My name is Jacques Fournier, and I am the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Québec.
This is my third appearance before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I met with you a year and a half ago. I also appeared nearly 20 years ago when your committee chair, Mr. Paradis, was chairing a similar committee. It was a joint committee, I believe. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will be saying the exact same thing I did then, in an effort to drive home the message.
Canada has a bijural legal system. Asserting that fact loudly and clearly, we enshrined it in legislation. We have a public law system that is based on common law. Under our federal legal system, judges at every level, including the Court of Appeal of Québec, Superior Court of Québec and Court of Québec, render excellent decisions. Of that, I am sure.
What the problem is, and has always been, is that the population of Quebec, including its judges, tends to be bilingual, whereas people outside Quebec are less likely to be bilingual. That is even truer among judges. That is not a criticism, simply an observation.
Judges render decisions in all areas of public law, federal law, criminal law, bankruptcy law, and so forth. When it comes to decisions rendered west of Quebec—from Ontario to the Rockies—and east of Quebec—in the Maritimes—it is as though an impenetrable curtain or screen separates the regions. Quebec case law is influenced by that of other Canadian provinces, especially in bankruptcy law and the all-important criminal arena. The reverse influence is not possible, however. Our case law is not portable. The wall separating Quebec from western and eastern Canada is impenetrable; Quebec's case law does not leave Quebec. Here, our way of thinking stems from our training as civil lawyers but influences our thinking in criminal matters and, clearly, bankruptcy law, because it is a form of private law. Our way of thinking is not portable and does not enrich Canada's body of law. Conversely, Canada's body of law does enrich ours.
For a multitude of reasons, I spent a lot of time studying what the Fathers of Confederation, the British parliamentarians, were trying to achieve when they wanted Canada to have a unique legal system. The idea was to achieve unity of thought across the entire country. Unity of thought, however, does not come from just one side of the fence. Ideas need to flow both ways in order to achieve mutual influence. That was what the Fathers of Confederation aspired to. Although it is still not the reality, it remains the aspiration.
My position has been the same for 20 years. Quebec's judges are capable of rendering excellent decisions. We saw a fine example of that at the Supreme Court. Quebec's decisions should benefit all of Canada, just as the excellent decisions of judges in common law jurisdictions benefit the entire country. What we want is reciprocity. As elected representatives, you hold that power in your hands. What we want to see is some form of reciprocity that will enrich Canada's judicial system.
That is the crux of my message for you today.