House of Commons Hansard #54 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was qalipu.


Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.


Dan Albas ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, earlier today we heard the minister as well as the parliamentary secretary outline the great amount of work, in both negotiations, over the past years. It has been a lot of hard work and dedication by all sides.

I would like the parliamentary secretary to elaborate further, particularly on the co-operation and consultation that worked toward the supplemental agreement in 2008 with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. I think it is really important for us to hear how much work has gone toward the creation of this bill through that process.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, from the outset it was understood by both the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the federal government that the agreement would apply primarily to people who live in or around the communities named in the 2008 agreement.

Not surprisingly, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and Mi'kmaq residents of the province expressed concern about the credibility of the enrolment process. The surge in applications in the second phase was the primary concern that was raised. We wanted to ensure that the objectives of the 2008 agreement would be met. Both parties agreed that we needed to tighten up that process, and they wanted to ensure that the enrolment process was fair and equitable and that those accepted for membership satisfied the criteria set out in the original agreement.

The FNI and our government negotiated a supplemental agreement, which was announced in 2013. We have been working hand in hand with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and will continue to do so.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague across the way for giving us more clarification. I think that a lot more work is going to be required on the bill. It seems like a very simple bill at first, but there are many other details that have come into it.

I would like to do a historical reconnaissance here on the application process started in 2009. By 2012, 23,000 applications had been processed. As the minister told us earlier, it was originally anticipated there would be 8,000 applications.

At what point did the government put up some red flags about what was going on with this process, with the way it was being done, and the fact that probably over three times the anticipated number of applications had been received? When did the government start to recognize what was going on here?

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it was during the second phase of enrolment, the final 36 months, that it became very clear things were not as they had originally been intended, when we saw a spike of 46,000 applications in the final four months alone of that application process.

Certainly, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Mi'kmaq communities themselves raised the concern that this was simply not a realistic number, that this was far outside the intent of the original agreement. It was during that second phase that there was a real awareness of how widespread this issue had become.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the chance to speak to a bill, which, as I mentioned earlier, on first reading seems very simple and straightforward but reveals quite a bit about what the government has been doing over the last number of years and its failure to act correctly in this matter.

Even when the parliamentary secretary answered my question, it is clear that he chose to ignore the fact that in the first period of time the number of applicants were three times over what was originally anticipated. He only talked about the last four months of the program, where the number went over by 45,000 applicants.

How does government work when the process it is entering into with the expectation of 8,000 applicants blossoms to 24,000 applicants? The government simply seems to ignore that fact. Only when the second phase of the application process came in, with 45,000 applications being put on the table, did the government wake up and realize it had some issues with what it was trying to do. What a careless way to run a government. How careless the government is with its business with the first nations people of this country.

I want to get that point in because it was left undone by the parliamentary secretary in his comments in answer to my first question.

What we have is an interesting bill. There is a problem with the huge application process for registration for joining the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation membership order. In my own home community, membership lists of first nations, of Métis people, are very complex issues, and that is when we are dealing with 1,000 people. When we are dealing with 500 people, the complicated nature of these membership applications is quite clear. The government has known for 40 years that this is not an easy issue to deal with.

When we set this thing in motion, we had a failure. Let the government admit that it created a failure with the process it put into place. The first step toward fixing it would be to admit the failure.

Now a bill has come forward to fix some of the issues we are engaged with here, not to determine the nature of what has happened, but simply to find a way to reduce the government's exposure on this issue.

First the Conservatives want to have a system on any of the previously accepted registrations for this band. They have gone through a process with five individuals, two from the first nations, two from the government, and one independent person, who have examined the first 23,800 applications that were made. They were accepted and put in place. The minister now wants the opportunity to take those off that list as he sees fits. Further, he does not want to have any responsibility for doing that. He wants to walk away from that clean.

The minister indicated that he is worried about the taxpayers of this country being liable for the mistakes that the government made. The taxpayers are liable for the mistakes that elected representatives make on their behalf. That is part of government. That is the way the government should operate. That is the way that government has a responsibility to operate.

It is interesting. When it comes to liability, we have made many international agreements over the last 20 years, through the Liberals and the Conservatives. They have guaranteed multinational companies with the right to sue the government if any of the provisions they enter into when they come into this country for investment purposes are changed through government legislation. The Liberals and the Conservatives signed agreements internationally that the government is under obligation to allow itself to be sued, and we have seen many large suits come of that to date.

On one hand, the government is fine with protecting the opportunities to sue for liability on the part of multinational corporations. Now we come to the 23,800 citizens of this country, who under a due process were given registration for Mi'kmaq claims.

I am not saying that all of these people would have a case for damages if they were to be taken off of the list. I am not saying they would even bother to do that. I am saying that they took the time to put the application in. They felt that they had a right to be on the list because they put their application in. They were accepted. Many of them would have made decisions about their life and their time based on the decision that was made by the tribunal about their participation in the Mi'kmaq membership order.

Someone has made a decision. They may have changed their lifestyle. They may have relocated to a different community. They may have established a business in an area that could be considered reserve land in the future, with tax benefits. They might have done one of a hundred things that would have put their life in a different direction previous to the decision that was made by the registration tribunal.

There it is. On one hand, we have a government that is quite willing to sign international agreements to allow multinational corporations to sue us at any time that we change a law here in Parliament, but on the other, it wants to put a law in place to make sure that Mi'kmaq people do not have the opportunity to sue it for something it has done wrong to them.

What kind of logic is that? What kind of equity is that in the system? Why do citizens of this country have substandard rights compared to multinational companies?

