canada supreme court rules in favor of francophone motorist

Dennis Baron debaron at
Wed May 7 15:11:16 UTC 2008

N.B. driver’s language rights were violated — Supreme Court
Published Saturday April 12th, 2008

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada sided with a New Brunswick  
motorist Friday who said her charter rights were violated by an RCMP  
officer who failed to offer service in French during a traffic stop  
eight years ago.

The top court agreed unanimously that the Mounties didn't meet a  
requirement to provide bilingual service to Marie-Claire Paulin, who  
was handed a bilingual speeding ticket by an English RCMP officer  
near Woodstock in 2000.

The court challenge hinged on whether the federal police force, under  
contract with the province, was required to provide services in both  
official languages as indicated under the Charter of Rights and  

The Federal Court initially agreed with Paulin, but the ruling was  
later reversed by the Federal Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court decision was written by Justice Michel Bastarache,  
a New Brunswicker and expert on constitutional law and languages, who  
announced Wednesday that he plans to step down from the bench this  

"I am very, very happy and moved by this decision," said Paulin at a  
media conference in Moncton. "It is my little contribution to the  
question of linguistic rights for francophones who live in Canada."

She was flanked by her lawyer, Michel Doucet, and Marie-Pierre  
Simard, president of the Societe des Acadiens et Acadiennes du  
Nouveau-Brunswick, which co-sponsored the challenge.

Under the act, members of the public have a right when communicating  
with a peace officer to receive service in the official language of  
their choice.

Doucet said the decision will have wide-ranging linguistic  
implications on organizations that do business with the provincial  

"People need to get back to their drawing board in Fredericton and  
with the RCMP and look at this very seriously because the court was  
very clear on this," he said. "It is institutional bilingualism  
everywhere in New Brunswick, any time. It's not a privilege; it is a  

The decision raises questions about how the RCMP will be expected to  
deliver services in New Brunswick, said Sgt. Derek Strong, adding the  
province's Mounties are committed to providing services in French and  

"But I couldn't comment today on whether or not the decision means  
all of our members need to be bilingual," he said. "Clearly, what is  
required is that we provide bilingual service."

He said about 70 per cent of the province's complement of officers  
are bilingual. RCMP in New Brunswick are required to make an "active  
offer of service" in both official languages.

"If the officer can't provide service in the official language of  
choice of the client, then we'll simply have an officer come to the  
scene who can," said Strong

In some cases, he said, the client might be given a cellphone or  
telephone to speak with a bilingual officer.

New Brunswick's Public Safety Minister John Foran said he received  
assurances from his federal counterpart Stockwell Day on Friday that  
an amendment will be added to the provincial policing services  
contract to reflect the official languages obligation of the RCMP in  
New Brunswick.

He said the government has yet to establish the framework or a  
timeline on how the RCMP will meet the new requirement.

"We just got that ruling today. We will be sitting down with the RCMP  
very soon and will get their reaction to it and then we'll proceed on  
how to monitor and set limits," Foran said.

Michel Carrier, New Brunswick's official languages commissioner, said  
the ruling reinforces the province's Official Languages Act, which  
came into effect in 2002.

"To me, the issue was always crystal clear," said Carrier. "But now  
the Supreme Court of Canada said it. So it can't be clearer than that."

He said the ruling answers an important question of social progress  
in the province and hopefully puts the issue to rest.

Paulin and the Acadian society were also awarded $135,000 in costs,  
in part because of "the abolition of the Court Challenges Program,  
which would have applied to a case such as this one," wrote Bastarache.

The program, which was sacked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's  
Conservative government in 2006, helped minority language groups  
defend their constitutional rights.

"The message, which is being sent out to the federal government is,  
'You should maybe rethink your opinion on this or the court will just  
step in and do it," said Doucet.

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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