Quebec's new language law faces 1st challenge in court

·2 min read
Coalition of lawyers argues requirement is unconstitutional, will limit access to justice due to financial barrier.  (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC - image credit)
Coalition of lawyers argues requirement is unconstitutional, will limit access to justice due to financial barrier. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC - image credit)

Quebec's new law to protect the French language is facing its first legal challenge since Bill 96 was adopted this past May.

In a Montreal court on Friday, a coalition of lawyers challenged one provision in particular — one which requires corporations and non-profits to translate English court documents into French at their own expense.

The plaintiffs argued this would mean increased costs and delays, hurting small businesses the most.

One of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Félix-Antoine Doyon, said the new language law violates a section of the constitution guaranteeing the right to use English and French in the courts, representing serious prejudices and hindering access to justice.

Doyon argued the added delays would also further bog down the justice system, which is already facing backlogs due to staff shortages, including a short supply of translators.

Lead plaintiff Douglas Mitchell says this requirement is more of a political message than anything concerned with actual justice.

"I think the message is that 'we don't care how it's going to operate in practice, we want to send a message that Quebec is a French society,'" he said in an interview with CBC Montreal outside the courtroom Friday.

Arguments based on fears: government lawyers

Lawyers for the Quebec government said the plaintiffs' arguments are based on fears and hypotheses, without numbers to back them up.

They argued the plaintiffs have not demonstrated how much more translations would cost or how long the delays would be.

Members of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake filed an affidavit supporting the plaintiffs.

"I don't think that [the plaintiffs' concerns are] just fears. I think they're reasonable. And the question that I have is, do we wait until it happens? [Where] somebody that loses out on their right to pursue an injustice actually occurs?" Council Chief Tonya Perron said.

Government lawyers say the plaintiffs' examples do not justify suspending the law while they debate the merits of the case, adding there are always adjustments people have to make when laws are modified.

The judge is expected to render her ruling before the end of next week.

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