Question Period: Efforts to Make the Constitution Bilingual

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Parliament, Ottawa

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Welcome to the Senate, minister.

On March 29, the Senate adopted a motion reminding the government of its commitment to have a fully bilingual Constitution, as set out in section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and noting that, of the 31 enactments that make up the Constitution, 22 are not officially bilingual in both official languages, including almost all of the Constitution Act, 1867.

The motion also calls upon the government to consider, in the context of the review of the Official Languages Act, the addition of a requirement to submit, every 12 months, a report detailing the efforts made by you or another minister to finally comply with section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

How can we have a country that calls itself officially bilingual when our Constitution, our supreme law, is not bilingual?

Are you willing to amend Bill C-13 to add this obligation and the obligation to submit an annual report detailing the government’s efforts to finally make the Constitution bilingual?

Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, P.C., M.P., Minister of Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency: Thank you for that important question, senator.

The government is committed to ensuring that Canadians have access to justice in the official language of their choice. Many important parts of the Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, are officially bilingual. However, as you mentioned, many equally important documents, such as the Constitution Act, 1867, were passed in English only, and their French versions are not legally binding.

My colleague, Minister David Lametti, recognizes that it is his duty to prepare and propose, for communication purposes, a French version of any Constitutional statutes that have not yet been made official in French. This work is ongoing at the Department of Justice.

The Minister of Justice also stated that he is fully committed to ensuring that the work done by the French Constitutional Drafting Committee is publicly known and easily accessible.

As Minister of Official Languages, I am pleased to support him in this important work since, once again, access to justice is a fundamental right for all Canadians. We want to ensure that the document is prepared properly.

 

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