I find that the parallel between the two is indicative of the nature of the Conservative government, and the nature of our country, in some respects. We have been governed by the Liberals and the Conservatives for many years, and they have permitted this type of differentiation to go on.

That is the philosophy that we are dealing with here. As with the first reading and second reading of any bill, we want to talk about what the philosophy is going forward. There it is, folks; that is what is happening here.

What do the Mi'kmaq peoples think about this? The Mi'Kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland was set up to try to deal with what is going on with this bill and the process of registration. It is not impressed with this legislation.

I would like to quote from The Western Star, a newspaper from Atlantic Canada, about Bill C-25, the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation act. It said:

While the federal government is saying the bill will be an assurance that everyone applying to become a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation will be treated fairly and equitably, there are concerns that the proposed legislation’s real purpose is to protect the federal government from being sued by people who feel they are not being treated fairly or equally.

[Mr. Hector] Pearce is vice-chairperson of the Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland, a group which was formed to fight for the rights of those who feel they are being wronged in the process of enrolment in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.

“Once I started reading it, my blood started to boil a little bit,” said Pearce after reading the wording of Bill C-25. “We’re not shocked but we are very disappointed with the legislation. This government has put up so many roadblocks to this Qalipu registration process that nothing surprises us anymore”.

Of course, not only is he concerned about the bill; he is concerned about the process that was followed earlier. Every Canadian would be a little concerned about a process that the government initiated when it thought it was going to get 8,000 applicants and then part of the way through the process that number was exceeded by 300%.

One would think that the government would have taken some action to ensure that what it was doing was correct and working in a good fashion. Now that it has received 100,000 applicants, of course, it has to do something. It has been forced into it. It realizes, too, that is has created some liability for itself if it starts limiting the nature of registrations. If 100,000 people want to be registered and 23,000 people in Newfoundland have already been given membership in this band, one would have to say that maybe some of the qualifications should be changed so that more people are not put into this registration process. We are going to see a backtracking on the registration process and some new rules.

We should remember that this process is subjective. The government itself said it. It said that the registration is determined by people's heritage, but also by their contribution to the community and Mi'kmaq society. That is very subjective. Throughout my time in northern Canada, I have seen membership lists that have been fought over on that basis for years and years. Those are very difficult, time-consuming, and subjective ways of determining membership.

Once we get past the idea that people have the blood heritage of the Mi'kmaq in relationship with others in a similar location in the country and they have rights of membership, and we get into the area where they have to show they have been active participants in the community and the community accepts them, those things become very subjective, difficult to determine, and very likely to be the cause of some dispute, which may lead to liability.

Those are things that the government ought to realize going forward. It has put itself in a position where many people are going to be disappointed with the results of this work that is going ahead right now. It has made choices, and those choices are going to come back and haunt it. What it should do, very clearly, is to reduce its liability for its mistakes and ensure it can make any choice it wants with the 23,800 people who have already been registered and the 70,000 people who have put their names forward for registration. This is a very difficult issue.

New Democrats want to take this issue to committee because we want to come to some kind of understanding of what has happened. That may be part of what can be done. I am not holding my breath over this because I saw the action on Bill C-15. The government made some changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act in the Northwest Territories which took away constitutionally protected parts of land claims agreements. That process is now going to court. The lesson that the government is learning is that it should take away the opportunity for first nations people to go to court over things that are inherently their right to do.

Land ownership is something that people have a right to in this country, and first nations, through their processes, have a right to land and resources. What is being said is that the government is going to arbitrarily determine who has a right to that land and resources through this membership process. If we told private citizens in Canada that we were arbitrarily going to determine whether they have a right to the land and resources that they think they do, I suspect that would not sell very well to Canadians.

Canadians understand that with heritage and the ownership of land through that process of one's ancestry, if it has not been legally taken away from them, they have some rights to it. This is something the government has to operate with carefully. It is taking a very strong step toward this limited liability, which is something it would never think of doing to multinational corporations that exist outside the country but is quite willing to do to the citizens of Canada.

This is an interesting proposition. We will take it to committee. We will have a chance to give it a good, thorough airing, I hope. With the Conservative majorities we have had, the committee has had a tendency to slow down accepting witnesses, The committees have been abysmal in their ability to open up to have the type of examination many of these issues take. I will once again give the instance of Bill C-15, where one day was given to the people of the Northwest Territories in Yellowknife to give their evidence in front of the committee.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Nine and a half hours.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Nine and a half hours. That was it. That speaks for itself in that regard.

Mr. Speaker, hopefully some better heads will come together over this in committee and the bill will be given a very thorough examination.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.


Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's speech. I am a little unclear, so I will ask this carefully. Does he think it is reasonable that 101,000 people would be members of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation? Does he think it is reasonable that 46,000 of them would be received in the last two months and that this should not raise alarm bells? Does he really think the people who submitted their applications during phase one should be subjected to a different criteria of evaluation than those whose applications were received during the second stage?

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, my reading of it is that certain people have been given membership in this Mi'kmaq first nation, and those 23,800, as indicated by the minister earlier in his conversation, will now be under some scrutiny to see whether that registration is appropriate. Those people will be judged.

I am very concerned about any change to any of the processes that go forward for the 23,800 who have already been registered, and of course for the other 45,000 people who have come forward or the 70,000. I am not sure of that final figure. I would like to see them judged in a fashion similar to the one for the first 23,800. That would be fair.

Quite clearly the process was not well thought out in the beginning, and because of that, we have ended up in this situation here today. What we have to take into account are the rights of the individuals involved. That is the primary order.

