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The judge who makes the opponents of mandatory bilingualism lie at the Supreme Court

The path taken by the 55-year-old judge to get to this office all in woodwork, on the edge of the Ottawa River, is out of the ordinary. An immigrant of Indian origin, he was born in Kenya, lived part of his youth in England and settled in Edmonton in 1981, at the age of 14.

I remember the first day here very well. I was scaredhe says. : j’ai quitté tous mes amis, j’ai quitté une culture où j’avais passé toute ma vie. Mais en même temps, c’était une possibilité de recommencer la vie.”,”text”:”J’avais peur pour beaucoup de raisons: j’ai quitté tous mes amis, j’ai quitté une culture où j’avais passé toute ma vie. Mais en même temps, c’était une possibilité de recommencer la vie.”}}”>I was afraid for many reasons: I left all my friends, I left a culture where I had spent my whole life. But at the same time, it was a possibility to start life again.

Coming from a modest family who moved in search of better living conditions, Mahmud Jamal rose through the ranks of the Canadian legal world, from his legal training at McGill University to his swearing in at the highest court in the country in July. 2021.

Judge Mahmud Jamal in interview with journalist Daniel Leblanc

Photo: Radio-Canada / Michel Aspirot

This first media interview as a Supreme Court Justice of Mahmud Jamal was conducted entirely in French, a language he learned in Edmonton and perfected in Montreal.

Obviously, in Montreal, there were many more opportunities to practice the language, but that was especially when I worked in a firm in Montreal for two summers. It was a completely French milieu. And also when I worked at the Quebec Court of Appeal for Judge [Melvin] Rothman, it was an opportunity to deepen my knowledge of French, especially with legal vocabulary.

Judge Jamal is still taking French lessons at the Court. And he has made bilingualism a family value, he whose two boys will attend university in Montreal this fall.

I never had in mind the possibility that the French language will be useful for my legal work. […] But it’s the same thing I tell my children, bilingualism is a useful asset, you never know when it will be useful for work. I encourage them to learn the language, to immerse themselves in Quebec culture.

Bilingualism: a priority for the Chief Justice

The appointment of Justice Jamal, in 2021, confirms in the eyes of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that the federal government can very well appoint judges who are both bilingual and from diverse backgrounds.

We mentioned that we may be depriving ourselves of quality people who are not able to be bilingual. Well, that’s a non-issuehe says in a separate interview.

People who have the skills and who aspire one day to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada know that they have to be bilingual. If they are not, and if they have the quality, and although they learn ithe says.

Richard Wagner.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner

Photo: Radio-Canada / Michel Aspirot

The prime minister will have to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court this summer with a judge from Ontario who will be bilingual, according to Trudeau government policy.

Although the obligation to appoint bilingual judges is not yet enshrined in law, Chief Justice Wagner has been promoting it for several years, saying that it is a matter of respect for the country’s French speakers.

Bilingualism in the Supreme Court goes far beyond the ability to listen to oral arguments in the language of the lawyers who address the judges. There are many legal documents that are not translated, as well as work meetings where each employee can speak in the official language of their choice.

I think we have progressed over the last few years and we have reached the point where we should not skimp. We really have to recognize the importance of all judges having to be functionally bilingual in the courtsays Chief Justice Wagner.

Bill C-13, which is still before Parliament, would require Supreme Court justices to be bilingual.

The protection of minorities

Like any candidate for a post of judge of the Supreme Court, Mahmud Jamal completed a complete questionnaire which describes his personal and legal background. In the section on his vision of the role of judges in a constitutional democracy, he replied:

An essential part of a judge’s job is to protect the rights of minorities and other historically disadvantaged groups under the Constitution, even though this may be unpopular. »

A quote from Mahmud Jamal, Supreme Court Justice

He is not only a member of a visible minority, he is also a member of a religious minority. Mahmud Jamal grew up as a Muslim in the Ismaili community, before joining the Bahai community, like his wife, who is an Iranian refugee.

In an interview, he affirms that his personal experience is an asset for the Court, just like that of each of the individuals who compose it.

A dozen masked people around tables in a library.

The communications team of the Supreme Court of Canada meets with some judges.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Michel Aspirot

If you are a woman, if you are a man, if you yourself are a member of a minority, you bring your experience to work. I have experiences as a member of a visible minority, of a religious minority, so it gives a different perspective.

He adds – twice rather than once – that his faith will not change his legal decisions.

That does not mean that I will decide all the causes in favor of minoritieshe insists.

Law 21

As dictated by their duty of discretion, Judge Jamal and Chief Justice Wagner did not comment on the cases that are likely to succeed before them, including the Quebec law on the secularism of the State which will soon be debated before the Court. appeal of Quebec.

Sherbrooke University law professor Guillaume Rousseau – who also advised the Quebec government on Bill 21 – is convinced that Judge Jamal will be able to make sense of things if the case ends up before him, regardless of his personal beliefs. .

William Rousseau.

Guillaume Rousseau, professor of law at the University of Sherbrooke

Photo: André Chevrier

He must judge by virtue of the evidence, and in the evidence, there are as many testimonies from members of minorities who want to wear religious symbols as there are testimonies from members of minorities who do not want people in a position of authorities wear religious signs. If Judge Jamal arrives with an open mind, to hear both sides of the coin… that’s finesays Guillaume Rousseau.

Chief Justice Wagner recalls that candidates for a position on the Supreme Court are first evaluated by an independent committee on the basis of their professional qualifications.

Even though the nine judges often come from different provinces, with different languages ​​and different professional backgrounds, different life experiences, different ethnic origins, we come here with the same Canadian values, I would tell you, which are the same Quebec or elsewhere in the country, in terms of the values ​​of independence, impartiality and respect for institutions.

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