Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-13, to which a few changes have been proposed. I am especially worried about the changes concerning judges and the possibility that the case be heard in the preferred language of those involved, be they minority francophones outside Quebec or minority anglophones in Quebec.
The judge's decision is important for the person appearing before the court. What will happen to that person in the future? The individual must be able to clearly understand the judge, just as the judge must be able to properly understand the accused. This gives citizens the opportunity to have a fair trial in their preferred language, in their home province, in order to be able to deliver their arguments and their defence.
The decision finally handed down last Friday by the Supreme Court in the case of Marie-Claire Paulin from New Brunswick was very important for minorities. For those who do not know the case, Marie-Claire Paulin, a woman from Tracadie-Sheila, went to the Woodstock area and was arrested by the RCMP. This case has been in the courts for a number of years now. Trial proceedings began in New Brunswick at least eight years ago with the Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick, which was represented by several lawyers, but it was primarily Michel Doucet who argued the case.
The RCMP did not provide service in French in certain areas of New Brunswick. We must see the link between this case and this bill. One cannot ignore the case of Marie-Claire Paulin, who received service only in the official language that was not her mother tongue. In the Woodstock area and other areas of New Brunswick, the RCMP provided its services only in English. Ms. Paulin was arrested by the RCMP in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province of Canada, and wanted to be served in her language. She fought her case in court and won, but the federal government decided to appeal the decision and it won. It is unfortunate that the Liberals and the ministers of Justice and Official Languages of the day, who claimed to defend minorities, supported the government's initiative to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
When the New Brunswickers decided to go to court, the government pressed for the case to be heard by the Supreme Court in order to defend the RCMP which, it believed, did not have to provide service in French because it was a federal force. Under federal law, service must be provided in French where numbers warrant. It deemed that it was not warranted by the numbers in Woodstock, New Brunswick. However, according to the law and the Constitution, it is clear that New Brunswick is responsible for providing government services in the province's two official languages, and that includes legal services. If you are stopped by the police and required to go to court in New Brunswick, the proceedings must be in the official language of the person in question. In this case, it was French.
Regrettably, the Liberal government at the time went to court and the case was brought before the Supreme Court. The Conservative government, which came to power in 2006, did not rescind the decision.
It could at least have acknowledged that the RCMP did have a responsibility because it signed a provincial contract and had to respect the law of the province of New Brunswick.
This case does not apply only to francophones. It also relevant for an anglophone who goes to the Shippagan or Caraquet region, for example. A police officer who speaks to an anglophone must be able to reply in the language of choice of that person, that is English. This will ensure that there is respect for both communities in New Brunswick because citizens will be served in the language of their choice.
Justice Bastarache's decision was very sound. He will be missed when he retires in June. He will be particularly missed by minority communities, not only in New Brunswick but throughout Canada, because he has ruled in favour of minorities and his decisions have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. The very honourable Justice Bastarache will be missed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
That is why we are recommending to the Conservative government that, when it comes time to appoint another judge, to make sure he or she is bilingual. We cannot ask that the person be francophone, but we can ask that they speak fluent French and English.
That way, when lawyers appear before the Supreme Court of Canada with their clients, they will be able to express themselves in the language of their choice without having to rely solely on the interpretation services. With all due respect to those services, that is not what we want; we want the person to be able to express themselves in the language of their choice.
The government has the obligation to ensure that the next judges appointed to the Supreme Court will be able to function in both official languages of our country.
Just before the study of Bill C-13, there was a debate on Bill C-31, on judicial appointments. Again, the Standing Committee on Official Languages has found that as far as judicial appointments are concerned, there are not enough bilingual judges—not only in New Brunswick, but across the country.
Let us talk about Bill C-13. New Brunswick is a province recognized as bilingual under the Constitution. Bill C-88, which was enshrined in the Constitution, states that citizens will be served in the language of their choice. An amendment was made to that bill to ensure that anyone in New Brunswick wishing to appear in court and use the language of their choice, would not have to travel from Bathurst to Saint John or vice versa. I am pleased with the amendment.
The other provinces, if I am not mistaken, have agreed that people have the right to travel to regions where there is a francophone judge in order to present their case before a judge who speaks their mother tongue.
To resolve this problem when it comes to appointing judges, the government must truly take into account the official languages of the country and start appointing more bilingual judges who are able to speak both official languages, either an anglophone judge who speaks fluent French or a francophone judge who speaks fluent English, in order to better serve the community.
I am also proud to note that in their decision, the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that the Conservative government's decision to abolish the court challenges program has had a negative impact on minorities. For these reasons, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the RCMP to pay the court costs of $135,000.
Last week in the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I could not believe my ears. The former premier of New Brunswick, who toured the country looking at official languages, said that abolishing the court challenges program was not the end of the world. People could go to court with or without the court challenges program.