I reference my experience in the Northwest Territories with the membership lists and viewing the process they go through. I think of the time it took for bands with 500 members to ensure that their membership lists were correct and followed a correct order. This is a very large task in front of everyone to determine that with 100,000 people. There is no question about it. I just want to make sure that the rights of those 100,000 are respected and that the rights of the 23,800, which they entered into with the government when they applied and were accepted and who have made choices based on their acceptance, are also protected.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague to share his experience dealing with important first nations issues at committee and perhaps about the lack of time and focus important issues receive from the Conservative government.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, in many cases, for things that come forward to us in committee, there is a process whereby the time is limited and the choices people have to invite people to speak in front of the committee are constrained. Opposition parties are only given as many committee members as the government chooses, in relation to their seats in the House of Commons. Right there, simply through that process, the government holds an ability to limit the choices of witnesses that will be in front of the committee. Since the current majority government has come into place, we have seen that happen.

It is a game that is played at committee now. It is difficult. The government wants to move legislation through as quickly as possible, in many cases. Witnesses are assigned, as I say, per capita, according to the number of seats in the House. That is a very limiting factor.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to clarify whether his understanding is that there are really two issues at stake here. One is that a fair number of people actually disagree with the eligibility criteria, because they are not included in it for one reason or another. A criterion relates to people who have a direct and ongoing association with these particular communities. That is one question that is out there politically.

The second question is about the fairness of the process. Would the member agree that what is really necessary is to ensure that we have a fair and equitable process for all those who have applied, including those who were already previously accepted?

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, that is true. I completely agree with the member. There is one other issue, and that is if people's expectations, through the original process, were raised, and they actually changed their lives in any fashion or did something that would have put them at some degree of risk, or they relied on this for some part of their future activities and planned accordingly. That implies some degree of responsibility on the part of the government.

Courts are very good at deciding responsibility. That is our system. I do not like seeing that opportunity being taken away from people to make those choices.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, although I do not know if the hon. member heard it, I was clear in my speech that those 23,877 members who received status in the initial enrolment will continue to receive Indian status benefits until this process is completed and the appeals process has been exhausted. We are looking at late 2015.

These people have been receiving benefits. They will continue to receive benefits during this phase, even as a result of this bill. However, everyone is aware now and has been put on notice that there is a new process and that everyone will be evaluated again. That will give some time to those individuals. There is no cutting-off of benefits right now, which might be a concern of the member.

Also, clause 4, the legal clause in the bill about protecting the government, which the member talked about, would not prevent individuals from appealing the enrolment committee's determination, nor would this clause prevent court challenges to the agreement or to the exclusion from the schedule of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band order. This is a very limited clause that has been enacted in other pieces of legislation.

It was also part of Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act. It says that if people are determined not to be members of the Qalipu band, they do not have the right to seek compensation for that decision. They still have the right to the court process on the actual enrolment order. I want the member to be aware of that.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the parliamentary secretary repeated what he said. I did not really have a problem with anything he said.

I am talking about people who over the past five years have received notification that they have membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation. They may have moved to a different community. They may have reasserted their lifestyle as first nations. They may have bought houses or set up businesses. Those are the types of choices that have been made by these 23,800, and they will still be making these choices right up until the time somebody tells them they are no longer members. Until that time, they have to live their lives based on the fact that they have now been taken on as members of a first nation.

Those are the types of liabilities. I do not think the government has a right to take away from individuals the right to sue government for making mistakes that they suffer for directly.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-25, an act respecting the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band Order.

We in the NDP are concerned about the indemnification provisions in the bill and whether or not they will deny anyone the right to further action in being recognized as a member of the Qalipu first nation. I would like to refer to the work my colleagues the MPs for St. John's East and St. John's South—Mount Pearl have already undertaken on this important issue. They have raised problems with the original agreement in principle creating a landless Qalipu first nation where children removed from Mi'kmaq families and adopted out would seem to lose all rights to membership under the agreement.

We recognize that the agreement before us is a negotiated agreement with the first nation, but we are concerned that the Conservatives have once again rushed a process and, instead of providing certainty, they have created anxiety and concern among all people applying to be part of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation.

Since the Indian Act separated first nations into status Indians and those without status, determining the citizenship rights of any person to be part of a first nation has been a highly charged process. We in the NDP are only offering equivocal support to the bill because we have questions about its provisions, and as we know, we will only get those answers from witnesses at committee. We have made it very clear that we are concerned when it comes to two areas in particular. One is the membership criteria and the second is the fairness of the process.

Speaking to those points, I want to refer to some of the coverage that Bill C-25 has received from Mi'kmaq people in Newfoundland itself. I refer specifically to Mr. Hector Pearce of the Mi'kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland, which has real concerns about Bill C-25. He stated:

We are not shocked but we are very disappointed with the legislation. This government has put up so many roadblocks to this Qalipu registration process that nothing surprises us anymore.

Mr. Pearce goes on not just to express concern but to refer to possible actions that he and the Mi'kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland will be taking.

What we in the NDP have been saying on Bill C-25, and also on other bills that relate to first nations people, is that it is time for the government to learn from the wrongs of the past and recognize that in negotiating with first nations directly, which is a very important step, we must respect the importance of a fair membership process and a clear understanding that status membership has been an issue that has been very problematic for indigenous people in our country. I know from my constituency, many first nations people are proud of their status in their first nation and of their treaty rights, but they are very concerned about the continued existence of their nation, particularly with respect to how their children and their grandchildren will be considered under the Indian Act. We know that Bill C-31 created significant change. It allowed for fairness by recognizing the children of first nations women who had children with non-indigenous men. However, we know that, as people intermarry and as families grow across the country, there needs to be a continued understanding of Indian status and respect for Indian status of indigenous people coming down the line. This is something that has been raised by first nations leaders across the country.

