Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and address Bill C-203. I understand that the government is going to be opposing the bill, which means it will likely pass, given tonight's precedent. Nonetheless, I will be speaking against the bill. I have a number of concerns about the bill that I would like to discuss, and I will go through them one by one.
First, I do not see the necessity of this legislation. Of course, it is desirable to have Supreme Court judges and public officials who can speak in both official languages, but in places like the House of Commons, the Supreme Court, and elsewhere, we do have access to translation. This ensures that whatever arguments are being made can be heard and responded to and that those who are participating in those discussions can hear as well. We have not heard complaints about things that are happening at the court, given the availability of these kinds of facilities.
It is not clear to me what problem the bill seeks to solve. Again, in this age, with the availability of the technology for that, it is not necessary to impose this additional requirement. However, as I will discuss, I think there are some definite downsides associated with the imposition of those requirements.
Right out of the gate, I do not see the argument for the necessity of the bill, in part because of the availability of translation and also because there is certainly an availability of training and intensive training. I think it would be important and valuable for those who are appointed to the court, as well as members of Parliament, to take the opportunities that are available to improve our proficiency in the language that we may not have grown up with. Many of my colleagues take advantage of the opportunities to learn French while we are here. There are many members of Parliament who may come here not knowing another language at all but after a few years are very proficient in it.
I speak a little French and I believe that I have improved my French in the year that I have been an MP. Obviously, it is not perfect, but it is good to have an opportunity to speak French in this place. It is the same for the court. There are opportunities for judges to practice and improve their language skills by putting them to use.
Given those opportunities and given the availability of translation, I do not see the necessity to introduce this additional requirement. There are some real practical problems with it.
Of course, it is no secret that the use of language varies widely, depending on where we are. There are some regions of the country which are more bilingual. There are other regions of the country where there may be languages other than French or English that we hear used quite commonly and more commonly than one of Canada's official languages. I come from the province of Alberta. There is a great deal of use of other languages other than English and French, and that is part of our history of having settlement by people from all over the world.
There might be a person who had mastered a number of languages, who had not yet mastered French but was open to learning it, who was an appropriate person to be appointed. This provision would prevent that person from being appointed as a Supreme Court judge.
If there were a vast pool of available people, and we were excluding a few of them on the basis of this requirement, that would be one thing. However, the reality is that from some regions of the country, there would not be a very large pool of people available who would also meet the other kinds of requirements that we would like to see from a Supreme Court judge.
We would really be narrowing that pool and forcing the government to make an appointment. Putting that emphasis on language would make it much more difficult to weigh out a full range of other criteria. Perhaps proficiency in both languages should be part of that criteria, but it should not be a deal breaking criteria that would prevent the appointment of the most eminent legal scholar who was also prepared to undertake the necessary studies after appointment in order to improve his or her knowledge of a different language.
I just do not think that would make sense. What, after all, are we aiming for? We are aiming for an effective justice system, the best possible judges, and certainly that to exist in an environment where discourse can occur in both languages. That can be facilitated through translation. However, this requirement really limits the ability to appoint the person any particular government may view as the best applicant, the most appropriate applicant to put in place.
There is another point I want to make around this as we consider the weighing of different criteria, which is that inadvertently the ability to create a more diverse Supreme Court may be restricted through this legislation. When we are talking about diversity, there is a range of different criteria that might be looked at. If we are looking to have a more ethnically, culturally, and regionally diverse Supreme Court, there might be a very strong applicant who had been an immigrant or who had studied what was for them the language of their parents or grandparents, or had focused their efforts on learning other languages that were perhaps more likely to be used in the region in which they find themselves.
To exclude that kind of a person from a Supreme Court appointment on the basis of this criteria actually limits the diversity of our court. It actually means that we could not have a person who had that kind of experience. That is not to say there are not people who come from the full range of possible countries to this country who do become bilingual, but it is a matter of how this bill effectively narrows the pool. It means choosing from a much smaller group of available applicants, which makes it that much more difficult to look for that kind of diversity that I think a lot of people here would like to see reflected on our court.
Again, this just speaks to different regional realities. In Vancouver, we are probably much more likely to hear Cantonese or Mandarin spoken than to hear French spoken, although of course there are French speakers there. That reality varies depending on where we are in the country. While there may be a great deal of available people who are appropriate to a point and who are bilingual, in some regions of the country, we are looking at a much smaller pool of people where French is less likely to be used.
Certainly, it is important that we encourage the use of both official languages, that we encourage people to learn both official languages, if they are able to. I think my daughter Gianna is watching, and we are already trying to teach her French, even though she is only four, and she is doing a great job, but this is not necessarily reflective of everybody's experience, that everybody has had the opportunity to learn to speak both official languages.
I congratulate the member on bringing this bill forward, but I have to be frank about these concerns that we need to think about as we proceed with this discussion. The reality, again, that we have the availability of translation, that it is certainly possible to have the discourse proceed, as it proceeds in this House, with translation, and as well the availability of training opportunities makes it easier for judges to learn French or English, whatever language they may be less proficient in after their appointment. These opportunities exist. Certainly, members of Parliament take advantage of them, and judges can take advantage of them and I am sure do, as well.
Also, the limiting of the pool of available appointees that comes with this proposal is particularly concerning. It raises significant questions in specific regions of the country where there just may not be that many people available to appoint who have the kinds of qualifications we want to see and also meet the language test that this bill would establish.
Those are some concerns I have. I look forward to following the rest of the debate.