Bilingualism and Bijuralism at the Supreme Court of Canada

Article 7 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

Bilingualism and Bijuralism at the Supreme Court of Canada

Section 5 of the Supreme Court Act states “Any person may be appointed a judge who is or has been a judge of a superior court of a province or a barrister or advocate of at least ten years standing at the bar of a province.” Other than a legislated requirement for three judges to be members of the Québec Bar, there are no other qualifications. In June 2008, Bill C-559 was introduced by Yvon Godin, MP for Acadie-Bathurst. It required that candidates for the Supreme Court may be appointed only if he or she understands French and English without the assistance of an interpreter. Although the Bill did not become law, this article shows that bilingualism for the Court is a highly controversial topic. It also argues that a more important issue, bijuralism, was largely ignored in the recent debate. The author believes that Canada would be better off if the debate about bilingualism included a debate about bijuralism.

Ask most people in Canada about bilingualism, and chances are you will elicit an opinion, whether positive or negative. Ask people about bijuralism and chances are you will elicit a confused look. Bilingualism is covered in the media, debated regularly in Parliament and taught in schools. Few in Canada, outside the legal field, would even know Canada is a bijural country with nine common law provinces and one civil law province, Québec.