Bilingualism isn’t something Senator Dan Lang will be ordering a la carte anytime soon.
After Bill C-232 was passed requiring justices of the Supreme Court to be bilingual, Lang spoke out against the bill.
“I just don’t think it’s right and I’m surprised it got through the House of Commons quite frankly,” he said of the legislation, which is currently before the Senate.
He worries this new requirement would prevent some of the best candidates from becoming justices because their language skills would be a determining factor.
“Approximately 40 to 50 per cent of the current talent pool within the legal community throughout Canada wouldn’t be eligible if this was to be put into effect,” he said. “Why would you narrow down the number of individuals that would be eligible?”
One of his primary concerns is rural Canadians would be put at a disadvantage because of the language programs in their schools.
“This applies to small-town Quebec where a student may not have an English program in their education program because of where they are and what’s being provided through the system.”
But the territory, considered one of Canada’s rural areas, is seeing more and more people becoming bilingual, said Regis St-Pierre, executive director of Yukon’s francophone association.
This is significant, he said, because it increases the territory’s pool of potential candidates.
He is in favour of the bill.
“Interpretation is the last resort system and I don’t think the federal court should be based on the last resort system,” said St-Pierre.
Canadians have the right to deal with the court in either of the official languages and it is especially important when dealing with emotions, he added.
But Lang said this bill takes away the right of the judges to speak in their first language.
“There’s a number of issues here. One is the constitutional rights that each and every Canadian has,” said Lang. “It takes away the right from the Canadian appointed to be a Supreme Court judge because you’re saying you have to be bilingual.”
If the justices are bilingual it is fine, Lang said, but he does not think it should be a requirement.
However, St-Pierre believes this is a step in the right direction.
“By stating that the institution itself, the federal court, should be bilingual; I think it’s a positive and forward way of thinking in our nation,” said St-Pierre.
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston