Judge suspends two articles of Quebec’s new language law regarding legal translations

A group challenging Quebec’s new language law logged a first legal victory against the legislation on Friday, as a judge temporarily suspended a provision requiring English court documents to be translated into French.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Corriveau ruled that the sections of Bill 96 that require corporations to pay a certified translator to produce French versions of legal documents could prevent some English-speaking organizations from accessing justice through the courts.

In a written judgment released Friday, Corriveau said the rule could cause delays and costs that could particularly hurt small and medium-sized businesses.

“In this case, in the tribunal’s opinion, the evidence demonstrates a serious risk that, in these cases, certain legal persons will not be able to assert their rights before the courts in a timely manner, or will be forced to do so in a language other than the official language which they and their lawyers master the best and which they identify as their own,” she wrote.

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READ MORE: Quebec’s new language law faces one of its first challenges in front of a judge

The judge ordered that the two articles be stayed until the case can be heard on its merits, likely in November.

A group of lawyers challenging the sections of the law argued that the translation requirement violates sections of the 1867 Constitution Act that guarantee access to the courts in both official languages.

According to court documents, the group claims there are a limited number of certified legal translators, especially in some regions, and that their services cost between $0.20 and $0.40 a word.

Members of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake also filed statements noting that they were one of many groups that would be negatively affected by the law.

Lawyers representing the attorney general of Quebec pushed back on the idea that there aren’t enough translators or that the requirement creates any obstacles to accessing justice.

On Friday, Elisabeth Gosselin, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, said Friday in an emailed response to the ruling, “It should be noted that the provisions in this case are intended to promote better access to justice in the official and common language, French.

“The government is firmly committed to defending this fundamental right. We will not comment further at this time.”

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Corriveau agreed that the lawyers raised valid questions about barriers to justice, especially in urgent cases that “may require rapid intervention before the courts to avoid irreparable harm.”

Felix-Antoine Doyon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients believe in the need to protect the French language but feel the government went “very far” with certain provisions of Bill 96.

“We need to protect French but we also need to protect access to justice, and we must remember that in a civilized society the system of justice is there for the people, and for legal persons as well,” he said in a phone interview. He said he expected to be ready to argue the case on its merits in November.

READ MORE: Opponents of new French language law express ‘sadness, frustration’ at protest

The lawyers are one of several groups mounting legal challenges to Bill 96, which aims to strengthen the use of French through updated language regulations that affect businesses, junior colleges, immigration and the courts.

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The law, which was adopted earlier this year, also proactively invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to shield it from Charter challenges.

Doyon noted that his challenge concerns only a very small portion of the overall law, and warned against drawing wider conclusions on what the decision could mean for other challenges.

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