The same week that Mr. Lord said that we did not need the court challenges program because people could go to court, the Supreme Court itself rendered a decision—I think I have it right here—acknowledging that the abolition of the court challenges program could affect communities. Paragraph 27 of the decision states the following:
The appellants ask for $135,000 in costs. In light of the abolition of the Court Challenges Program, which would have applied to a case such as this one, and since the respondent appears to have acknowledged the importance of the principles in issue in this case, as she has not asked for costs, the appellants are awarded the requested amount.
The Supreme Court ordered the RCMP to pay all the court costs. I would like to congratulate the Supreme Court. Today, I would like to be able to congratulate the Conservative government by saying, “You will continue to give the ultimate tool that people need, that minorities need to be able to go to court”.
What do we need? First of all, we need judges who can speak, hear, listen to and understand our country's two official languages. We need that, and that was in Bill C-31.
That is not all that was in Bill C-31. It was also about judicial appointments. When it comes to judicial appointments, of course we have to pay attention to how we can appoint judges who have a clear understanding of what our country is, who understand our country's value, who understand the Official Languages Act, who can understand people's mentalities, the approaches of our two peoples. At the same time, they must be able to look at the effect this can have on minorities, on people who are sensitive to this.
Unless the government wants to appoint judges, with all due respect, from the far right who will decide to cut everything, to side with the government, to share the government's philosophy and change everything. We made progress in the past and we are making progress now, but minorities have always had to fight for progress and they still do.
With all due respect, Marie-Claire Paulin did not have the money to go to the Supreme Court. We also have to thank the Société des Acadiens et des Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick for supporting Marie-Claire Paulin's case, as well as all of the francophone communities who supported her too.
If francophone or minority communities are forced to pay so that citizens can go to court, that means less money for those communities. Minority communities have to fight to get government money so they can develop and get things for themselves all over the country, whether they are in Quebec or the rest of Canada.
If people have to use that government money to go to court, the communities lose that money, which they could otherwise spend on schools, training, immersion schools, teachers, or the support that people need.
We will support this bill. Moreover, we call on the government—we cannot say this often enough—to ensure justice for communities and people through the judicial appointment process. I think that will make a huge difference.
That will make a huge difference because people need to be served in the language of their choice. If our country is recognized as being bilingual, we have to enforce the law. To enforce it, the people who enforce it need to be capable of understanding both official languages. That is why we will strongly recommend it to the government. Once again, we will also ask that the court challenges program be reinstated.
I was a little worried recently when the Liberal leader said that if he were elected, he would reinstate the court challenges program and would double its funding.
I am afraid, in that case, that he may be breaking the law twice as often and that is why he would need more money.
The only thing we are asking is that the government comply with the Official Languages Act and respect Canadians. Perhaps then people will never need to go to court again. When Marie-Claire Paulin was pulled over and ticketed in Woodstock, if the police had spoken to her in French, she would not have needed to go to court.
It is hoped that the ruling will not be interpreted in such a way that an RCMP officer who pulls someone over can make that person sit at the side of road for half an hour or an hour, waiting for another officer who can speak that person's language. If people want to be treated equally, they should not have to wait until another police officer comes to speak to them.
Things are going to change in New Brunswick from now on. The RCMP will have to change its mindset, because it was really the RCMP that caused the situation when it decided it no longer needed to have bilingual officers in certain regions. Now the RCMP has realized that this was not acceptable in New Brunswick.The ruling by Mr. Justice Bastarache and his fellow Supreme Court judges is a good decision for minorities. I can guarantee that it is welcomed in the community in New Brunswick.
I want to sincerely commend Mr. Doucet for his tenacity in this process. The Conservatives have said that they abolished the court challenges program because it only served to help friends of the Liberals to make money. I cannot image how Mr. Doucet is a friend of the Liberals or how he made money on the court challenges program. Most of the time, Mr. Doucet does not even get paid to represent our minority communities. In most cases, he has never been paid to go to court. He has only been paid for court costs, the cost of paper, photocopies and those types of things.
Mr. Doucet has been an example to the communities. As the member for Acadie—Bathurst, I am proud to congratulate Mr. Doucet for all the good work he has done in this case. The Conservatives have accused people who were using the court challenges program of only being there to make money at the expense of minorities, but that is absolutely not what happened.
It is important to note that the objective of Bill C-13 is to send a message to communities and individuals, telling them they have the right to appear in court in the official language of their choice anywhere in Canada. That is important. And people must know this. Once the new legislation takes effect, they must be told that they can be represented in the language of their choice.
It is similar to when a patient goes to the doctor and tries to explain what is wrong using hand gestures, because they do not speak the same language. What if that patient goes into surgery and the doctor removes the wrong thing and a big chunk is taken out? It is the same idea here. When someone appears in court, it is absolutely crucial that both parties understand one another to ensure that the accused person is judged fairly.