Thursday, July 08, 2010

Plus ça change...

As some followers of our top court are doubtless aware, there is a bill currently making its way into the Senate, initiated by NDP member Yvon Godin, that would require bilingualism of our Supreme Court justices.

So, with that prelude, any guesses as to who said this:

“Competency in the law is, of course, a most important criterion for the appointment of persons to the Supreme Court, but surely in this day and age it should be possible for us in Canada to pick nine men who are not only good lawyers but who are also bilingual. If we cannot do this, or at least aim toward it, there must be something wrong with this country. I do not expect we could have nine bilingual judges overnight but certainly we could work toward this goal.”

Any idea?

Ok, it was a trick question. This particular quote is from Warren Allmand, the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grace, in 1969 in a debate in the House of Commons about bilingualism on the Supreme Court. The fact that he said "men" and not "individuals" should perhaps have tipped you off.

Overnight, over forty years, over another century perhaps...

Unfortunately, the vehemence of the debate about Godin's bill shows just how poorly certain aspects of Canada's official languages policy have been implemented. The emphasis of the policy has been on providing government and legal services in both official languages. However, in order to really do this effectively and efficiently, you need to have a good-sized cadre of bilingual people to staff these positions, at all levels of government and the legal system, and they need to come from all across the country. Until the resistance of Canadians to learning (or making sure that your children are effectively taught) both official languages starts to break down, these conflicts are going to continue to repeat history, and we'll keep hearing the refrain of "we're not ready yet, but perhaps sometime in the future..."

And now, back to my research notes, as I pore through decades of Hansard reading the parliamentary debates about official languages.

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