Quebec Bar under fire

A special general meeting of members of the Barreau du Québec called on the professional corporation to cease a court action it launched recently that challenged the legality of the province’s laws, regulations and decrees because they were drafted and adopted in French only.

According to French-language newspaper La Presse, 52 per cent of the 700 lawyers at the meeting, chaired by retired Court of Appeal of Quebec Justice Pierre Dalphond, voted in favour of a resolution demanding that the Quebec Bar abandon “in full” its controversial motion seeking a declaratory judgment by Quebec Superior Court.

The special general meeting “is an opportunity to exchange directly with our members and to hear what they have to say,” said Paul-Matthieu Grondin, the elected head of the Quebec Bar, in a statement issued yesterday evening. “The idea (behind it) is not to have winners or losers. It is to have an exchange of ideas, and I find it stimulating that we at the Barreau have respectful debates on the question of protection of the public, which is our mission. Our professional order is democratic and we all have opinions. The action by the Barreau was and will continue to be driven by the rule of law and the protection of the public.”

The Quebec Bar, though compelled to call a special meeting if 100 of its more than 27,000 members call for one as per article 106 of Quebec’s Professional Code, is under no obligation to heed to the call by members to desist from the court action filed jointly by the Barreau du Québec and the Montreal Bar last April.

In a 21-page motion, 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  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 castigates 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 Quebec Bar called on the provincial government last February to inject $15 million in new monies to help draft legislation in English as well as translate all rulings by the Court of Quebec, Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal in English.

In its latest provincial budget, the Quebec government set aside more than $1.4 billion to modernize the justice system, its courthouses and detention centres, a move that elated a relieved Quebec legal community. “It’s a relative disappointment,” told me Grondin last March after I asked him whether he was disenchanted that the provincial government did not inject new monies for the translation of decisions into English. “We obtained the big pieces that we wanted. That is a victory for justice.”

Barely two weeks later, the Quebec Bar and the Montreal Bar launched a motion that Benoît Pelletier, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa and a former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister, described as a “bombshell.”

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