...amend the Supreme Court Act to insist that all future appointees to our highest court be fluently bilingual, and not just fluent in conversational French and English, but in both official legalistic languages. It will make it a prerequisite for justices to be able to hear all cases without the aid of translation.
Forget whether the bill is a good or bad thing for a moment (although more on that towards the end), Gunter makes note of something interesting:
There is almost no chance of stopping Bill C-232. It passed the House of Commons late last month with all three opposition caucuses voting for it. Only the Tories voted against, but even they didn't kick up much of a fuss, so most Canadians were unaware the bill was even being discussed.
He's quite right: looking through the Open Parliament references , you find a whole three pages worth of MP debate on this bill, extending from about May of 2009 until the end of March 2010. Of the Tory Caucus, only Terence Young, James Lunney, Ed Fast, Jacques Gourde, and Steven Blaney bother to raise the government's objections. Furthermore, their arguments come slathered in rhetorical goo touting the Conservatives commitment to official bilingualism. This is an interesting contrast to the response from grassroots conservatives, which has veered towards the apocalyptic. So what's going on? Clearly, the government is walking on egg-shells over C-232.
One possibility, that Gunter raises but seems to discount, is that the Tory strategy is to let the bill die in the Senate. With a government plurality in the upper chamber, that seems a likely outcome, especially since the new Senators tend to vote like CPoC back-benchers, and since independent Senator Elaine McCoy has expressed her disapproval of the bill in fairly strong language.
Beyond that, there is some question as to how onerous the new requirement would actually be. Max Yalden writes that
[Dan] Gardner is not altogether accurate when he says that the proposed bill would "bar anyone who is not fully fluent" in the two languages from appointment to the Supreme Court. What it says is that a person may be appointed who "understands French and English without the assistance of an interpreter" which is a quite different, and less demanding, criterion.
This point gets expanded upon in Ms. McCoy's comments section:Drastically less demanding. And I'm sure you know that simply understanding speech is quite different from the requirement to be fully bilingual, or be able to speak or write fluently. And you are too canny to confuse the difference between interpreters and translators. The bill has the very mild aim that the Supreme Court meet the same basic standard as all other courts, the Federal Court, Tax Court, Court of Appeal, etc., which have all had the same requirement for years now, with no noticeable problem. It is a standard the Supreme Court has itself approved and advanced, for all other Federal courts and institutions. And eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices currently meet that mild criterion of oral understanding, and it was nine of nine until recently, and I know of no-one that has accused those courts' composition as evidence of lower legal standards...
In any case, the line of defense being taken by some opponents of C-232--that it will exclude Westerners and/or Conservatives--from the bench (because appointees will now come disproportionately from the Liberal hotbed of central Canada) seems misguided. In so far as it seems like a demand for affirmative action on behalf of monolingual Albertans. The obvious response seems to be that if Westerners and/or Conservatives want to have their representatives on the Supreme Court, they should get up off their asses and learn French.