12 May 2010
Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak at second reading of Bill
C-232, which has to do with the linguistic qualifications of Supreme
I very much appreciated Senator Tardif's clear and inspirational
speech on equal rights in Canada. I also found Senator Carignan's speech
When Senator Carignan spoke yesterday, I imagined him as a lawyer,
pleading a case in French before the Supreme Court. Ironically, he might
not be understood at the Supreme Court, because some judges do not
This issue is interesting on two levels. The first is regarding the
administration of justice and the distressing number of candidates who
will have the legal and linguistic qualifications. The second is the
issue of the fundamental principles of an officially bilingual Canada.
These are two solid arguments, and they are important and valid. It
is clearly essential for Supreme Court judges to have very high
qualifications. Our fear is that there will not be enough candidates who
have these qualifications. In western Canada, specifically, there is a
feeling that there will not be enough lawyers who understand French.
However, the idea of judges who understand both official languages is
tied to the — perhaps less practical, but more important — principle of
We have made progress since 1969, when we declared Canada to be a
bilingual country. We can be proud of our progress. But we still have
work to do. We have to keep looking for ways to improve bilingualism.
The Supreme Court is an institution that is essential to our nation. Not
promoting bilingualism would be a serious mistake.
We need to do what leaders must always do: make a list of priority
issues, figure out which one is the most important and work on solving
the problems. I think we should give bilingualism precedence over
qualifications. I believe that fear of bilingualism will disappear once
it is clear that expectations have changed.
Yes, I realize that some lawyers and many law students will have to
learn a second language, and I know that is hard to do, as those of you
listening to me now can tell.
But Canadians are often called upon to defend and promote this
country's principles and values. I do not think it is too much to ask if
we want to achieve our greatest hopes for this country and its judges.
This is a question of fairness and justice for all Canadian citizens.
I should continue in French, perhaps, but I can express myself more
clearly if I switch to English.
It is a question of competing priorities. There are two legitimate
sides to this debate. You cannot always say that is the case. However,
in this case, I believe that we should prioritize the broader principle,
the principle that addresses the very nature, character and heart of
Canada and Canadians, and that is our bilingual and bicultural nation.
That is an essential quality of what we are as Canadians. It makes us
different in the world.
Of course, we must attend to the administration of justice and ensure
that we have the benefit possible jurists that we can find for the
Supreme Court of Canada. Some have raised a possible problem in that we
may not have enough lawyers who have full bilingual comprehension and
understanding. I am not convinced. That problem is within our power and
their power to fix. It is the same old argument. I think of 22 years ago
when courts were being restructured. The Supreme Court could not be
restructured because we would never be able to find the people. It is
the same argument that was made 40 years ago when this all started. We
would never be able to find the qualified people. You know what? We have
and we do.
It is certainly possible for jurists of the quality and level of
intelligence of candidates for the Supreme Court to learn a second
language and to learn it very well. That is the ultimate solution. If we
continue as we do, we get the worst of both possible worlds. The
ultimate solution is to adhere to the value, character and principle of
bilingualism, promote it and have lawyers learn how to speak French.
They will. They want to do it. Law faculties that want to become the
best in the country will begin to teach their students French so that
they, one day, can have people aspire to being jurists in the top court
in the land. I think the problem will quite readily and quickly begin to
take care of itself.
Why is it that we cannot think on the grander scale about this issue?
Why can we not think about how much Canada is and how much more Canada
can be? If we begin to take for granted principles like bilingualism,
which is at the heart of who we are, those principles can slip away. We
should always be trying to find occasions, cases and ways to promote
them. This proposal is a perfect way to promote that important
principle. It is symbolic, yes, because it says to all Canadians that
bilingualism matters deeply to us. It is also important because it will
assist us ultimately in delivering justice even more effectively because
we will have people who can speak both languages. I do not think that
is too much to ask from Canadians. We ask all kinds of things of
Canadians. I think of the sacrifices, effort, work and commitment that
have gone into building this country to the state and level that it is
today. We can certainly ask lawyers in this country to learn French or
English so that they can work in the highest court in the land in both
official languages. I do not think it is too much to ask at all. It is
an easy vote, and I am voting yes for this bill.
I am from Alberta, from the West. I love Alberta deeply. I love the
West. I have felt there have been times when it needed to be listened to
and understood better. I also know that Quebec and francophones outside
of Quebec have made this country special. They are one of the reasons
this country is special. There are many reasons, but they are a
particularly important one. They have made us different than the United
States. That has been very important for what we are as a country and
how we define ourselves as different from the United States.
Francophones have made us multicultural and, because we value that
culture so much, we have had to pay recognition to other cultures. When
people from around the world view Canada, do you know what they see?
They see a multicultural, bilingual nation they aspire to emulate.
People all around this world do so because of our tolerance,
understanding, acceptance and the way we live together.
This bill can be one more powerful step in ascending that staircase
to what can be the best, most perfect country in the world.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear! Hear!