A judge suspends two articles of Quebec’s new language law, citing access to justice

MONTREAL — Quebec’s new language law suffered its first defeat Friday, as a judge temporarily suspended a provision requiring English court documents to be translated into French.

MONTREAL — Quebec’s new language law suffered its first defeat Friday, as a judge temporarily suspended a provision requiring English court documents to be translated into French.

Sections of Bill 96 that require companies to pay a certified translator to produce French versions of legal documents could prevent some English-speaking organizations from accessing justice, said Quebec Superior Court Judge Chantal Corriveau.

Corriveau sided with a group of lawyers who argued that the translation requirement violates sections of the Constitution Act, 1867 that guarantee access to courts in both official languages. In a written judgment released Friday, Corriveau said the rule could cause delays and costs that could particularly hurt small and medium-sized businesses.

“The evidence demonstrates a serious risk that, in these cases, certain legal persons will not be able to assert their rights before the courts in a timely manner, or will be forced to do so in a language other than the official language they and their attorneys best understand and identify as their own,” she wrote.

The judge ordered that both articles be stayed until the case can be heard on the merits, likely in November.

According to the legal challenge, the group of lawyers claims that there are a limited number of certified legal translators, especially in certain regions, and that their services cost between $0.20 and $0.40 per word. Members of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake filed statements in court indicating that they were one of many groups that would be negatively affected by the law.

Lawyers representing the Attorney General of Quebec pushed back against the idea that there are not enough translators or that the requirement creates barriers to access to justice.

Élisabeth Gosselin, spokesperson for Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, said in an email response to the ruling on Friday: “It should be noted that the provisions in this case are intended to promote greater access to justice in the official and common language, French.

“The government is strongly committed to defending this fundamental right. We will not comment further at this time.”

Corriveau agreed that the lawyers have raised valid questions about obstacles to justice, particularly in urgent cases that “may require prompt intervention in court to avoid irreparable harm.”

Felix-Antoine Doyon, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients believe in the need to protect the French language but believe the government has gone “very far” with certain provisions of Law 96.

“We must protect French but we must also protect access to justice, and we must remember that in a civilized society, justice is there for the people, and for legal persons too,” he said. stated in a telephone interview. adding that he expected to be ready to argue the case on the merits in November.

Doyon noted that his challenge concerns only a very small part of the law, and he cautioned against drawing broader conclusions about what the ruling might mean for other challenges to the legislation. Doyon and the other lawyers are among several groups that are legally challenging Bill 96, which aims to strengthen the use of French through updated language regulations that affect businesses, junior colleges, immigration and courts.

Earlier this week, lawyers for the Conseil de la magistrature du Québec — Conseil de la magistrature du Québec — and three senior judges of the Provincial Court, including Chief Justice Lucie Rondeau, filed an action to set aside parts of the law allowing the Minister of Justice to decide which judicial assignments require knowledge of English. These sections of Bill 96 violate the Constitution Act, 1867, the lawyers said.

Among the contested provisions of Bill 96, there is one that obliges the Minister of Justice to take “all reasonable means” to avoid requiring judges to know a language other than French. These provisions, according to the Conseil de la magistrature du Québec, “undermine judicial independence, language rights and the fundamental right of litigants to access justice”.

In February, a Superior Court judge ruled that Jolin-Barrette had no authority to decide which judicial positions require knowledge of English. The government did not appeal this decision, but instead amended Bill 96 to give the minister more power over the language requirements of judicial positions.

Gosselin said Bill 96 reflects the will of Quebecers. “Not mastering a language other than the official and common language should not automatically be an obstacle to becoming a judge in Quebec,” she wrote.

The law, which passed earlier this year, also proactively invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to shield it from Charter challenges.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 12, 2023.

— With files from Jacob Serebrin.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press