I recognize that Newfoundland has a very different experience, in terms of its entry into Confederation later on and the recognition of first nations people, and has had a different trajectory from other parts of the country. However, that is no excuse not to learn that first nations must be partners at the table in making sure that something as important as membership, as status in their community, must be front and centre.

I also share the concern around the process. I realize that the Mi'kmaq first nation and its advocates have worked a long time with the federal government to seek recognition. I want to acknowledge that work, because I realize from first nations leaders in my part of the country how important and how tireless that work can be.

There is nothing more frustrating for first nation members, for first nation leaders and advocates, than a process that seems rushed and that seems not to have taken into consideration the kinds of key factors that should have been considered all along. I think of first nations in northern Manitoba that have struggled to ensure that their land claims are recognized and that their children and grandchildren down the line will be recognized as members of that first nation, as I mentioned.

Even though some first nations in my area had great success in having band membership recognized amongst future generations, the federal government has been slow in equipping those members with their treaty cards. I think of the Peguis first nation, the largest first nation in Manitoba. About 1,300 members of the Peguis band are still waiting for their treaty cards from the federal government.

The process matters to all Canadians. For first nations people who have worked far too long on an issue as important as this, it is of the utmost importance.

We have great hopes that this issue will be dealt with fairly in committee and that we will receive the kinds of answers we need, so we can make a decision accordingly. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has a pretty dark history when it comes to shepherding legislation on indigenous issues through committee. We only hope that the Conservatives will take this issue seriously when it gets to committee. We will certainly be doing the very same every step of the way.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The member for Churchill will have 10 minutes when the debate resumes for questions and comments.

It being 1:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

February 28th, 2014 / 1:25 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved that Bill C-208, 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 am proud to rise for the third time in the House to speak to Bill C-208, which would require Supreme Court justices to be bilingual so that they can respond to Canadian citizens.

Thirteen years ago, on February 28, two hours before I made a speech in the House of Commons about taxes on mechanics' tools, I was thinking that my grandson Jonathan, who was born two days later, might one day use these tools if he decided to become a mechanic.

Today, as I wish Jonathan a happy birthday, I hope that my other grandson and my granddaughter will be able to be heard in the official language of their choice, which is French, if they ever need to go to the Supreme Court.

Today, my New Democrat colleagues and I are back with my Bill C-208, which would make being bilingual in French and English a new condition for appointing justices to the Supreme Court of Canada.

This is my third attempt to get this initiative passed. In 2010, this bill, known at the time as Bill C-232, was passed by the House of Commons. To my great disappointment, the Conservative senators used their majority in the Senate to block the bill. The bill then died on the order paper when the 2011 election was called.

The Conservatives have repeatedly shown their contempt for official languages by appointing two unilingual anglophone justices to the Supreme Court and by appointing a unilingual auditor general.

The NDP thinks that there is another way to do things. The NDP is the only party that is proposing concrete measures to promote and protect our official languages. Thanks to the NDP, the House recently passed Bill C-419, which corrects the Conservatives' mistake by ensuring that officers of Parliament will now have to be bilingual when they are appointed. It is time for us to make understanding both official languages an essential condition of being appointed to the Supreme Court.

I would like to speak to the importance of this bill. This is a question of access to justice. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and it is very important that the justices be able to understand both official languages without the help of an interpreter. I have the utmost respect for the work of interpreters, but we know that interpretation has its limits. Numerous lawyers have noticed errors and omissions in the interpretation of their arguments before the Supreme Court.

I am thinking, in particular, about Michel Doucet, a law professor at the Université de Moncton, the former dean of the law faculty at the university and a language rights expert. He spoke to the issue when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages:

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.

There are many examples of questionable interpretation at the Supreme Court. A lawyer arguing his case before the court mentioned a Monsieur Saint-Coeur and the interpreter rendered it as “Mr. Five O'clock”. Even the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, has weighed in on the importance of understanding the arguments presented without the help of an intermediary.

In June 2009, he told members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights:

Given the complexity and the extreme importance of the cases heard by this court, judges should be able to hear arguments presented to them without using an interpreter to understand nuanced and complex legal arguments.

According to Sébastien Grammond, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, interpretation may lead to “loss of precision which, in some cases, can even involve the omission of certain sentences”.

This loss of precision can also be found in the documents submitted by the parties to the proceedings. These documents are not translated by the court. Unilingual judges must rely on the briefs prepared by court clerks, who are often young lawyers with little legal experience.

The presence of unilingual judges on the bench of the Supreme Court also poses a problem during closed-door deliberations without an interpreter. Francophone judges must always express their opinions, ideas and knowledge in their second language. Therefore, there is a risk that they will be much less precise.

If the justices can function in both official languages, everyone can work in the language of their choice. The bilingualism of judges is therefore a question of the equality of francophones and anglophones in terms of access to justice.

The bilingualism of Supreme Court justices ensures the equality of both official languages.

We have to remember that the Supreme Court has recognized the equality of French and English.

Laws are drafted in both official languages. Both versions have the same weight and neither one takes precedence over the other.

Our language duality is part of our Canadian identity. We have to embrace it.

