canada supreme court rules in favor of francophone motorist
debaron at uiuc.edu
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
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
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.
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801
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