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Canadian lawyers oppose bill requiring Supreme Court justices to be bilingual

The Canadian Bar Association [official website] passed a resolution at its annual meeting Saturday opposing a federal bill [C-232 materials] that would require Supreme Court of Canada. [official website] justices to speak both French and English. The private member's bill recently passed the Canadian House of Commons by a slim majority and is now before the Senate [Edmonton Journal report]. Proponents of the bill argue that high court judges risk misunderstanding legal arguments by using translators and translation devices. Opponents argue that requiring bilingualism will cause otherwise qualified candidates for Canada's top tribunal to be overlooked and will place more importance on language than expertise and merits. The resolution, introduced by lawyers from mostly English-speaking western Canada, stated that bilingualism is something to consider, but should not prevent an individual from being appointed to the bench.

The bill, originally introduced by New Brunswick NDP MP Yvon Godin, has the most support in predominantly French-speaking Quebec. A similar measure was unsuccessfully introduced [Montreal Gazette report] by Liberal MP Denis Coderre in 1998. Earlier this year former Canadian Supreme Court Justice John Major spoke out publicly [Globe and Mail report] against the bill. According to Major, only two or three current justices on the nine-member national bench are sufficiently bilingual to hear cases without simultaneous translation.

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