on two pillars: participation in linguistic duality and support for the official language minority communities in such priority areas as health, justice, immigration, economic development and arts and culture.

I want to emphasize from the outset our government’s determination to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and fully support the recognition and use of both official languages in Canada. That is what today’s bill is all about.

Canada can be very proud of its legal system—just think of all the countries that have used it as a model—and of the steps we have taken to provide legal proceedings in either official language. It is important to remember that the Supreme Court of Canada is a model of institutional bilingualism. It fulfils the will of Parliament that our national institutions should be bilingual without requiring every individual to be bilingual.

The government is committed to preserving a fair, unbiased legal system. It does this by adhering to the important principles of merit and legal excellence in the selection and appointment of judges to the superior courts of the provinces, the federal courts and the Supreme Court.

The government has appointed more than 200 judges so far to various Canadian courts. These judges and lawyers are highly competent. Their appointments embody the principles of merit and legal excellence, which will continue to guide the government’s decisions in the appointment of judges.

Merit and legal excellence are at the heart of the process for appointing judges. The other criteria are knowledge of the law, judgment, work habits, ability to write and communicate, honesty, integrity, a concern for fairness and a social conscience. Bilingualism is at the heart of these factors.

The government can take the linguistic abilities of the various candidates into account and ensure that all Canadians can access the legal system in either official language. We are determined to build a federal legal system that provides equal access to justice in both official languages.

I would also like to point out that before appointing anyone, the government consults the chief justice of the court in question to determine the court's needs, including language skills. The chief justice is in an excellent position to understand the needs of the communities being served and to identify specific needs when positions become available. We are also open to receiving advice from groups and individuals about factors to consider when filling vacancies.

In order to develop as large a pool of bilingual candidates as possible, the government calls on French-speaking lawyers' associations and francophone communities to identify individuals who have the necessary skills to be judges and to encourage such individuals to apply for positions.

The government is committed to appointing the best-qualified individuals. It will continue to appoint competent, dedicated people and to comply with principles of gender equality and cultural and linguistic diversity.

The Supreme Court of Canada plays a fundamental role in our society as the ultimate guardian of the values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As such, its members must be selected from among our most distinguished and competent jurists. That is why, when the time comes to appoint a judge, we take great care to choose the best people in terms of knowledge, experience, and personal dedication to excellence.

One could not ask for better Supreme Court justices than those appointed over the past 130 years. Judges must have numerous qualities, including a strong intellect, a superior ability to draft documents, innovative ideas when it comes to new legal issues, and great sensitivity to the values laid down in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Constitutionalist Peter Hogg described the personal and professional qualities of a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada as follows:

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

2. He 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. He must always treat the counsel and the litigants who appear before him with patience and courtesy.

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

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

The composition of the court, including the number of judges, is governed by the Supreme Court Act, which states that at least three of the judges must be from Quebec. Recognition of Quebec's civil law tradition requires representation of Quebec judges on the court to reflect Canada's bijural nature.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court has always reflected the fact that Canada is comprised of regions and the current practice is based, in accordance with legislation and tradition, on the recognition of legal pluralism, another of our nation's fundamental characteristics, and on regional diversity in the appointment process.

I would like to continue but my time is almost up. I would simply add that the composition of the Supreme Court provides this regional representation given that it includes three judges from Ontario, one judge from the Atlantic region, one from the Prairies and one from British Columbia.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this important bill put forward by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Last year, my colleague from Bourassa brought forward an identical bill. Unfortunately, it died on the order paper, following the Conservative government's decision to stop the business of the House by calling an early election which, I must say, was unwarranted.

I am pleased to see the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst repeat this initiative, and I salute his work—let us move beyond partisanship for a moment—regarding the promotion and respect for our two official languages

I have been sitting with the member for Acadie—Bathurst for five years on the Standing Committee on Official Languages and I must admit that, when it comes to the issue of bilingualism and respect for our communities, we generally agree with each other. I also want to salute the extraordinary work done by my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche to promote bilingualism and respect for francophone communities outside Quebec. We on this side of the House share a sensitivity which, unfortunately, is not found on the government side.

