(Ottawa) The Trudeau government is ruling out the idea of taking advantage of its vast reform of the Official Languages Act to speed up the translation of 22 texts of the Canadian Constitution that are only in English.
These texts have not been formally translated and incorporated into the fundamental law of the country, even if the Ministry of Justice had undertaken to do so as soon as possible in… 1982, when the Constitution was repatriated.
Result: 40 years later, only the English version of the Constitution Act of 1867 has the force of law in the courts.
The Minister of Official Languages, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, affirms that this file falls within the purview of the Department of Justice and that Bill C-13 aimed at modernizing the Official Languages Actwhich must be adopted by the end of the session, is not an adequate way to achieve this.
“The Government of Canada recognizes that official languages are a fundamental component of our identity and a strong symbol of a diverse and inclusive society,” said Minister Petitpas Taylor’s press secretary, Marianne Blondin, in a statement to The Press.
“The duty to prepare and have adopted a French version of constitutional laws that are not yet official in that language has been the subject of much work over the years by the Department of Justice of Canada. We recognize that the translation of the texts is essential and that is why efforts to give the French version an official status are underway,” she added.
A necessary constitutional amendment
Currently, the French version of the Constitution Act of 1867 is only a translation given for documentary purposes. The reason: the official version of this law was passed by the UK Parliament in English only.
The Ministry of Justice prepared a French version of the constitutional texts, based on the work of a committee of constitutional experts which had been created in 1984. They were tabled in the House of Commons and the Senate in 1990 .
The problem is that a constitutional amendment is necessary for the French version to be enshrined. And this amendment must be approved not only by the House of Commons and the Senate, but by all the provinces, according to some experts.
Since 1997, little effort has been made to convince the provinces to adopt it, particularly in the wake of the failure of two constitutional agreements (Meech in 1990 and Charlottetown in 1992) and the 1995 referendum in Quebec.
“It requires a unanimous constitutional amendment. That’s basically why it wasn’t done. It also comes to excuse Ottawa in a way, ”explained Benoit Pelletier, former Minister of Canadian Government Affairs for Quebec and constitutional expert.
In 2018, the Canadian Bar Association recommended that the Trudeau government include an article in the news Official Languages Act requesting the Minister of Justice to submit, every five years, a report detailing the efforts made to implement Article 55 of the Constitution Act 1982.
This article precisely states that the “Minister of Justice of Canada is responsible for drafting, as soon as possible, the French version of the parts of the Constitution of Canada which appear in the annex [de cette loi] “.
According to the Canadian Bar Association, the absence of an official French version is not without consequence. Among other things, this “has practical impacts on the development of the law and devalues the participation of French-speaking lawyers and litigants in debates on the interpretation of the most fundamental legal texts in our society”.
Senator Pierre Dalphond has been leading a crusade for several months to convince the Trudeau government to redouble its efforts to ensure that the French translation of the Constitution Act of 1867 be adopted. And he endorsed the proposal of the Canadian Bar Association.
Mr. Dalphond, who notably served as a judge on the Quebec Court of Appeal, did not respond to messages from The Press. But in a speech delivered in the Upper House last December, he described this situation as “a source of embarrassment, particularly for federalists living in Quebec”.
“Even if French-speaking Canadians have the constitutional right to rely on the French version of all ordinary federal laws, they cannot exercise this fundamental right with respect to almost all the constitutional texts of Canada, and this, even if the country has been officially bilingual since 1968,” he said.
With the collaboration of William Leclerc, The Press