In Touch - BillC-232

April 30, 2010
A Private Members Bill requiring all future Supreme Court Justices to be fully bilingual, enough that they will not require an interpreter while hearing complex legal cases in either language, recently passed Third Reading in the House of Commons.  If enacted, Bill C-232 would put an end to merit being the primary qualification for appointing Supreme Court Justices. 

Our highest court is made up of nine positions.  By law and historic practice, three judges are appointed from Quebec (with expertise in Quebec Civil Law), three from Ontario, one from Atlantic Canada, one from the Prairies, and one from British Columbia.  Currently, any Canadian lawyer or judge is eligible for a seat on the Supreme Court.  The key requirements are legal excellence and merit. 

The effect of Bill C-232 would be linguistic considerations overriding the central considerations of merit and competence in appointing Supreme Court Justices.  It would reduce the pool of otherwise highly-qualified candidates in some regions of the country where there are fewer lawyers and judges capable of hearing a case in both official languages without the assistance of an interpreter.

This bill would not just disenfranchise competent western Canadian lawyers and judges, but also unilingual French Canadians.  This bill creates a glass ceiling for the unilingual and those who are not ‘bilingual enough’.  While bilingualism remains an important consideration in the nomination process, it is not, and should not be an overriding factor in the appointment of judges to our highest court.  

Bilingualism in our Supreme Court has not previously been a controversial issue.  For several decades now all cases have been translated into French and English by some of the best translators in the world.  Former Supreme Court Justice John Major has said that language barriers never compromised the cases he dealt with while he was on the bench from 1992 to 2006.

Along with 136 other Conservative MPs, I voted against this bill, but it passed because all three opposition parties supported it.  Bill C-232 is now before the Senate and our hope is to stop the bill there.  The bill is currently at First Reading in the Senate, where the Conservative Party holds a plurality of the seats (51 Conservatives vs. 49 Liberals).  However, there are five independent Senators who could pass or kill this bill:  Senator Elaine McCoy, Senator Lowell Murray, Senator Michael Pitfield, Senator Jean-Claude Rivest, and Senator Ann Cools.

Concerned citizens who oppose this bill should contact these independent Senators and let your views be known to them.  Their votes will determine whether language ability will trump merit and competency in our Supreme Court.

Until next time. . .

Earl Dreeshen, MP
Red Deer