Promote and protect official languages

  • August 30, 2023

The French Speaking Common Law Members Section of the Canadian Bar Association is reiterating past concerns and adding new suggestions to improve Bill C-13, An Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages. The concerns expressed in the letter, addressed to the Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, are summarized below.

The Section is pleased to see that Bill C-13 makes the role of the Treasury Board stronger by turning its discretionary powers into obligations. However, responsibility for the Official Languages Act should remain solely with the Treasury Board, not shared with the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The CBA reiterates its position that access to justice in French should be guaranteed in the area of bankruptcy and insolvency, as one of the “mixed” regimes in Canadian law along with criminal law and divorce. In the latter two areas access to justice in French is guaranteed throughout Canada, but not in bankruptcy and insolvency. “Since dispute resolution bodies under the legal regime in question fall constitutionally under federal jurisdiction,” the letter reads, “it is essential that they should be capable of functioning in both official languages throughout Canada, in accordance with subsections 16(1), 19(1) and 20(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

In addition, the CBA Section asks that the government commit to legislating a new “mandatory and rigorous assessment of the linguistic abilities of candidates interested in becoming trial judges or appellate court judges who have chosen to identify the level of their language skills on their application form.”

Noting once again that the majority of the country’s constitutional texts only have force of law in English, the CBA Section again urges the government to adopt an official French version of Canada’s constitutional texts, in accordance with Section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The letter expresses disappointment that Bill C-13 fails to address this oversight.

As well, Bill C-13 does not clarify the criteria for federal courts’ obligation to publish decisions in both official languages. “The CBA Section must therefore reiterate that, just like its predecessor, section 12 of Bill C-13, which amends section 20 of the OLA, is still not clear enough and is likely to weaken the status of French in federal courts.”