Is there substantive equality when a francophone appears before the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court is not there to reward ambitious lawyers or judges. It is there to dispense justice for all Canadians.

Serving on the Supreme Court is not a right, but having fair access to justice is a right. Remember that the court is there to serve Canadians, not the interests of the judge.

The issue of requiring Supreme Court judges to be bilingual has been debated for several years.

I think it is wrong for francophones to have to make themselves understood by unilingual judges through the filter of interpretation, especially before the highest court in the land.

If Canada's two official languages are to be truly equal, it is important that bilingualism be an essential requirement when judges are appointed to the Supreme Court.

Lastly, my bill would ensure that the Supreme Court can serve all Canadians equally, whether their mother tongue is English or French.

The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, who is highly respected by all Canadians, has said several times that he supports requiring Supreme Court judges to be bilingual.

The Barreau du Québec has supported this bill for years now:

The Barreau has always believed that functional bilingualism should be among a Supreme Court judge's required skills in order to ensure equal access to justice, and it deplores that even today federal legislation has no provisions requiring that the nine Supreme Court judges be proficient in both official languages.

Many stakeholders in the official languages community support my bill, particularly the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne and its members:

The FCFA believes that all citizens have a right to be heard and understood before the highest court of Canada in their official language of choice, without the assistance of an interpreter.

Lastly, various linguistic rights experts have spoken out in favour of my bill, including Sébastien Grammond, Dean of Civil Law at the University of Ottawa, Gérard Lévesque, a very well-known lawyer for language rights, and Serge Rousselle and Michel Doucet, both law professors at the Université de Moncton.

Let me remind members that the NDP is the only party that proposes concrete measures to advance Canada's linguistic duality.

Bill C-419 on the mandatory bilingualism of officers of Parliament, introduced by my colleague, was passed by the House of Commons in 2013.

Let us not forget that the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre remained open thanks to the pressure that my NDP colleagues and I put on the Conservative government, which intended to close this centre, the only French-language marine rescue centre in Canada.

The Conservative government has not shown any respect toward our official languages. I want to remind the House that it is the Prime Minister who appointed two unilingual judges to the Supreme Court. It is also the Conservative government that appointed a unilingual Auditor General to Parliament. Even the minister responsible for official languages is not in favour of my bill. Her riding of Saint Boniface, in Manitoba, includes thousands of francophones. What an insult to that community.

I also want to remind the members opposite that this former bill, Bill C-232, was passed by the House of Commons in 2010.

All the Conservative members voted against that bill, even the members from Quebec and those who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the members for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and Madawaska—Restigouche. Despite the opposition of the Conservative members, Bill C-232 was passed by the House of Commons; however, the unelected Conservative senators, including a number of francophones, held up the bill until the 2011 election was called.

The majority of the members in the House of Commons, who were elected by Canadians, voted in favour of this bill, but the unelected senators defeated the bill. Do not try to tell me that the Senate stands up for linguistic minorities.

In closing, I ask the members of all the parties to support this bill so that it can move along and be considered at the Standing Committee of Justice and Human Rights. We must protect the equality of our two official languages and equal access to justice.

In particular, I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec and the members who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the members for Madawaska—Restigouche, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and Saint Boniface, to pressure their colleagues to support my bill, which seeks to ensure that the Supreme Court judges are bilingual.

If the Conservatives thought that bilingualism was necessary for becoming an officer of Parliament, then there is no reason why they should not do the same for the judges who sit on the benches of the highest court in the land.

The bill is a matter of justice and equality.

It is a matter of justice and equality.

Canadians have the right—it is more than just a privilege—to appear before a judge at the Federal Court of Canada and be heard and understood in the language of their choice. The same applies to the Federal Court of Appeal. It should also apply to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country.

I was at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights this week, and I asked officials from the Department of Justice whether there are enough bilingual judges in each province. If Canadians were to read the committee minutes, they would see that the response was yes. I then asked whether there are a lot of judges, and they said that there are enough.

I am waiting to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice tell us that the pool is not big enough, even though officials from his own department clearly told us in committee that it is a big pool. They told us that there are enough bilingual judges in every province.

I hope that the Conservatives will support my bill and bilingualism in Canada.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick


Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the hon. member's speech.

He said he heard in committee that there are plenty of bilingual judges in every Canadian province. We know that Supreme Court justices are selected on the basis of merit and legal excellence. The criteria used to assess them are knowledge of the law, judgment, work habits, ability to write and communicate, honesty, fairness, concern for fairness and social conscience.

I would like to know whether my hon. colleague has counted the number of bilingual judges in each province and whether he has assessed them against these criteria.

Simply being a bilingual judge does not necessarily mean that one meets all of the criteria and can sit on the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for his question.

Studies have been done, and the Commissioner of Official Languages, whom all Canadians respect, also ordered his own office to conduct a study. The pool of bilingual judges is large. That is why I asked a question during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during which the most senior Department of Justice officials confirmed that there were plenty. Anyone who wants to be a Federal Court judge has to fulfill the same criteria. There are criteria to be met. My Conservative colleague just talked about those criteria.

The pool of judges for the Supreme Court includes judges who are already in superior courts, which means they meet all of the criteria. It would never occur to me that the government, which appoints Supreme Court justices, does not abide by those criteria. Moreover, the Department of Justice says there are plenty. I asked the witness to repeat that two or three times because I could not believe my ears. This contradicts the Conservatives' argument. My colleague was at that meeting, so he knows the answers given by the Department of Justice.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

In spite of his spirited account of the role of the NDP in defending the rights of bilingualism in this country, I expect that he need not be reminded that this bill in its first instance had its genesis in the Liberal Party with the Hon. Denis Coderre.

