A group of Quebecers have filed a legal challenge to Mary Simon’s nomination as governor general on the grounds that her inability to speak French violates constitutional requirements for official bilingualism.
The move follows months of controversy in the province over the Queen’s representative in Canada speaking only one of the country’s official languages. Ms. Simon is the first Indigenous person to serve as Governor General and speaks Inuktitut as well as English.
Quebecers who filed the legal challenge in Quebec Superior Court on Wednesday follow a successful attempt by Acadians in New Brunswick to have the appointment of that province’s unilingual English-speaking lieutenant governor declared a violation of the Constitution.
The lawsuit argues that Ms. Simon’s appointment violates sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that give Canadians the right to interact with federal government institutions in English or French and grant both languages equal status within the Government of Canada. .
The person serving as Governor General is uniquely synonymous with the office they hold, due to the highly personal nature of the position, argues the lawsuit, meaning that the bilingualism required of federal institutions should also be required of Ms. Simon herself. same.
His inability to speak French is not only unconstitutional, but offensive to French-speaking Canadians who feel slighted in a predominantly English-speaking country, said Frederic Bastien, a former Parti Québécois leadership candidate who is leading the legal challenge.
“This is another injustice for French Canadians in a long line of injustices,” he said. “Every time I go into a restaurant in Montreal and I can’t be served in French, it’s a humiliation and it’s a daily occurrence. Now the example is given from above.
Ms. Simon is Inuk and grew up in the northern Quebec region of Nunavik, but was educated in a federal day school where students learned in English.
She delivered part of her first Speech from the Throne in French, but Quebec figures, including Premier François Legault, criticized her fluency in the language. Ms Simon said she was “firmly determined to learn French”.
Her appointment last year as vice-regal representative sparked an outcry in Quebec and a torrent of more than 1,000 complaints to the federal commissioner of official languages, who opened an investigation into the appointment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended Ms. Simon at the time, citing the lack of French instruction offered to her at school.
Commissioner Raymond Théberge finally exonerated the Privy Council Office, which had advised the Prime Minister during the appointment process, of having violated the Official Languages Act.
The issue was reignited in April when a New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench judge ruled that the appointment of a unilingual English-speaking lieutenant governor for Canada’s only officially bilingual province violated the Charter. The federal government is appealing, arguing, among other things, that the relevant language protections in New Brunswick apply to institutions, not individuals.
Chief Justice Tracey DeWare based her decision on the specific language provisions of the Charter for New Brunswick, but they are close enough to the sections on English and French at the federal level that Mr. Bastien was motivated to launch a similar legal challenge. He is joined by pressure groups Justice for Quebec (of which he is president) and the Association for the Defense of Individual and Collective Rights of Quebec.
New Brunswick’s decision did not invalidate Brenda Murphy’s nomination for lieutenant governor, noting that it would create a crisis by casting doubt on the laws she signed. Instead, the judge left it up to the federal government to decide how to deal with the situation.
The Société acadienne du Nouveau-Brunswick, which launched the initial legal challenge, is asking the federal government to require that future lieutenant-governors of New Brunswick be bilingual. Group president Alexandre Cédric Doucet said that while viceregal representatives have largely ceremonial roles, they also have important duties that require them to understand Canada’s two official languages.
“If they are not able to understand the laws they sign, we are beyond tokenism,” he said.
The federal challenge seeks to render Ms. Simon’s appointment “invalid” under Canadian law. It would be up to the courts to decide how to handle the implications of recent federal legislation, Bastien said.
The fact that Ms. Simon is Canada’s first Indigenous governor general does not excuse her inability to speak French, he said, adding that there are possible Indigenous candidates for the position who speak English and French.
Anglophones should think about how they would feel if the linguistic roles were reversed, Mr Bastien said.
“It is totally and completely unthinkable that the Governor General cannot speak English,” he said.
The offices of the prime minister, governor general and justice minister did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
In a statement, Privy Council Office spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold said: “We have received the claim and will review it closely. Since her installation nearly a year ago, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Mary Simon, has represented Canada abroad, hosted world leaders in Canada, honored the achievements of members of the Canadian Armed Forces and had the opportunity to meet Canadians from across the country who represent our diversity. The Governor General has done an outstanding job and demonstrated great leadership in the performance of her duties.
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