Bilingualism not a priority for top court, ex-judge says
Supreme Court of Canada judges need not be bilingual and it would be “unfortunate” if Prime Minister Stephen Harper went out of his way to make it a main priority when replacing retiring Justice Michel Bastarache, says a former Supreme Court judge. John Major, a unilingual Calgarian who retired in 2005, said the translation services at the court are excellent and the ability to speak both official languages should not be a prime component of the job description.”I don’t think French is a requirement,” said Major, who was the only unilingual judge on the court when he retired.
Harper replaced Major with Marshall Rothstein, a unilingual anglophone from Manitoba, raising questions in legal circles about whether the prime minister should counterbalance his last appointee with a judge who is fluent in English and French. By convention, Bastarache’s replacement will be filled by an Atlantic Canadian and the pool of candidates in the region who speak fluent French is small, outside of New Brunswick.
The last two appointments from Atlantic Canada have gone to New Brunswick francophones and it is not thought to be the province’s turn this time around. A Newfoundland judge has never sat on the Supreme Court and there is a political and legal lobby in the province pushing for a Newfoundlander to be named. Major said all documents submitted to the Supreme Court can be translated, upon request, and there are simultaneous translation services at hearings. Although most judges on the Supreme Court speak French, the court is not perfectly bilingual, as is evidenced by a more silent bench when they are hearing arguments in French. Furthermore, only a couple of judges can write decisions in both languages.