Quebec Bar backs down

Days after being rebuffed by its members, the Barreau du Québec is seemingly backing down from a controversial suit against the Quebec government that challenges the legality of the province’s laws, regulations and decrees because they were drafted and adopted in French only.

In a letter sent to Quebec Minister of Justice Stéphanie Vallée this week, the Quebec Bar proposed suspending the court action and settling the matter out of court if the Quebec government moves forward with recommendations outlined by the Minister herself in a letter dated March 2017. The recommendations include: hiring two perfectly bilingual jurists, hiring more translators to improve the quality of English language translations, and fostering an environment that leads to improved collaboration between translators, reviewers and jurists who write the laws.

A resolution calling on the Quebec Bar to abort “in full” its suit was passed last week by a slim majority of the 750 lawyers who attended a special general meeting chaired by retired Court of Appeal of Quebec Justice Pierre Dalphond.

In a 21-page motion jointly filed by the Barreau du Québec and the Barreau de Montréal Bar last April, the bars argue that Quebec’s failure to translate laws at all stages of the legislative process deprives some litigants of their rights under article 133 of the Canadian Constitution. The motion describes a series of Quebec laws it maintains are unconstitutional under Article 133 of the 1867 British North America Act. The article stipulates that while either French or English may be used in legislative debates and pleadings within Parliament and the provincial legislatures in Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick, the laws, regulations and decrees that result must be adopted in both English and French.

The motion also bemoans the quality of English in the new Quebec Code of Civil Procedure, in effect as of January 1, 2016, and contends that the Quebec government has failed to hire more English translators and writers to help draft legislation.

The court action caught Quebec’s legal and political circles off guard. The move was especially surprising since it obtained legal advice in 2017 from Stéphane Beaulac, a constitutional law professor who heads a think tank on language rights, who recommended the bars refrain from launching the suit. Beaulac opined that there was a “bilingual deficit in the Quebec legislative process,” but that “it was not catastrophic.”

Paul-Matthieu Grondin, the elected head of the Quebec Bar, sent a missive to the 27,000 members of the professional regulatory body on Monday evening stating that “we heard your concerns.” It remains to be seen whether the Montreal Bar will follow in the footsteps of the Barreau du Québec.

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