My question is about process. Personally, I believe that the Supreme Court of Canada is important enough that the amendments proposed by this bill should be in a government bill and not a private member's bill.

It is not the member's fault that the government has not taken the initiative, but I would like to hear his opinion on that. Something as important as the Supreme Court of Canada should be handled by the government and not a member.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I really would not be jealous if the government introduced a bill requiring Supreme Court justices to be bilingual.

I agree with the member that it should be a government initiative, but I would like to repeat one thing. According to the bill introduced by Denis Coderre, who is now the mayor of Montreal, a francophone could be heard in French at the Supreme Court. The problem with Mr. Coderre's bill was that francophones would have been able to address only seven Supreme Court justices, whereas anglophones would have been able to address nine judges. That is why Denis Coderre withdrew his bill in favour of mine. With my bill, all Supreme Court justices must be bilingual.

My bill is clear. I am not asking that the current Supreme Court justices be shown the door. They were appointed to this position and can remain until they reach 75 or retire. The bill applies to future appointments.

I want Canadians to clearly understand that the bill is about future appointments of Supreme Court justices. It would solve a problem that should have been solved 25 years ago, when the Judges Act was passed.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick


Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the second reading of Bill C-208, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages), put forward by the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

The bill would amend the Supreme Court Act. It would introduce a new 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. Both linguistic communities are at the heart of our national identity.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting the development of its official languages minority communities. To that end, in June 2008 the government announced the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013, a government-wide commitment with a budget of $1.1 billion, based on two pillars: the participation of all in linguistic duality and the support of official languages minority communities in the priority sectors of justice, health, immigration, economic development, and arts and culture.

This initiative has been followed by the Roadmap for Canada's Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities, which provides a renewed investment of $1.1 billion over five years, with clear priorities to protect, celebrate, and strengthen our official languages across Canada. One of the road map initiatives under the education component is an investment in training, networks, and access to justice.

I first want to say that our government is strongly committed to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minorities in Canada and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society

I also want to assure the House that our government is committed to maintaining the tradition of excellence that is the hallmark of the judicial appointment process, so that Canadians continue to trust and respect our judicial system.

Canadians take pride in the judicial system and in the steps taken to ensure citizens have access to justice in either official language. The Supreme Court of Canada is a model of institutional bilingualism, which reflects the intent of Parliament that our national institutions be bilingual.

The government remains committed to preserving a fair, unbiased legal system. To that end, we intend to continue to be guided by the 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.

To date, our government has appointed 400 judges to various Canadian courts. We are proud of having appointed these highly competent judges and lawyers. Our appointments embody the principles of merit and legal excellence that will continue to guide our decisions in the appointment of judges.

Merit and legal excellence are the foundation of the judge appointment process. 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 another factor we consider. Our government can take candidates' linguistic abilities into account to ensure that Canadians have access to justice in both official languages. We are determined to create a federal legal system that provides equal access to justice in both official languages.

I would also like to point out that, before each appointment, we consult the chief justice of the court in question to find out the court's needs, including its need for specific language skills. The chief justice is in an ideal position to understand the needs of the communities the court serves and to identify specific needs when positions become available. Our government also listens to the advice of various expert groups and individuals about factors to consider when filling vacancies.

To ensure that we have an ample and balanced pool of bilingual candidates for the bench, our government asks associations of lawyers and francophone communities to identify and encourage people with the necessary skills to apply. We also ask them to inform the minister about these people.

We are not denying the importance of language skills, particularly when a specific need is identified. However, merit remains the primary and most important factor that must be taken into account in appointing judges.

First and foremost, our government is determined to appoint the best-qualified individuals. We will continue to appoint competent and dedicated people, and adhere to the principle of gender equality, cultural diversity and bilingualism.

The Supreme Court of Canada plays a fundamental role in our democratic society, in particular as the ultimate guardian of the values entrenched in the Constitution.

It is therefore essential for its members to be selected from among the most distinguished and most competent of jurists. That is why when filling vacancies in the court, we take great care to select the best candidates, both in terms of knowledge and experience and of social conscience.

The judges appointed to the Supreme Court for the past 130 years have been among the best justices the court could have had. The qualities we look for in a candidate include outstanding intellectual capacity, superior ability in judgment writing, the capacity for innovative thinking on emerging legal issues, and a demonstrated sensitivity to the diverse values enshrined in the Constitution. All these qualities go hand in hand with regional representation. It is important that the Supreme Court represent all Canadians. That is why we must take this important factor into consideration.

This is how Peter Hogg, a renowned constitutional scholar, described the professional and personal qualities that a Supreme Court of Canada justice must have:

A judge has to be able to resolve difficult legal issues, not just by virtue of technical legal skills, but also with wisdom, fairness, and compassion.

A judge must have the energy and discipline to diligently study the materials that are filed in every appeal.

A judge must be able to maintain an open mind on every appeal until he or she has read all of the pertinent material and heard from counsel on both sides.

A judge must always treat the counsel and the litigants who appear before him or her with patience and courtesy.

A judge must be able to write opinions that are well written and well reasoned.

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

Whereas the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in Canada, it is essential for our government to be able to select qualified jurists from all regions of the country when appointing justices to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Passing BIll C-208 would mean giving greater importance to linguistic considerations than to merit, by reducing the pool of otherwise highly qualified candidates, particularly from parts of the country where there may be fewer judges who are capable of handling cases in both official languages.

