Open letter: Inclusion and respect for both official languages are not mutually exclusive notions
Gatineau, Quebec, June 2, 2021
Since the first Official Languages Act was passed in 1969, linguistic duality has been part of Canada’s national narrative. Our official languages form the foundation of our diverse and inclusive society.
Everyone who appears before the Supreme Court of Canada should be able to be understood by the justices in the official language of his or her choice, without the assistance of an interpreter. Fluency in English and French should be recognized as an essential skill for a position in our country’s highest court.
Thirty-five years ago, the Official Languages Act was amended to exempt the Supreme Court of Canada from the obligation for every judge who hears a case to be able to understand the language of proceedings without the assistance of an interpreter. Removing this exemption will ensure that all Canadians can be heard and understood in the official language of their choice before the highest court in the land.
Today we have law programs in both official languages that generate highly qualified lawyers, many of whom are bilingual and reflect the diversity of our country. We also have a continually growing number of bilingual judges in all provinces and territories.
I firmly believe that it is necessary for our country to have a more inclusive and diverse judiciary, including Indigenous judges. We must not forget that our official language minority communities are becoming increasingly diverse, and that inclusion and respect for both official languages are far from mutually exclusive notions and must not be regarded as such.
Making sure our federal institutions reflect Canada’s very diverse society is essential, but this must not be achieved at the expense of official languages.
Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada