by Harvey Oberfeld
February 21, 2021
It was a very unusual moment … especially for the bilingual-sensitive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Almost without fail, when Trudeau has held media briefings, he has delivered his announcements=du-jour in BOTH of Canada’s Official languages.
Friday he did not.
Speaking in French, Trudeau spoke at length about the importance of protecting and expanding the use of both Official languages across the country … and sang the praises of his government’s actions in particular at protecting/providing French services coast to coast.
And then he promised to go even further: make it a CONDITION that any judge considered for appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada will have to be fully bilingual.
Fascinatingly, Trudeau did NOT repeat his announcement of the planned MAJOR change to the appointment criteria for Canada’s top Court in English! Just en Francais!
At first glance, the idea may seem laudable, especially to a bilingual Quebecois-born and educated pundit like moi, who worked very hard to learn French at a time when les Anglos never did, and who has long supported provision of federal services in both languages partout le pays.
But there’s MUCH more involved here than meets the eye … or Trudeau’s attempt to boost his popularity in Quebec and among francophones. (Did someone say election?)
English-speaking Canadians, especially in Western Canada (Maritimes too), should be VERY concerned.
We’re not talking about being bilingual enough to order “deux chien chauds et un poutine, s’il vous plait”.
The Supreme Court often hears very complex legal arguments, including highly technical issues, patents, criminal cases, historic legal precepts and concepts and parliamentary precedents.
Until now, the Court has used expert certified simultaneous translators … so that the Court could be made up of some of Canada’s best LEGAL minds … not just judges whose strongest qualification might be expertise in both English AND French.
Trudeau’s new policy will disqualify almost EVERY judge in Western Canada from being appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada …. no matter how brilliant a legal mind or extensive experience he or she offers.
Think of how few judges in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan would be so proficient in French to hear/understand/rule on complex legal arguments in French???
Maybe that’s the Trudeau/Liberal plan? Limit the only possible selection to a few politically-correct, Liberal-leaning Vancouver/urban lawyers/judicial office holders.
Stack the Court by manipulating the pre-requisites!
Western Canadians should be alarmed.
Maybe that’s why he didn’t repeat his announcement in English?
This idea came up before …way back in 2009, with an NDP Private Member’s Bill I wrote about at the time: http://harveyoberfeld.ca/blog/ottawa-move-could-severely-limit-supreme-court-judges-from-west/.
The Liberals, in Opposition at the time, supported the NDP and the Bloc … but the Tory government under Stephen Harper, was able to fight it off.
The game … and the numbers … this time are different.
Trudeau/Liberals could push this through, even if the Conservative Opposition speak out and stand against it.
History has shown the modern federal NDP has NEVER stood up in Ottawa for BC or Western Canada against Quebec’s best interests (placing the hunt for seats over principles).
So they will no doubt support Trudeau/Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois in this latest move to control/reduce/restrict Western input on the federal scene.
Provincial Premiers, Legislatures, Law Societies of the West … and the people too … should stand up and speak out …
And maybe even make it a federal election issue.