Archived - Notes for an address to the Board of Directors of the Canadian Bar Association during its annual legal conference
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Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, August 16, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this afternoon during your meeting.
Before I turn to the topic that I've come to talk to you about, let me take this opportunity to share with you the major findings of the study on access to justice that I released just this morning.
I know that access to justice is a priority for the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), as was demonstrated by your decision to name one of your past presidents, Guy Joubert, to the advisory committee that I established to help me conduct the study.
As you know, the study I conducted together with the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario and the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick deals with two topics directly related to the bilingual capacity of superior court judges: the judicial appointment process and the language training available to them.
First, the study sought to determine to what extent the judicial appointment process ensures an appropriate number of bilingual judges are appointed to superior courts. However, the purpose of the study was not to determine whether there is a shortage of bilingual judges.
The study does not deal with the bilingual capacity of the Supreme Court of Canada or the federal courts.
Lastly, the bilingual capacity of the judiciary is defined as the presence of an appropriate number of bilingual judges in superior courts. These judges must have the language skills needed to preside over hearings in the official language of the minority.
Our review of the situation found that the judicial appointment process does not guarantee the presence of an appropriate number of judges with the language skills required to respect the language rights of Canadians at all times.
This finding is based on three major observations: there is no objective analysis of needs in terms of access to superior courts in both official languages in the different districts and regions of the country.
There is no coordinated action on the part of the federal Minister of Justice, his provincial and territorial counterparts and the chief justices of superior courts to establish an objective process to determine the appropriate number of bilingual judges required to ensure an adequate bilingual capacity at all times.
The evaluation of superior court judicial candidates does not allow for an objective verification of their language skills.
In light of this finding and these observations, we recommend that the federal Minister of Justice establish, together with the attorneys general and the chief justices of superior courts of each province and territory, a memorandum of understanding to adopt a common definition of the level of language skills required of bilingual judges, and identify the appropriate number of bilingual judges.
We recommend that the federal Minister of Justice encourage the attorneys general of each province and territory to initiate a consultation process with the judiciary and the bar to take into consideration their point of view on the appropriate number of bilingual judges. French-speaking common law jurists' associations or the legal community of the linguistic minority population should be invited to participate in this process.
We also recommend that the federal Minister of Justice give the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs the mandate of implementing a process to systematically, independently and objectively evaluate the language skills of all candidates who identified the level of their language skills on their application form.
The CBA plays a very important role in developing Canadian public policy and legislation, and in the professional development of its 37,000 members. However, as a national organization with members from both of Canada's official language communities, the CBA also has a leadership role to play by fully reflecting the linguistic reality of its members.
In this regard, I would like to congratulate you on the work you are doing to incorporate linguistic duality into your legal conferences.
For example, I attended the CBA Legal Conference in Calgary in 2007 and in Dublin in 2009, and this year I attended the mid-winter meeting of your Council. At the mid-winter meeting, I was particularly impressed by the fact that some of the PowerPoint presentations were bilingual, and the small “I'm bilingual” stickers on delegates' badges.
How could the CBA do more to incorporate linguistic duality into planning and organizing its activities? One obvious solution would be to build on your successes.
However, since success is never achieved by chance, it might be useful to review the activity planning process. To what extent are bilingualism and the promotion of linguistic duality taken into consideration when planning an activity?
To help organizing committees take bilingualism and linguistic duality into account at the planning stage of activities or events, a guide or checklist can often prove useful.
For example, after the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, my office prepared a guide for organizing major sporting events in Canada. We have shared this guide with the organizing committees of the Pan Am Games and the Canada Games in Sherbrooke.
The guide contains some very practical suggestions that you could draw on if you decide to develop your own guide.
For activities that take place in both official languages, such as your annual legal conference where simultaneous interpretation is provided, it is important to make sure that certain presentations, such as those given during plenary sessions, are given in French. Otherwise, simultaneous interpretation may be pointless, since most of the Francophones who attend these events are bilingual.
Linguistic duality should also be reflected in ceremonies and cultural activities in a way that both language communities feel included. This calls for a careful selection of hosts and artists for these activities, which provide a good opportunity to showcase the culture and heritage of the Francophone community across the country.
My presence here today testifies to the important role I see for CBA leadership in Canada's legal community. Again, I would like to reiterate that the CBA can count on the support of my office and draw on our expertise if you require assistance.
Before I conclude I should mention the openness to official language matters demonstrated by John Hoyles and Marie-Josée Lapointe. I'm confident that, under Fred Headon's leadership, starting in a few days, the CBA will be making even greater efforts to promote linguistic duality.