Question Period: Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: My question is for the Government Representative. Although the Prime Minister has recognized the possibility of allowing the Quebec National Assembly to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, to recognize the importance of French in Quebec, the fact remains that, as of today, this constitutional text is not officially bilingual, despite section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and despite the fact that the committee of experts responsible for translating that document and 30 others reported to the government in 1990. A copy of that report was tabled here in December 1990.

Government Representative, when does the government intend to take the measures necessary to make the Constitution Act, 1867, officially bilingual?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for raising this important question. The government is determined to ensure that Canadians have access to justice in the official language of their choice. The government knows that, although many important parts of the Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, are officially bilingual, many equally important documents, including the Constitution Act, 1867, were passed in English only and the French version doesn’t have the force of law.

I was informed that the Department of Justice has worked very hard over the years on the duty to promote and pass a French version of the constitutional laws that are not yet official in that language for the purposes of promulgation. I don’t have any details on how that work is progressing, but the Minister of Justice is fully committed to our official languages and to ensuring that the public is aware of the French Constitutional Drafting Committee’s work and that that work is easily accessible.

Senator Dalphond: The answer from the Government Representative is interesting. In its 1998 report, the Canadian Bar Association called out Canada for its non-compliance with section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and suggested adding to the Official Languages Act, which the government is proposing to substantially amend starting next week, a section requiring the Minister of Justice to present a report every five years detailing the efforts made to implement section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Am I to understand, Government Representative, that the government would be prepared to periodically table a report and include that in the Official Languages Act?

Senator Gold: Thank you for the question. I will make inquiries as to the government’s intentions and report back to the chamber.

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