Be understood by the judge in his official language: the Supreme Court will have to rule

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&Be understood by the judge in his official language: the Supreme Court will have to decide

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case of the Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest in 2023.

The right to be heard and understood by a judge, in French or in English, without the aid of an interpreter, is at the heart of the concerns of several groups who want to intervene in the case between the Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord -Ouest (CSFTNO) to the territory's Ministry of Education, which will be heard by the Supreme Court in 2023.

For the first time in 36 years, the Supreme Court will consider this issue, which stakeholders say is harmful to Francophone minority communities.

In CSFTNO's brief filed at the Supreme Court at the end of August, two issues are presented. The first is that of the interpretation of section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the admission of students of parents who do not have an explicit right to education in the language of the official minority.

The second is that of the right to be heard and understood in French in the courts established by Parliament, which, according to the appellants' argument, includes the courts of the three territories.

In a 1986 Supreme Court decision in the Société des Acadiens case, judges determined that the right to use English or French in court does not; did not include the right to be understood, a decision that surprised at the time.

The Fédération des associations des juristes d'expression française de common law (FAJEF) is among those hoping to obtain the right to intervene on this issue before the Supreme Court. Its managing director, lawyer Rénald Rémillard, believes that it is time to correct this mistake.

“There's never been a clear cut decision that overturns that 1986 decision. And then, all of a sudden, we have a case coming to us from the NWT, and that's why several groups and associations want to intervene […], because it is an opportunity to clarify the law. »

— Rénald Rémillard, General Manager, FAJEF

Me Rémillard even remembers having studied this 1986 decision during his law studies in Moncton. Personally, it seemed a bit odd to say that we have the right to use French in court, but that we do not have the right to be understood directly without the help of interpretation. . Interpretation is plan B, not plan A!

When the CSFTNO case on the admission of non-rights holders was heard in court Appeal Board, interpretation was used as two of the three judges were unable to understand French.

According to the school board's brief, the CSFTNO prosecutor had to adjust his delivery for the purposes of the interpretation. Despite the appellants' attorney's efforts to slow down, repeat and stick to the basics, the interpreter articulated poorly and failed to interpret so many sentences that the interpretation was incomprehensible. memory.

Lawyer Roger Lepage, who represented the Fédération franco-ténoise (FFT) in the 1990s in a case opposing the FFT to the government of the N.W.T. to plead using the services of an interpreter several times during his career.

“It's a disaster, because it changes your approach to advocacy, because you know the people you have to convince don't understand you in your language. »

— Roger Lepage, lawyer

Lawyer Roger Lepage hopes that the Supreme Court of Canada will rule in favor of the right of each person who wants to plead in French to be understood directly by the judge, without an interpreter (archives).

Lawyer François Larocque, who also filed a motion to intervene in this case, explains that the judges of the Supreme Court had defined language rights as not being part of of the great family of human rights during their judgment of 1986.

“The Société des Acadiens judgment of 1986 is based on an error. Language rights are human rights in the same way as all other rights. »

— François Larocque, research holder of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights and Issues

François Larocque explains that, in 1999, in the judgment< em> Reine v Beaulac, Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache had essentially written that the Société des Acadiensshould be discarded because it advocates a restrictive approach to language rights.

Lawyer François Larocque, research holder of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights and Issues at the University of Ottawa, hopes to be able to intervene in the case of the Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, which will be heard by the Supreme Court in 2023.

It's very rare, it's phenomenal. It is rare for the Supreme Court to reverse and reject one of its own precedents, explains François Larocque. [Judge Bastarache] is basically saying, "We made a mistake."

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the National Commission of Francophone Parents and the National Federation of Francophone School Boards are among the organizations hoping to intervene in the CSFTNO case before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will publish the list of selected interveners in the coming weeks.

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