Madam Speaker, I humbly admit that having the opportunity to speak to such an important bill is truly an honour.
However, when we do so many times, we have to wonder if there isn't something seriously wrong with this country. I will always remember the first responsibility given me by the late Jack Layton when I was first elected, and that was official languages. I was from Quebec, and I tapped into all the energy and motivation of francophones living in minority communities across Canada to defend their rights. French is relatively well established, although we still worry it may not be secure enough. I then discovered a double standard against which I have always wanted to fight.
I will seize this opportunity to acknowledge the work of my colleague from Drummond, who will continue the fight led by Yvon Godin, the former member for Acadie—Bathurst, for 17 years in the House, if memory serves. The member for Drummond is working to ensure that this bill finally passes.
The NDP has always led this fight. I do not hesitate to call it a fight, because after so many failed attempts to appeal to common sense, we need to make it a real fight so that both official languages of this country get the respect they deserve. The NDP has introduced no fewer than three other bills before this one to include the understanding of both official languages as part of the selection criteria for judges in the Supreme Court Act.
I would like to express my own personal opinion. This proposal falls short of my personal expectations. I believe that, for a position as critical to Canadian democracy and our justice system, no less, much more than simple understanding is required. I believe that the standard should be perfect bilingualism.
Let us say, however, that if every Supreme Court judge could hear arguments with all their subtleties, that would already be a great start; three bills later, however, and still no consensus. In 2008 and 2010, the bills died on the Order Paper when an election was called. Some might say that this was fate, although we know that elections are sometimes called specifically so that certain bills will die on the Order Paper, but I am not here to judge this evening.
In 2014, however, it was the Conservatives who did not see the merits of this bill and who simply rejected it. Let us hope that this time everyone will end up seeing the light.
Bill C-203 is nothing less than a matter of respect because behind the language is the people who speak it, people across Canada who live in a minority situation, except in Quebec, as I was saying. Needless to say, requiring a judge to understand both official languages means requiring knowledge of French.
Could we find a francophone judge who does not understand English? Good luck. The question answers itself.
Just imagine an anglophone having to defend themself before a Supreme Court whose justices are for the most part unilingual francophone. Then people would understand the struggles francophones in this country face when they appear before the Supreme Court.
Some will say that there is simultaneous interpretation. That is true. We have experience with that type of interpretation in the House of Commons and in committee on almost a daily basis. In fact, allow me to take this opportunity to emphasize the quality of the services provided in the House and in the various committees.
However, we can also attest to the limits of this practice when it comes to getting across the subtleties of French or English. Sometimes we complain about a poorly translated book that does not at all reflect the subtleties of the original. We say that the translation was bad and that the book was much better in the original language. A translator translating a book has time on their side. Our interpreters work in real time.
It is not unusual for members of the House to use common expressions in either of the two official languages just to see how the interpreters will render their remarks. It is done in a joking way. It is nothing serious, but it allows us to see the commonalities between expressions in both official languages.
However, when it comes to the highest court in the country, I think that the time for joking is past. Although the things we talk about here are important, there is not the same sense of finality as there is with an appeal to the Supreme Court, which, it is important to remember, is the final court of appeal in Canada.
When the Supreme Court renders a unanimous decision, nine judges to zero, regardless of whether it is in favour of the appellant or not, it is clear that translation was not a problem and that everyone had the same understanding of the events in question.
However, let us now imagine that a decision is rendered with five judges to four. If five judges ruled against the defendant and he felt as though he was not heard and understood in his mother tongue, that is a major problem. French is one of the two official languages, not the second official language. Both official languages are equal.
What is more, Canada's legal system is bijural, which means that each law is written in both official languages, and each version has its own separate context. Laws are not written in one official language and then translated into the other. The French and English versions are drafted side by side, the drafter drawing on the strengths of each language.
Given that the principle of bilingualism was recognized and imposed on officers of the House of Commons, thanks to the hard work of former NDP member Alexandrine Latendresse, it seems to me, and with good reason, that the House lacks conviction and is being inconsistent by not adopting that same principle for judges in the highest court of Canada.
Let us hope that, this time, we will all speak with one voice and recognize that we have been slow to act and that it is high time this problem was solved.
I just want to say that times sure have changed. Gone are the days when we made a point of highlighting bilingualism in our résumés to stand out from the crowd. In Canada, speaking two languages is a basic skill. Most employers agree that, when they are going over résumés to find the best candidate, they know that speaking multiple languages is an asset. Employers ask candidates which languages they speak in addition to English and French. That is an asset. Being bilingual in Canada is a basic skill.
Bilingualism is now a basic tool for everyone. Being multilingual is still special, and there is a growing demand for people who speak several languages. Claims that it might be impossible to find competent bilingual judges in certain provinces and territories do not hold water. The way I see it, that claim never did hold water because bilingualism is an essential qualification for Supreme Court jobs.
How many jobs have I myself dreamed of having one day but given up on because I did not have the necessary skills or the desire to work hard to acquire those skills? Anyone who dreams of capping their law career with a seat on the Supreme Court bench has to realize that this skill is now indispensable in Canada.
In closing, I would like to once again thank the member for Drummond for keeping up the fight.