26 September 2015

#56 Just One Official Language for Judges?

Appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada have not generally been the partisan circus that they have been in the looming country to the south of us. With so many declarations of invalidity of their legislation, however, it would be hard to think that the outgoing government wouldn’t want to bend the court a little to have less trouble in the implementing of its agenda.

There are some powerful forces out there, however, that wouldn’t put up with a radical departure from the nomination procedure of the past. All of these — bar associations and provincial Ministers of Justice, for example — still need to be consulted and generally to not object to the candidates. In any case, the judges being appointed without a defined end of term tends to lead them to focus on the legal aspects of what they are doing and not a political agenda. A judge appointed by a conservative-leaning government can sometimes surprise with the decisions he or she makes.

It is a bit of a gaffe, however, to appoint a unilingual judge to the highest court, someone who will be dependent on a translator’s interpretation of what is being said, the tone and all. Mr. Justice Moldaver doesn’t arrive without credentials, of course, and would hardly have made it through the rest of the consultation process if he had. The language thing, though, is a problem.

For all of the objections I have had about this government, the thing that it tended to do well, at least on the partisan side, was to make an equal space for French. The Prime Minister usually starts his government speeches in French, as do several of the ministers. There are ministers whose language skills do not extend to the “other” official language, but those who have even a basic grasp always give it a try. Not that any of this made the content of what they were saying more palatable, mind you. So I don’t get this unilingual appointment to the court, unless something else, like his marked disdain for “frivolous” Charter challenges maybe, was a bigger consideration.

I’m trying to figure out, however, if they would ever have dared — or gotten away with — appointing a judge whose only language was French.

Further reading here

Oui, monsieur le juge
je comprends qu’il faut attendre
que l’interprète parle

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