As for the bill as such, it amends the Supreme Court Act and introduces a new requirement for judges appointed to that court. It essentially provides that judges should understand French and English without the assistance of an interpreter. In other words, we are talking about having bilingual judges.

It seems to me that this only makes sense. It goes to the core of our commitment to official language communities. We are talking here about giving a meaning to all those nice principles to which we keep referring.

We are always hearing that it is important to promote both languages, that we must promote French and English, that we must support communities, but all this is mere rhetoric. We need concrete action. Today, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst is taking concrete action.

As we mentioned, this is a very simple bill asking that the justices appointed to the country's highest court understand both official languages. The idea is that when a case, any case, is before the court, it should be heard and understood without the need for an interpreter, whenever one of our country's two official languages is used.

As I said earlier, I have sat on the Standing Committee on Official Languages for several years. We have seen in our work that a great deal needs to be done to promote bilingualism and respect for both official languages.

For example, there is work to be done if we want the languages of our two founding peoples to be well represented in the federal public service. Efforts are being made to that end, but more needs to be done. We need to do more together.

For example, bilingualism must be a value that the whole government espouses. Canadians in all regions need to perceive that. They need to perceive the importance of bilingualism and see that it is not a cost or a constraint, but an extraordinary opportunity for everyone across the country. Everyone needs to understand that bilingualism is part of our identity, that it is fundamental to what Canada is and that it is part of our collective wealth as Canadians.

In light of this, I do not believe it is unreasonable to ask that judges of the Supreme Court of Canada be bilingual, given the level of responsibility they have as magistrates of the highest court in the land.

If we believe in bilingualism, if we believe in linguistic duality, we cannot allow such an exception. We cannot allow unilingualism in the Supreme Court, even though bilingualism may represent a constraint for some people.

I am convinced that in the long run, everyone will embrace the spirit of this bill, which is rooted in the will of those who came before us, the will to live in a society where the two official languages have the same legal status and are treated with the same respect and importance.

Bill C-232, which my colleague introduced, clearly states that:

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

As has already been said, the bill is straightforward and easy to support. The opposition parties will support it, and they will not be alone. Other stakeholders such as the French-language jurists' associations, the Canadian Bar Association, the National Assembly of Quebec and the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, have all come out in favour of bilingualism of Supreme Court judges. In addition, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada has for many years been asking that bilingualism be a criterion for selecting judges.

Because I am feeling generous, I will point out that the appointment of Nova Scotian Thomas Cromwell to the Supreme Court of Canada is good news in terms of bilingualism. As we all know, Justice Cromwell took over the seat vacated by retired Justice Michel Bastarache. Justice Cromwell is bilingual, and that is a step in the right direction, but we need more. We need to take many steps in that direction, but sadly, the Conservative government cannot be counted on to make that happen. Let us not forget that it was this same government that eliminated the court challenges program and has put off investing in linguistic duality and respect for official languages.

Recently, Radio-Canada said that Justice Marshall Rothstein, the Prime Minister's first Supreme Court appointee two years ago and a unilingual anglophone, has hindered the work of the highest court in the land:

This forces francophone justices to write their drafts in English so that translation does not slow down the process. Unilingualism can also be a problem when a case is to be heard in French.

This cannot happen every time a judge is appointed. We must have some guidelines. We must be able to guide the government's selection of the judges appointed to this country's highest court, which, we might add, is often called upon to rule on cases dealing directly with linguistic duality and respect for Canada's two official languages.

We must send a clear message to Canada's official language minority communities. They struggle every day to preserve their language and culture, and all too often, those communities have been forced to stand up to Conservative governments that are unsympathetic to their situation and their needs.

Examples of this include the near closure of Montfort Hospital in Ontario and the elimination of the court challenges program, which in fact allowed Franco-Ontarians to fight and eventually win their battle, thereby keeping Montfort Hospital open.

Having bilingual Supreme Court judges is not an end in itself, but it would send a clear message that we are serious about the importance of respecting linguistic duality. As I said, it is not an end in itself. We must do more, much more.

For instance, there must be long-term, recurring and predictable investments, so that our organizations can plan for the years to come. Investments must be made in early childhood programs in order to allow our young people to begin the learning process in their first language. We must build capacity within our communities and invest in local culture.

