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March 29th, 2022 - Question Period - Federal Court of Appeal Decision on Official Languages

Federal Court of Appeal Decision on Official Languages

Hon. Rose-May Poirier: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Senator Gold, in January, the Federal Court of Appeal made a historic decision by supporting francophones in British Columbia in restoring the full force of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. However, the government does not support this ruling and is calling for a stay of the decision. In fact, the Liberal government wants to take francophones to court to challenge the decision. This ruling on Part VII affects all francophone minority communities in Canada.

Why is this government planning to turn its back on francophones instead of supporting them in this historic win?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question underscoring the importance of the Official Languages Act.

With respect, esteemed colleague, this does not mean that we are abandoning francophones outside Quebec or even those in Quebec. The main point to note here is that this Federal Court of Appeal decision can potentially affect the modernization of the Official Languages Act. It is to be expected that the government would reflect on its position in light of this ruling.

Senator Poirier: Senator Gold, not only does the federal government want to take francophones to court, it also wants to stay last January’s ruling. Francophones should thank Justice Noël for protecting part of what they have gained by refusing the application for a stay. That is another example of a government talking a good game but not following through when it is time to act.

Bill C-13 provides for the adoption of several regulations. Regardless of whether the government appeals the ruling, how will francophones trust that the government will act in good faith?

Senator Gold: Thank you for the question. We are impatiently awaiting Bill C-13 here in the Senate, as it represents a big step forward for all those living in minority communities, both francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec. We are also eagerly awaiting the extensive study we will no doubt have here, in the Senate. All issues and questions will be examined at that point.

Hon. René Cormier: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I’m following up on the questions that Senator Poirier asked, and I thank her for her commitment to official languages.

Senator Gold, much like Liane Roy, the President of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, I was stunned to learn that the federal government plans to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s January 28, 2022, decision in Canada (Commissioner of Official Languages) v. Canada (Employment and Social Development) to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Raymond Théberge, the Commissioner of Official Languages, called the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision a historic one because it fundamentally restored, and I quote:

 . . . the full force of Part VII of the Official Languages Act and made it possible to effectively enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic minorities in Canada and to support their ongoing development.

However, as Senator Poirier pointed out, on Friday, Minister Lametti confirmed that the government did not agree with some of the aspects of the Federal Court of Appeal ruling, while reaffirming his commitment to strengthening the Official Languages Act through Bill C-13.

Could you clarify things for everyone here and for official language minority communities by listing the aspects of the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision that are problematic for the Government of Canada?

Senator Gold: Thank you for your question, esteemed colleague.

As you know, the government has considered the impact of this decision on its major modernization of the Official Languages Act. This practice is consistent with the government’s legislative power.

I have been told that the Minister of Justice is aware of the decision the Federal Court of Appeal handed down on Friday and that he is taking the time to review it in order to determine next steps.

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