Indeed, the Supreme Court already respects the right of all Canadians to be heard and understood in the language of their choice. All Supreme Court services are provided in English and French, and all communication already takes place in both official languages.

In addition, anyone who has to make written submissions to the Supreme Court may do so in either English or French. A large majority of the judges currently sitting on the Supreme Court are proficient in both official languages and are perfectly capable of handling cases in either language without the use of simultaneous interpretation.

Supreme Court judges also have the option of taking language training; indeed, they are encouraged to do so. High-level and very high-quality translation and interpretation services are provided for Supreme Court hearings. Furthermore, all judges are supported by at least one bilingual law clerk.

The current composition requirements of the Supreme Court Act, together with the historical practice of regional representation, allow us to preserve our firm commitment to bilingualism.

The extraordinary expertise and commitment of the current Supreme Court judges clearly demonstrate just how seriously our government takes these appointments, as did previous governments.

Bilingualism is an important factor to consider in the selection of Supreme Court judges. However, this factor must not overshadow the merit and excellence of judges from a legal standpoint, or the importance of regional representation.

For all of those reasons I just mentioned, we cannot support Bill C-208 in its current form.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be able to speak to an important issue for Canada, namely its two official languages.

I believe that French is important. When I was elected for the first time, in 2011, I made a commitment to learn French for a number of reasons, the most compelling being that I felt it was important to be able to communicate with voters in their first language.

Charlottetown's Acadian community is flourishing, and the Carrefour de l'Isle-Saint-Jean is its cultural and educational heart. To be honest, I am quite eager to go back there for the annual Club Richelieu fundraiser tomorrow night.

Each week, when I am in Ottawa, I take an hour or two to learn French and practise. I do the same when I am at home, in Charlottetown. Learning the other official language has been very gratifying for me personally.

Prince Edward Island has a rich history in terms of French and Acadian language and culture, and we embrace it, knowing that Canada's linguistic duality is very important. It is not just a legal or constitutional matter. Promoting and understanding French can be a unifying force for us all.

Today we are talking about the role that the French language plays in the legal system. The bill introduced in the House is a legislative measure that, I can only assume, is driven by the member for Acadie—Bathurst's great sense of pride.

The hon. member is part of a different caucus, and that is not a criticism. I must say that I admire his passion and strong commitment to Canada's official languages as well as his dedication to ensuring institutional bilingualism in the courts. I hope he knows just how much respect members from both sides of the House have for him.

Let us move on to the bill. It would amend the Supreme Court of Canada Act and introduce a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter. Some members will recall that the idea of amending the Supreme Court of Canada Act has been proposed in the House of Commons a number of times in previous parliaments. That includes a similar bill that was introduced by our former colleague, the hon. Denis Coderre, who is now the mayor of Montreal.

I am in favour of second reading of this bill, despite some minor reservations that I will come back to in a moment. I also believe that my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville is in favour of this, which convinces me a little bit more that this bill deserves to be studied and to be given second reading.

I invite our Conservative colleagues to support this bill so that it can go to committee, where it will certainly have a full hearing. In this way we will be able to evaluate the merits and the flaws of the bill and give the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights the opportunity to hear from experts.

I would like to say that I am very reluctant to use a private member's bill to amend such an important law. I would like to explain.

The Criminal Code of Canada is a vitally important piece of legislation that plays a major role in the day-to-day lives of Canadians. I believe that it should not be tinkered with by a frustrated member who would like to score some political points in his riding and, even worse, against his leader. However, the Criminal Code, which is so important, has unfortunately been deformed by a series of private members' bills introduced by Conservative backbenchers.

The purpose of these bills is mainly to fundraise by making it seem as though the Conservatives are fighting crime, while deliberately ignoring the evidence and the hard facts.

For the Conservatives, the Criminal Code is just a tool for garnering donations from people who do not understand the evidence and the facts and are convinced that vengeance is the only form of justice. The frequent use of private members' bills to amend criminal law has made the Criminal Code somewhat incoherent.

It is wrong to tinker with the Criminal Code, unless of course the goal is to slowly and surreptitiously amend it, with the support of the Minister of Justice, who perhaps prefers to resort to private members' bills because, unlike other bills, they are not subject to the usual process for ensuring compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I say that because the Supreme Court of Canada Act is also a piece of legislation that should be considered of the utmost importance given how the Supreme Court influences all our institutions.

This is a concern I have in general with the use of a private member's bill for what should be in the bailiwick of a government acting in consultation and in agreement on matters of such great national importance.

These statutes should only be amended in circumstances that are of national significance and for which the implications are particularly meaningful to the whole of the country. Ideally, these types of changes should be driven by government, acting in a coordinated manner and in the national interest.

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst would surely agree with me that the constant tinkering with the Criminal Code, as an example, for purely partisan reasons is not the ideal.

I have similar concerns with respect to the Supreme Court of Canada Act. We should not, in normal circumstances, change such an important piece of legislation by means of a private member's bill. I say this knowing that one of my former colleagues, now the Mayor of Montreal, was one of the first to suggest changes to the Supreme Court of Canada Act that are now before the House.

We do not, however, operate in normal circumstances.

I do not believe that we have a government that acts consistently in the national interest, and I do not think that have a properly functioning democracy. We see this every day in the House, where Conservative members read scripts attacking others, heckle and shout at other members when they speak, and generally operate on the principle of division and negativity.

My assertion is merely confirmed with the their new unfair elections act, which is a transparent attempt by Conservatives to game the system for political advantage. We have, as Bob Rae rightly suggested, elected a motorcycle gang in Ottawa, a group that will do and say anything to win.

