Quebec bar members vote to drop challenge of provincial law drafting process

Quebec bar members vote to drop challenge of provincial law drafting process

Members of Quebec's bar association narrowly voted not to proceed with a legal challenge that argued Quebec's laws are unconstitutional because they are written in French and then translated into English.

Just over 50 per cent of members present at a special meeting Thursday night in Montreal voted to drop the legal challenge after about an hour of discussion.

"I think it was great. I mean, we heard lots of arguments. That's what lawyers do, they debate," said Paul-Matthieu Grondin, head of the association.

In April, some members of the bar were surprised to learn the association had filed a legal motion in Quebec Superior Court arguing that, because laws in the province are drafted in French then translated into English once they're passed, they're unconstitutional.

According to an interpretation of Art. 133 of the 1867British North America Act, while either language may be used in debates and pleadings, laws must be adopted in both English and French simultaneously.

Non-binding vote

There were about 745 people at the meeting. The association represents 27,000 lawyers.

The vote wasn't binding, however. The association says it will meet soon to determine its next steps.

Legal scholar Guillaume Rousseau said he believes the topic of language in Quebec is too political to be handled by a professional organization.

"I think the argument of the bar saying, 'No, we're not doing politics. We're only looking for the rule of law,' — that wasn't convincing at all."

Premier Philippe Couillard said when it comes to bilingualism and the law, the Constitution is clear in theory, but it's not always practicable.

"When we have a bill with 300 articles, it's hard to manage translating it in real time while we're proposing amendments to it," he said.

He said while his government is committed to protecting the French language, English is also an integral part of the province's heritage.