In other words, we must support our official language minority communities. We must be there for them, listen to, hear and understand them, and work with them so they may develop and thrive. All of Canada and all Canadians will come out stronger.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, first off, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-232, an act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages). This bill was introduced by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst. It is the tip of the iceberg, as the federal government does not set an example in the matter of bilingualism in this country called Canada.

They want the federal public service to be bilingual so that it may serve people in their first language. The government currently wants to look into how universities could train students at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels to be able to speak English and French in order to create a pool of recruits to work in the federal public service. In itself, this is quite a good thing.

However, as regards this idea, which is currently under scrutiny by the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the issue is bigger. I call this issue “the Canadian disease”. In other words, the government wants a public service in which most of the employees are bilingual, while the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada are not required to be bilingual. This makes no sense. In Canada, there is no requirement for deputy ministers to be bilingual, but there is for their employees, the people who work for them and are part of the government machine. The deputy minister does not need to be bilingual. That makes no sense.

Canada's ambassadors are not required to be bilingual and they represent Canada, a country whose constitution provides that its two languages are on an equal footing. However, ambassadors, representing Canada abroad, are not required to be bilingual. That is cynicism. And it does not end there, because 37% of positions designated bilingual in the federal public service are filled by unilingual anglophones.

As you see, the problem is a complex one. This is the way to ignore the French fact. And this is how the Government of Canada acts toward the French fact. It explains why people like the Bloc members, all our members, are here in order to defend the French culture and language, the common, public culture and language of Quebec. In Canada, there is no respect for this language. Now you understand the whole issue of Quebec's independence, a fundamental element. Cynicism in Canada runs high.

I am sure you will agree with me, Mr. Speaker. I will show how the Conservative party has dealt with bilingualism, a concept it claims to support. In Canada, one language is more official than the other, and you will understand which one. Nearly 40 years after the passage of the Official Languages Act, it is still difficult to work in French in the federal system. When a manager is a unilingual anglophone, all the employees work in English. When 10 public servants—nine francophones and one anglophone—hold a meeting, the meeting is most often in English because, in all likelihood, the francophones are bilingual and the anglophone is not.

Worse yet, Ottawa continues not to consider bilingualism necessary for appointments to bilingual positions, as non-imperative staffing is still largely used, especially for senior positions. That is typical Canadian cynicism with respect to the French fact.

While the Conservative Party committed to support the Official Languages Act in its March 2005 policy statement and, again, in its latest election platform, ensuring that English and French have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada, we have to recognize that, clearly, that statement is not being acted upon.

Following the cancellation of the court challenges program, the elimination of the interdepartmental partnership with the official-language communities, the appointment of a unilingual English-speaking judge, and the antics by members who show contempt by daring to call Quebeckers illiterate in their second language, even while French is losing ground, what is next? Think of the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, who said that Quebeckers did not want to learn English, their second language, when data from Statistics Canada clearly show that Gatineau and Montreal rank first and third respectively in terms of bilingualism in Canada. I am from Hawkesbury, Ontario, a town located between Gatineau and Montreal, the second most bilingual city in the country. The people of Quebec are making efforts. Quebec is the province with the largest number of citizens who speak French and English. Yet, some Conservative members are making spiteful comments about the French fact and, in this case, the comments came from a francophone, which goes to show that being a member of the Conservative government does not help further the cause of the French fact in Quebec and Canada.

In May 2008, the Conservative members sitting on the official languages committee refused to support a motion on bilingualism for Supreme Court justices. If the Prime Minister is sincere in his commitments, let us hope he can rally his troops and show his support for linguistic minorities. We are living a horror story from the inside, and it is the Conservative Party that is responsible for this situation.

Considering that the 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; considering that the Official Languages Act provides that English and French have equality of status and use; considering that the French and English versions of federal acts have equal value and that one is not a translation of the other; considering that the right of any citizen to use French or English before Canada's courts is a fundamental linguistic right and that the Official Languages Act 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; considering that 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, it goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-232.

I will conclude by saying that the Quebec nation has dealt with this issue. On May 21, 2008, the members of the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed the following motion: “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.”

