Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-203 today. It is an important bill and it seems to me that it reflects a value shared by the members of the House, who believe that it is important that Canadians across the country truly have access to the courts in the official language of their choice, and that includes the Supreme Court of Canada. I congratulate the member for Drummond for bringing forward this issue.
That said, although I applaud the objectives of this bill, I believe that the focus on the Supreme Court of Canada is misplaced and that it would be better to redirect these efforts in order to strengthen the bilingual capacity of Canada's superior and appeal courts.
First of all, the government has already taken real steps to ensure that judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada are actually bilingual. Focusing on superior courts across Canada will ensure that this benefits a greater number of Canadians and that there is a larger pool of bilingual judges that could be future candidates for the Supreme Court of Canada.
I am proud of everything our government has done to support official language minority communities. I am especially proud that our government has again demonstrated the strength of its commitment to enhancing the bilingual capacity of Canadian superior court judges at all levels.
On September 25, the Minister of Justice announced the action plan for enhancing the bilingual capacity of the superior courts. During her announcement, the Minister of Justice emphasized that all Canadians are entitled to have fair and equitable access to the justice system, which should be able to respond to their needs in the official language of their choice, and I think we can all agree on that.
The action plan initiatives will enable the government to assess the situation with respect to equal access to the superior courts in both official languages and take concrete action to close any gaps. I would also note that September 25 was Franco-Ontarian Day. I think it was smart to announce the action plan that day.
The seven-point action plan includes strategies for enhanced tools to verify and assess the bilingual capacity of judicial applicants, examine language training for current members of the judiciary, and confirmation of the minister's commitment to collaborative consultations with chief justices with respect to the bilingual capacity needs of their courts. The government is also committed to consulting with provinces and territories on relevant bilingualism initiatives in superior courts.
The action plan builds on our government's commitment to make every effort to develop a superior court judiciary with a sufficient bilingual capacity across the country in all trial and appellate courts. That is part of the government's overall objective of having a judiciary that reflects the face, voice, and reality of the Canadian population.
Of course, increasing the bilingual capacity of the Canadian judiciary will ensure not only greater access to justice in superior courts in both official languages, but also a rich pool of bilingual candidates for Supreme Court of Canada appointments.
The vast majority of Canadians will not bring a case before the Supreme Court, but will more likely have civil or family law cases before superior courts.
Allow me to paint a picture of the strategic measures that the government has already taken to ensure that candidates who are functionally bilingual are appointed to the Supreme Court.
Our government believes that the Supreme Court of Canada should reflect the linguistic duality of this great country. That explains the mandate of the Independent Advisory Board on Supreme Court of Canada Judicial Appointments, whereby the committee is to submit a list of qualified, functionally bilingual candidates to the Prime Minister for consideration.
The government's commitment to appoint functionally bilingual judges only is also part of the statement of merit criteria for evaluating candidates, a list that accessible and easily obtained on the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs website.
During the implementation of the new appointment process, Justice Malcolm Rowe appeared before parliamentarians gathered at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and clearly demonstrated that he was functionally bilingual.
Furthermore, our government confirmed this commitment on June 13 when it tabled its response to the report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the new process for judicial appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada.
On July 14, 2017, the Prime Minister of Canada launched a second process to select a Supreme Court justice in order to identify the ninth member of the court who will fill the vacancy created by the upcoming retirement of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. This advisory board will follow the same appointment process to ensure the appointment of jurists who are of the highest calibre, functionally bilingual, and who reflect the diversity of our great country.
I would now like to elaborate on measures introduced by our government following the changes made in October 2016 to the process for judicial appointments to the superior courts. The objective of these measures was to bolster public confidence by making the process more open, transparent, and accountable in order to foster diversity and gender balance in the judiciary.
Among the reforms was a requirement for greater detail regarding applicants’ self-identified bilingual capacity, the possibility of language assessments, and a new reporting requirement. The action plan announced on September 25 builds on those changes and takes important new steps in the areas of information gathering, training, and collaboration for and among many stakeholders.
The changes made in 2016 are already delivering results. For example, during question period in the House of Commons on September 25, the minister said she was very pleased that the critical reforms to the judicial appointments process had led to increased bilingual capacity, with five out of the eight judges in northeastern Ontario being fluently bilingual.
When the action plan was unveiled, the minister also said she was pleased that it addressed many of the recommendations made by the Commissioner of Official Languages in his 2013 report, entitled “Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary”. The report was produced in partnership with the commissioner's Ontario and New Brunswick counterparts. I understand this report was highly useful in the development of the action plan.
In closing, our government remains strongly committed to ensuring that Canadians across the country have real access to justice in the official language of their choice. I believe that our approach is the best way to fulfill our shared commitment to making sure our courts reflect the linguistic duality of this country.
Our government has kept its promise to appoint only functionally bilingual justices to the Supreme Court. Now it is time to expand that initiative to our superior courts and courts of appeal.