Bilingualism of judges | A very specific interpretation of the Chief Justice

Despite the protests of many, the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec, Lucie Rondeau, persists and signs: she can intervene in the process of selecting judges for the Court of Quebec by having, if such is her opinion, add to the opinions. of competitions for certain judges’ posts the requirement of fluency in English on the part of the candidates. The requirement, in fact, to be bilingual.

Paul Begin

Paul Begin
Former Minister of Justice of Quebec

Alleging the non-compliance with the rule of the separation of powers by the Minister of Justice, the Chief Justice took the latter to the Superior Court of Quebec to have three notices of competition annulled which did not contain, illegally according to her, the bilingualism requirement on the part of the candidates, as she had requested. This exceptional court proceeding by a chief justice was served in November.

The judges of the Court of Quebec are appointed by the government of Quebec. Under the Courts of Justice Act, the Government of Quebec adopted in 2012 the Regulation respecting the procedure for the selection of candidates for the office of judge of the Court of Quebec.

These Regulations authorize the Minister of Justice to form a selection committee to assess the suitability of candidates for the office of judge and to provide him with an opinion on them. To do this, the selection committee must apply the criteria set out in Article 25 of the Rules. The committee reports to the Minister by proposing three suitable candidates for appointment as judge in order to enable him to make a recommendation to the Council of Ministers for an appointment for the post which is the subject of the competition.

The introductory paragraph of Article 25 is very clear: “In evaluating the candidacy of a candidate, the committee takes into account the following criteria”, criteria which are listed in paragraphs 10 to 60, including:

10. the candidate’s skills, including: a) personal and intellectual qualities, integrity, knowledge and general experience; b) the degree of his legal knowledge and experience in the areas of law in which he would be called upon to perform his duties; vs) […]. The other criteria are not at issue in the dispute.

Three observations

1) Nowhere in Article 25 does it say that the selection committee must apply to the candidates a criterion of bilingualism or, in other words, that fluency in the English language is required and must be taken into account by the selection committee.

2) Neither the Chief Justice nor the Minister may require the committee to take into account criteria other than those listed.

3) If the government had wanted to introduce the criterion of bilingualism in the selection process and had wanted the selection committee to take it into account, it is in this section of the Regulations that it would have included it.

Where is the problem ?

The problem stems from a small phrase found in Article 7 of the Rules, in the section entitled “Notice of vacant position”:

7. When a judge needs to be appointed and after have taken into consideration the needs expressed by the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec […], the secretary opens, at the minister’s request, a competition and publishes […] a notice inviting interested persons to submit their application ”.

Chief Justice Rondeau interprets this text in her very particular way, namely that the words “and after having taken into consideration the needs expressed by the Chief Justice” would mean that at her sole discretion, she may have it entered in notices of competition that candidates must have a command of the English language, that is to say, in plain language, that they be bilingual.

Is this the meaning to be given to the word “needs”? Would this not, in doing so, add a criterion to those already provided for in section 25 of the Rules and which the selection committee must take into account?

However, we can give the word “needs” a very real meaning and, above all, very different from that given to it by the Chief Justice.

Indeed, these “needs expressed” by the Chief Justice for her court, would it not be:

1) tell the secretary how many judges it needs to fill positions that have become available due to retirement, death, illness or to respond to the increased volume of cases in a given district?

2) indicate in which chamber the position is open: civil, criminal or youth?

3) to make known in which judicial district the post is open and what will be the place of residence of the judge to be appointed?

These three elements are the “needs” of the Court that the Chief Justice can express, as provided for in Article 7 of the Rules, and that she is the only one able to make known to the secretary for the selection of candidates for the office. judge so that the latter advertises them in competition notices. This is how each opinion published by the secretary will express the concrete needs of the Chief Justice.

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