The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Time for Canada’s Constitution to be fully bilingual

September 17 2018 17 September 2018

 

The CBA’s French Speaking Members Section says any modernization of the Official Languages Act should include a requirement for the federal Justice Minister to ensure that the Constitution of Canada is enacted and enforceable in both official languages – and that she show her work.

While French versions of portions of the Constitution were tabled in Parliament 28 years ago, in 1990, the Section notes that they have yet to be enacted.

“Many Canadians would be astonished to learn that the majority of Canadian constitutional documents are not officially bilingual, including the Constitution Act, 1867,” the Section writes to the Senate Committee on Official Languages, which is studying Canadians’ views on modernizing the Official Languages Act.

“Of the 31 documents declared in the Constitution Act, 1982, to be part of the Constitution of Canada, only nine have been enacted by Parliament in both official languages as required by section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The rest of the Constitution of Canada has the force of law in English only.”

Section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982, requires the Justice Minister to have French versions of portions of the Constitution prepared and duly enacted.

“We invite your Committee to draw on the wording of section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and to recommend that Parliament add an enforceable section to the Official Languages Act requiring the Minister of Justice to make every effort to implement section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Committee could also recommend that the Minister of Justice be required to submit a report detailing the efforts made to achieve these objectives (including, for example, a work schedule, explanations for delays).”

In a resolution passed by membership in February, the CBA called on government to “give full force and effect to the entirety of the Constitution in both official languages.” Last fall, then-CBA President Kerry Simmons wrote to the Heritage and Justice ministers, as well as the Treasury Board President, urging the government to modernize the Official Languages Act. The Act celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and has not been much changed since its adoption.

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