Weekly Commentary  

Judging judges

Violent repeat offenders should be subject to mandatory jail time. Most of you here in the Okanagan-Coquihalla constituency have told me that.

And most Canadians agree.

Opposition members don't like it that much. They say it takes away the ability of judges to have choices. That is a legitimate point of debate.

But if opposition Members of Parliament really believe that, then why did they recently vote to limit judges? How did they do that, you ask? By passing a curious initiative in the area of language choices for judges.

They passed in the House of Commons a requirement that all Supreme Court judges must be officially bilingual. Since Canada's inception it has quite rightly been the practice that Supreme Court judges have the full support of translation services, written and oral. And that the proceedings of the Court are conducted in both official languages.

After over 140 years Opposition members suddenly want to take that further. They want a law that would block any judge being appointed to the Supreme Court unless they are fully bilingual.

Think about that. Even though there is no legal or constitutional requirement to do this, and even though the judges are always fully equipped with the best in translation services and even though all documents and proceedings are in both languages, opposition MP's have declared, "It's not good enough."

They now want to disqualify any applicant who is not fully bilingual. They are not meaning that judges should be able to 'get along' in both languages. They are insisting that judges have the highest level of understanding in both languages to be able to fully comprehend the most complex of legalese.

They are saying it's not good enough for judges to have the best translations and translators in the country at their disposal. They have to be capable of being able to do all of that in both languages themselves.

It makes me wonder if these Member of Parliament understand our own constitution.

Our laws require that a certain specific number of these judges be appointed from Quebec, from the West and from Atlantic Canada. What do you think the chances are that you will find a large number of fully bilingual judges from, let's say, BC or Saskatchewan?

There may indeed be a handful. But why should the pool of choices be so severely limited? We should want the best person possible, whether Anglophone or Francophone or any other language background.

This is not an East-West issue (though some are insidiously trying to make it one). Uni-lingual Quebec Francophone judges should also be able to be considered for the job, as they are now.

MP's should not be able to thwart existing constitutional guidelines on the selection process of our Supreme Court judges.

Now the matter has gone to the Senate. Even though the Senators are all unelected (except one), let's hope they understand the institutions of democracy better than many Members of Parliament.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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