We support this legislation. It is the tip of the iceberg. So much remains to be done in Canada. The federal institution does not respect the French fact. It is about time for it to begin to do so. We still have doubts about the Conservatives, but the Bloc Québécois supports the French language and it also supports this bill.

Supreme Court Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure and honour to rise today and speak to the bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst. When I was first asked to speak to this bill I thought it was quite interesting, and as a unilingual anglophone and a person who at this stage of my advanced years is trying to learn French and is spending a fair amount time at it, it is quite an honour for me to be able to stand and speak to this issue today.

There is a requirement in this bill 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.

The Government of Canada strongly supports the promotion of both official languages, French and English, in our society. It is a reality in my province of New Brunswick and in my riding of Tobique—Mactaquac. Our bilingualism is a fundamental aspect of our national identity. Consequently, it is crucial that the Supreme Court, which is at the pinnacle of our legal system, reflect this aspect of our country's character.

Since the Supreme Court sits at the pinnacle of our justice system, it is very important that it reflect an element of our country's character, that French and English are our official languages. In New Brunswick, 33% of our population is francophone, so this is very important.

Allow me to outline briefly the constitutional context in which language rights are exercised in our judicial system. Section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and subsection 19(1) of the charter provide that either English or French may be used in any court established by Parliament.

Subsection 16(1) of the Official Languages Act sets out the obligation, for federal courts, to appoint judges who can hear a case in their official language or in the official languages of their choice, directly, without the assistance of an interpreter.

Furthermore, we are required to hear the parties in their chosen official language without the aid of an interpreter.

Because of the special nature of it being the highest court and the fact that it is comprised of only nine judges chosen from different regions of the country, I think it is important that we reflect on that. The Supreme Court has to reflect the values and principles of all of Canada and all our different regions, and that includes Quebec, New Brunswick, the western regions, and the north as well.

That is why it is important that these judges be chosen from the different regions of the country. Because of that, Parliament chose to exempt the Supreme Court from this extension of the constitutional rights in 1988.

The government's commitment to ensuring that there is sufficient linguistic capacity in our courts includes the Supreme Court of Canada. As mentioned, the Supreme Court provides all its services and communications in English and in French, much like the House of Commons. 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 as well, thereby—and this is also very important—contributing to what we call a growing body of bilingual case law that is accessible to all Canadians.

Furthermore, as the hon. members are aware, all but one of the current judges of the Supreme Court are fully competent in both official languages and are able to hear cases in either official language without the assistance of simultaneous interpretation. That is eight out of nine judges. That said, high-quality interpretation and translation services are available during the hearings before the court, and all judges have the assistance of one or more bilingual law clerks. Ongoing language training is available to all members of the court.

I really appreciate the fact that we have this ongoing language training available to members of Parliament.

Most members of the Conservative Party are learning French.

As a result, the court demonstrably has the capacity to conduct its business in both official languages. I am aware of no suggestion that the court has failed to consistently provide all Canadians with the highest quality of justice they expect and deserve. To the contrary, 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.

As hon. members may be aware, the national status of the Supreme Court is reflected in the historical practice of providing for its regional representation. Not only is the Supreme Court ensured its bi-juridical strength through the appointment of three judges from Quebec, but its legal pluralism more broadly is made possible through the long-standing tradition of ensuring that the courts complement is drawn from all regions of Canada. Canadians from coast to coast to coast may thus see the country's geographic diversity represented in their highest court.

The government clearly accepts that linguistic ability is an important factor in selecting judges of the Supreme Court. We will continue to ensure that it will be given serious consideration as it was in the most recent appointment.

When I was asked to speak to this bill last Friday and thought about it over the weekend, it was interesting to pause and reflect on the appointments. Filling the vacancy of Mr. Justice Bastarache, who took his retirement from the bench, led us to searching for a quality judge. What is important for us to recognize also is that in our country, and reflecting on the regional balances, we must ensure we have representation who can provide the services both in French and in English. It is also important to ensure that reflects the broad diversity of our regions.

When we think about our broad regions and diversity, we have a small population in the Atlantic provinces, with 32 seats in this great place. We also have the Senate, which gives us the ability to balance things from a regional perspective. It is important that we reflect this as well in our judiciary.

The government, in filling the vacancy created by the departure of Mr. Justice Bastarache, indicated that proficiency in both official languages was an asset that would be given serious consideration in appointing his replacement. The government delivered on that promise with the recent appointment of Justice Thomas Cromwell on December 22, 2008.

Mr. Justice Cromwell, an eminent, fluently bilingual jurist, is a testament to the continued commitment of the government to appoint highly meritorious and qualified jurists to our highest court. With all the judicial appointments, but particularly given the fundamentally important role of the Supreme Court, the government remains committed to merit as an overriding consideration, based on legal excellence and personal suitability.

We recognize there must be sufficient linguistic capacity in our courts to provide equal access to justice in both English and French. The government has and will remain vigilant in seeking competence in both official languages to achieve that goal.

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Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my understanding the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has nine minutes remaining in his time period.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

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Noon

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, again I rise in the continuation of the debate on Bill C-2.

What my colleague from New Westminster has asked for, and he has asked for it very eloquently and quite intelligently, is exactly what the United States has done.

We are about to sign on to an EFTA deal and it may have serious ramifications for a major industry in our country, namely shipbuilding.

Over the past few weeks, we have received hundreds and hundreds of letters from shipyard workers who are very concerned about their future and the future of their families in the five major yards as well as in the other smaller yards across the country. They are asking the government, quite clearly, why it would sign a trade deal that may affect this very important and vital industry.

The NDP has absolutely nothing against trade deals as long as they are fair and equitable on both sides. We saw what happened with NAFTA and the free trade concerns. We saw our wages and other things go down. We were promised that Mexican considerations would go up. It simply has not worked.

We saw what happened with the softwood lumber deal. We left a billion dollars of our companies' money in the United States. Many mills across the country have shut down and thousands of people have been laid off in the forestry industry.

We are all concerned about the shipbuilding aspects. Lately the government has spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in meetings with experts across the country on what is the best way to stimulate the economy and get the machines going and people working again so as to give them a sense of optimism and confidence once again.

We have said to the present government, and to the previous government as well, that one industry it can look at in a very positive and fiscally responsible manner is the shipbuilding industry. We said before that we had $22 billion worth of work on the books right now. Spread over a 20 years period, that can keep the five major yards singing for a long time and employ thousands of people at very decent salaries so they in turn can pay their taxes, look after their families and live in these communities. We have major yards in Victoria, Welland, Lévis, Halifax and Marystown, plus smaller yards across the country.

We honestly believe this industry has a bright future and those Canadian workers and Canadian companies deserve that opportunity.

I have said this before and I will say it once again. I know this sounds very much like a social democratic ideal, but imagine using Canadian taxpayer money to hire Canadian workers to build Canadian ships with Canadian companies in Canadian yards? Call me a rabid communist, and I really do not care, but what a novel idea to use taxpayer dollars to hire our neighbours to build Canadian vessels that our Coast Guard, ferry fleets, laker fleets and our military desperately require.

We could not help but notice that the recent budget the government announced $175 million for hovercrafts and small boats, but the request was for $22 billion, not $175 million, spread over 20 years.

It is also quite ironic that the government brags about an investment of $300 million in the aerospace industry and look what happened; a $1.5 billion contract out of Quebec to build airplanes. That is a good investment. We want the exact came attitude applied to the shipbuilding industry. The 2001 report, “Breaking Through”, done by labour and business, has five serious recommendations that would move this industry forward.

If we go ahead and sign this EFTA deal, it may have serious ramifications for our shipbuilding industry. It is not only EFTA about which my colleagues in the NDP are very worried. What happens when the next trade deal with Korea comes up? Korea has already said that it wants auto and shipbuilding in those deals.

If our largest trading partner, the United States, with which we have 80% of our trade, in every single FTA that it has ever signed since 1924 excludes shipbuilding and marine services from the table, then why does Canada not do the same?

