Archived - Speaking notes for the Laskin Moot Court Competition
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Ottawa, February 19, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you for inviting me to this event, which wraps up the 2011 Laskin Moot Court Competition. I have always had a soft spot for the Laskin Moot because of its bilingual and bijural nature, and also because it fosters dialogue among legal scholars from Canada’s two official language communities.
The Laskin Moot is one of several competitions open to law students, but here they face an additional challenge: they must write their factum and deliver their oral argument in their second language. This year, I am once again impressed at the sheer number of law faculties (17 to be exact) across Canada that answered the call and sent us their bilingual teams of litigators.
I would therefore like to congratulate you for choosing to take part in this competition. You have shown that it is possible, through teamwork, to present convincing arguments in both official languages, while proudly wearing your Canadian identity. I also wish to highlight the courage of the students who volunteered to present their arguments in their second language.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the professors and lawyers for their expertise, and thank them for their support and for making themselves available to such a great extent. I hope that this has been a memorable event for all of you both from a legal perspective and in terms of your identity.
The Laskin Moot Court Competition also confirms the important role that Canadian law faculties can and must play in promoting knowledge of both official languages and advancing their use within their programs.
You are probably well aware that I am an avid proponent of access to justice in both official languages. Despite all the progress of the last 40 years, numerous barriers still need to be broken. Whether it is the shortage of clerks, lawyers and prothonotaries, or the bilingualism of our judges, we still have a lot of work to do. That is why I support Bill C-232, which is meant to promote bilingualism among Supreme Court judges, and which is now in the hands of the Senate.
My stance on the issue is clear: I firmly believe that, for an institution as important as the Supreme Court of Canada, it is imperative that its judges not only possess exceptional legal expertise, but also reflect our Canadian values and identity as a bilingual and bijural nation. Lawyers and judges who aspire to sit on the bench of the highest court in the land must therefore have sufficient knowledge of both official languages to lead proceedings or appeals without resorting to an interpreter; it is a question of justice and equality.
If Parliament were to pass this bill, it would send a powerful message not only to legal practitioners, but also to Canada’s law students: fluency in both official languages is a prerequisite to achieve the highest and most prestigious ranks of the Canadian judiciary.
The dean of a law faculty in Windsor, Ontario, admitted that, whether or not it is passed, this bill has been a wake-up call. In other words, he became aware of the responsibility law faculties have. They must prepare the next generation of legal practitioners to work in a justice system in which people have the right to be heard in their official language of choice.
In 2009, my office conducted a study of second-language learning opportunities in Canadian universities. We have found that, overall, students have ready access to “regular” second-language courses and programs, but that they have relatively few opportunities for intensive learning: for example, taking some of their program courses in their second language.
Only a very small number of courses in a very limited range of subjects are offered in the second language—and law faculties are no exception. In my opinion, all law faculties can offer their students, at various levels and in various ways, a chance to learn their second language. For instance, law students at the University of Manitoba can take courses in French legal terminology offered by the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface as part of a collaborative agreement.
The University of Western Ontario offers a Diplôme de Français Juridique for students with limited French who want to attain written and oral fluency for professional reasons.
The University of Ottawa and the Université de Moncton offer a common law program in French, while McGill University offers a joint civil and common law program.
The McGill program is bilingual. While practical considerations prevent every course from being taught in both languages, all required courses are. Students are assigned readings, including cases and doctrine, in both languages regardless of the primary language of instruction.
Both English- and French-language law faculties could also give students more opportunities to be exposed to their second language by further exploring possibilities for collaboration. Many Canadian universities offer exchange programs with other countries or work together with them, but opportunities for exchanges between Canadian universities are few and far between.
In closing, I would like to applaud the Laskin Moot organizing committee and the volunteers for their hard work over the last few months and for making this year’s event a success.
I would like to thank Ron Caza for his exemplary leadership and especially for his initiative in giving more than 100 high school students from the Ottawa-Gatineau region a chance to attend the various Moot sessions.
And lastly, on your behalf, I would like to congratulate Fred Headon, Brian Pel and Tim Moseley who, for the past 20 years, have encouraged lawyers and judges to be a part of the Laskin experience and who impart the passion of its founders, Jeremy Oliver and Graham Henderson.
Good luck at the awards ceremony!