A Montreal superior court judge temporarily suspended a government mandate for certified translations into French of legal documents on August 12, 2022. The ruling comes a week after lawyers for businesses and representatives from indigenous groups challenged two related articles in Quebec’s newly reformed language law (Bill 96).
Lawyers representing multiple businesses argue that certified legal translators are scarce and pricey, and that the translation mandate would place non-French speakers at a disadvantage. The same group argued that the mandate violates sections of the 1867 Canadian Constitution Act guaranteeing access to the judicial system in English and French.
Canada’s indigenous representatives, among them members of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, stated that they are directly affected by the law.
The ruling by Judge Chantal Corriveau of the Quebec Superior Court temporarily suspends the two articles affecting legal documents; from marriage licenses to business permits and any other document required by the court.
In a written public statement, Judge Corriveau said that “the evidence demonstrates a serious risk that, in these cases, certain legal persons will not be able to assert their rights before the courts in a timely manner, or will be forced to do so in a language other than the official language which they and their lawyers master the best and which they identify as their own.”
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The judge further acknowledged the validity of the arguments in her statement. She highlighted potential hindrances to cases that “may require rapid intervention before the courts to avoid irreparable harm.”
The government’s response to the temporary ruling came through Simon Jolin-Barrette, Minister of Justice and the French Language. He said, “The government is firmly committed to defending this fundamental right. We will not comment further at this time.”
As the October 2022 National Assembly elections in Quebec approach, political candidates from all parties are using their opposition to Bill 96 to win votes from anglophones and allophones (those whose native language is neither English nor French). These groups would be expected to pay for legal translations should the language law remain as is.
Hearings for a final ruling are expected to take place in November.