Why can we not protect this very vital industry, just like China, Korea, the United States, Norway, Italy, Britain, Holland and all other major countries in the world have done for their industries? Why is it that every time we go to the table, we give up these industries for other concerns? That has to stop and it has to stop now.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has done an absolutely fabulous job in pointing out the errors of the softwood lumber deal. He was absolutely correct. Now he is pointing it out with the EFTA deal as well as the shipbuilders and the shipyard workers.

These individuals deserve to have the opportunity to build Canadian ships in Canadian yards, using Canadian taxpayers money to do so. We do not like to see this industry, or any other industry of that nature, given up to those who say, as John Manley said in 2003, that shipbuilding is a sunset industry. We simply do not believe that for one second. We honestly believe this is a sunrise industry, an industry that has a bright future in our country. That is why we ask the government to do exactly what the United States has done: carve this out of the EFTA deal, sign the free trade deal, but then carry on and allow our shipbuilding to grow and prosper.

Norway has said very clearly that it will pull out of EFTA if shipbuilding is not on the table. Why is it so important to Norway to have shipbuilding on the table? For over 30 years, although it does not do it now, Norway heavily subsidized that industry to the point where it got it absolutely right. Even with a 15 year decline in the import tariff, Norway knows very well it can do much damage to our industry, and it is not just Norway, but is Korea as well. What other trade deals down the road will not only put this industry at risk, but other industries as well?

One more time we ask the government, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois to support my colleague's motion to get this carved out from the EFTA deal. We should sign the EFTA deal after that and work on shipbuilding to ensure it has a bright and positive future for Canadians.

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12:10 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Nova Scotia for his passionate defence of our shipbuilding industry.

Before the North American Free Trade Agreement, 1,200 people lived in the little town of Wawa, where I lived back in the sixties, and pulled ore out of the ground, out of which they burned the sulphur and shipped it down to Sault Ste. Marie where 12,000 people turned that into steel.

I was in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1987 visiting the shipyards. I noticed large piles of steel waiting to be used in the ships that were being fixed and built there at that time. They were all stamped “Algoma Steel”, which made me feel good? Here was a Canadian industry, from beginning to end, that was providing good paying jobs for Canadian citizens and opportunities for Canadian businesses to make money. Our economy was rolling at that time.

Why is that not happening any more? The mines in Wawa are shut down. Essar Steel Algoma, formerly Algoma Steel, in Sault Ste. Marie employs between 3,000 and 4,000 people. They are losing their jobs in this difficult recession, as we speak. The shipyards in Saint John, I understand, are shut down completely. Why did that happen?

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12:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from the Soo has hit the nail on the head. It is not only the shipbuilders building the ships, those raw materials also come from Canada.

There is a trickle down effect, from the guys and the girls who mine the ore to the Essar plant that makes the steel and then ships the steel to the yards, which build the ships. It is a great circle of continuity of employment, using the natural resources of Canada and using various Canadian companies, not just in the shipyards, but in cities like the Soo, which my hon. colleague represents so well. He is absolutely bang on.

The roll around effect of jobs and the escalation of jobs throughout this is tremendous. It is not just in what we call the muscle industries, the mining and steel-making, it is also in the high tech industries that build the computer and the navigation systems that are required on-board. A tremendous amount of Canadians have an opportunity to gain that employment.

We are not only fighting for shipyard workers. We are fighting for all the industries that are attached to building these ships in Canada as well. That is why it is so vital to preserve and protect this industry. That is why we ask for the carve out so the hon. member's families in the Soo can also have long careers in the jobs that they enjoy so well.

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12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member across the way for his passionate comments with regard to this very important European free trade agreement. As a member of the committee, I am very excited about the House having this opportunity to support this agreement. It will give Canada the opportunity to get its foot in the door and to expand into the other 27 member countries of the European Union. This issue has been discussed at great length. A variety of witnesses have come forward. They agree that this is in the best interests of all of Canada.

To clarify a comment by the member opposite, he talked about the aspect that $22 billion was the request in the budget for the shipbuilding industry. Actually, the government is anticipating $43 billion over the next 30 years. There is ample opportunity for the shipbuilding industry to flourish in this country.

The member opposite talked about supporting free trade agreements. I would like him to let me know which free trade agreement the NDP would support, because to date the NDP has not shown any indication.