In normal times, when matters regarding the appointment of a Supreme Court justice arise, we would be assured that the process would unfold in a manner that was inclusive and meaningful. Canadians also expect matters related to the Supreme Court to be treated in a non-political way, and we expect appointments to be made to ensure a proper linguistic, gender, and regional balance as part of the process.

Again, these are not normal times.

We are reminded of the actions of the current Minister of Justice, who botched the appointment of Justice Nadon, an individual who was well respected and a capable jurist and who served on the Federal Court with honour. Justice Nadon endured public scrutiny and no doubt unwelcome attention simply because the current government mishandled the Supreme Court process.

Moreover, in order to fix the mishandling of the appointment of Justice Nadon, the Conservatives treated the Supreme Court of Canada Act with disdain, tacking on an amendment to the Supreme Court of Canada Act as part of a large budget omnibus bill. Such is the extent of the government's lack of respect for the court and for process.

This approach to the Supreme Court of Canada Act is completely at odds with how we should treat legislation of such significance. We should change the court's enabling legislation only when absolutely necessary, and not at the demand of a backbench MP, whether that person is from an opposition party or the government. That is my primary concern with the bill.

It relates not to the substance necessarily, but rather that we find ourselves with a government uninterested in dealing with the issue itself and to do so knowing that the issues around French language and linguistic duality are important and meaningful.

Let me close by again complimenting the member for Acadie—Bathurst for his effort. I hope that the hon. member will be open to answering some questions that I have on the substance of the bill when, hopefully, it makes its way to committee. That will require the Conservatives to do the right thing in the current context and allow the bill to go to a proper hearing.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a huge privilege to co-sponsor the bill introduced by my colleague and, I would even say, my friend, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, and to speak to it today.

This bill would require that all Supreme Court justices be bilingual, which goes to the very heart of our democracy. Equal access to justice for all is a fundamental aspect of democracy. To ensure that everyone, without exception, has equal access to justice, justices of the Supreme Court—the highest court in this country and the court of last resort—must be able to hear arguments and read documents associated with a case or the evidence without the help of interpreters or translators.

Let us be clear. I have the utmost admiration for interpreters. Listening to something and interpreting it has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. I have a particular fondness for translators, since I used to work in translation.

That said, even a translator would say that translation is the art of fudging. It is not an exact science. I have some real examples. Michel Doucet, a law professor at the Université de Moncton and an expert in language rights, argued a case before the Supreme Court. A few weeks later, by chance, he heard the arguments he had made in French being played in English on CPAC. Here is what he had to say about it:

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.

It is essentially a matter of principle. Canada's laws are not written in one language and then translated into the other. They are drafted at the same time in both official languages, and neither version takes precedence over the other. I think it is important for Supreme Court justices to be able to hear francophones in their own language, to read the law in that language and also to understand the tradition of civil law in Quebec.

We in the NDP are not the only ones saying so. The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, has said several times that he believes that Supreme Court judges should be bilingual. When he released his 2012-13 report, he stated:

There have also been a few outcomes during my tenure that I would characterize as conspicuous failures. For example, the government failed to see the importance of having bilingual Supreme Court judges. I have given my support to Bill C-232, which sought to amend the Supreme Court of Canada Act, as I firmly believe that any litigant appearing before the Supreme Court should have the right to be heard and understood by all the judges in either official language without the aid of an interpreter.

The Barreau du Québec has also repeatedly reiterated its support for the bill on bilingual judges:

Bilingualism...should be among a Supreme Court judge's required skills in order to ensure equal access to justice, and the Barreau du Québec’s position in this regard is categorical.

I mentioned Bill C-232 and said that the Barreau du Québec has repeatedly reiterated its support for the bill on bilingual Supreme Court judges because this is not the first time this subject has been discussed.

Indeed, in 2008, my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst introduced a similar bill, Bill C-232, which I mentioned a few moments ago, also calling for a bilingualism requirement for Supreme Court judges. This has been quite a battle. I did not have the honour of representing Laurier—Sainte-Marie at the time, when the Conservatives had a minority government. Finally, in 2010, despite the obstruction and opposition of Conservative members, including those from Quebec or ridings with large francophone populations, the bill passed. However, when it was sent to the Senate, the senators quashed it. I would like to make a very important point in passing in that regard.

Every time I hear that story or a similar one, it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart when democratically elected members vote in favour of a bill, then the Senate, whose members are appointed rather than democratically elected, has the gall to defeat the bill on purely partisan grounds, even though it deals with an issue as crucial as access to justice for all. This is fundamentally wrong and should not be allowed. It is yet another reason to abolish the Senate. The Senate is supposed to represent the regions, but how well did it represent Quebec and other regions where there are many francophones when it made that decision?

Finally, I would like to point out that this bill espouses the same logic as the bill on bilingualism for officers of Parliament put forward by my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent. I must say, in fact, that I take some pride in being a member of the only party that goes beyond empty rhetoric and takes concrete steps to better protect and promote our country's official languages.

Promoting and protecting official languages goes beyond the appointment of Supreme Court judges. If we send the message that people do not have to be bilingual to hold a senior position in the federal system, that being unilingual is perfectly all right, how does that encourage young Canadians to learn the other official language? Such a message would discourage, rather than encourage them.

What fate awaits that bill now, I do not know. The comments I have heard from the other side of the House have me very concerned. There have been other attempts to push for the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges. As my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst pointed out, if it does not work this time, we will make it work in 2015 when we form the government.