Mr. Speaker, I am truly honoured to rise today to speak to Bill C-203, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act regarding the understanding of the official languages.
Fair and equitable access to justice is one of the basic tenets of democracy. That is what this bill seeks to ensure, by requiring Supreme Court justices to be able to understand arguments in both of our official languages and enshrining that requirement in law.
Supreme Court justices play a major role in our democracy. They need to meet numerous qualification criteria. One of those criteria is, in my opinion, the ability to understand Canadian citizens in both official languages, which, I will point out, have equality of status under our Constitution.
The NDP is not alone in thinking that. I would like to quote some people who know much more about this topic than me. For example, Serge Rousselle, a renowned Université de Moncton law professor, said:
Bilingualism is a required skill for Supreme Court judges. To fully grasp an oral argument in a field where the subtleties of one official language or the other can be critical, the importance of being understood directly by the members of this court, without the assistance of an interpreter, seems obvious.
This is not a theoretical question.
Michel Doucet, another Université de Moncton law professor and a language rights expert, has argued many cases before the Supreme Court. He said:
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, and I understood why I had lost the case five to four. The translation did not allow me to understand my own words. I wonder how justices can fully understand the matter at hand when they have to go through translation in which significant aspects of a submission are missing. When you win 9:0, there is no problem, but when you lose 5 to 4, you automatically wonder whether you should not have argued in English.
That is why bilingualism is essential to ensure equal access to justice, and why judges of the Supreme Court, the highest court, must be able to serve all Canadians in either official language. Once again, we are not the only ones saying so.
In his report on access to justice, Graham Fraser, former commissioner of official languages, said that since the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, it is crucial that its judges be able to understand all the information and arguments presented, in both official languages without the help of an interpreter, including the nuances that can affect the outcome of a trial.
Mr. Fraser also strongly supported Bill C-232, which had exactly the same objectives and which the Liberals supported at the time.
I am running out of time and I see that I am going to have to cut my presentation short. I would like to point out that the Barreau du Québec and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada support this bill, which is very important.
Our Liberal colleagues are telling us that they promised to appoint bilingual judges. There is a small problem. Our Liberal colleagues always seem to think that they will be in power forever. That is the first problem. At some point, another government could decide to do things differently.
There is one more problem. The member for LaSalle—Émard—Verdun said that yes, we are going to appoint bilingual judges, but that we also need some flexibility to not do it. This too seems like a very Liberal thing to say. They make a promise, but they may or may not keep it.
I think this is one more reason to recognize that this is a fundamental issue of access to justice and that this needs to be put in law. This bill could certainly be amended, but I urge all of my colleagues to vote for it so it can go to committee.