Before I get to the reason for this meeting, I want to update the committee on two things.
One is that the Liaison Committee has asked us where we're travelling between March and June. I said New Zealand, but they wouldn't agree. I assume we'll just put in that we don't need any money for that.
The other thing—and this is more for David Graham—you will remember that the PPS reported in estimates that they will be buying unmarked cars with the new money. You may have noticed there are some new marked cars showing up. PPS just wanted to let you know those were bought with the old money. The new unmarked cars are still coming.
Also, there's been general agreement that in the second half, instead of going into subcommittee, we're going to continue on with the full committee, because then it would have to go to subcommittee anyway.
Good morning, welcome to the 135th meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Today, we will consider the fourth report of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business submitted to the Clerk of the Committee on Thursday, November 22. The subcommittee recommended that Bill be designated as non-votable.
Pursuant to Standing Order 92(2), we are pleased to have with us the sponsor of the bill, Mario Beaulieu, member of Parliament for La Pointe-de-l'Île, to explain why he is of the opinion that this bill should be votable. He is accompanied by Marc-André Roche, a Bloc Québécois researcher.
Thank you for being here, Mr. Beaulieu. For your information, the correspondence you sent on Tuesday was distributed to the members of the committee. You can now make your presentation to the committee.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for having us here.
As I indicated in my letter to you, the subcommittee may have found my Bill clearly unconstitutional, but it did not specify which section of the Constitution or the Charter it was alleged to have violated. In the absence of a clear indication, I will provide an overview of all the provisions that may be relevant. I hope this will answer your question. Otherwise, I am at your disposal to answer any questions you may have.
As you mentioned, I am accompanied by Marc-André Roche, the assistant to my colleague, the member for . Since we don't have a research team, he gave me a hand.
As you know, the standard used to assess whether a bill is unconstitutional is not very high. On page 1143, Bosc and Gagnon state:
Bills and motions must not clearly violate the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I emphasize the words “clearly violate the Constitution Acts”. It has long been established that a disagreement on the constitutionality of a bill is not enough to make it non-votable. I have a feeling that you will not have difficulty in making your decision.
Right now, permanent residents must meet a number of criteria to become Canadian citizens. These include passing two proficiency tests: a general knowledge test about their host society and a language proficiency test, where they must demonstrate that they have adequate knowledge of English or French.
Bill is quite simple. It amends the Citizenship Act to ensure that permanent residents who ordinarily reside in Quebec must demonstrate that they have an adequate knowledge of French.
The first constitutionality criterion is the division of powers. Citizenship falls under federal jurisdiction under section 91.25 of the British North America Act, 1867, which specifies that naturalization and aliens fall under the jurisdiction of Parliament. Clearly, my bill meets that condition.
That leaves the Charter. Since the subcommittee has not indicated any specific provisions to support its decision, I will go through it as quickly as possible.
First, there are mobility rights. Subsection 6(2) of the Charter states that citizens and permanent residents have the right to move anywhere in Canada, to take up residence in any province and to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province. Whether or not Bill is passed, nothing would prevent a permanent resident residing in another province from moving to Quebec, settling and working there. Nothing would prevent a permanent resident residing in another province from obtaining Canadian citizenship there, then moving to Quebec and enjoying all the rights and privileges associated with Canadian citizenship.
Since Bill has no impact on mobility rights, I gather that this is not why the subcommittee found the bill to be “clearly unconstitutional”.
Then there is the language of communication with federal institutions. Subsection 20(1) of the Charter states that the public may communicate with the federal government in either English or French at their discretion, and that the government must be able to provide services in English or French where numbers or the nature of the service warrant it.
Bill has no effect on the language of communication between the public and the federal administration. Whether or not this bill is passed, a permanent resident will still be able to communicate with the federal government in either English or French.
Similarly, the oath of citizenship may continue to be administered in either French or English, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. I might have preferred it otherwise, but that would have made my bill unconstitutional. That's why I did not propose it.
Bill simply requires that permanent residents residing in Quebec demonstrate that they have an adequate knowledge of French, the official language and the normal language of communication in Quebec.
Let me remind you that there is already a degree of asymmetry in the application of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In Quebec, the Government of Quebec selects and supports immigrants and implements integration programs. Knowledge of French holds a prominent place in all those stages.
Bill supports Quebec's efforts and extends the granting of citizenship, which already exists at the previous stages, namely selection, support and integration. The selection, reception and integration of immigrants, as well as the granting of citizenship are four elements of the same process. I have difficulty seeing how knowledge of French would be constitutional in the first three steps, but unconstitutional in the fourth. In any event, Bill C-421 has no effect on the language of communication between the public and federal institutions, which resolves the issue of its compliance with subsection 20(1) of the Charter.
There are still the provisions on official languages.
Subsection 16(1) of the Charter states:
English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.
I emphasize the words “equal rights and privileges as to their use”. Bill contains no provisions or requirements regarding the use of English or French. It only refers to the knowledge of French. Knowledge and use are two completely different things. In addition, subsection 16(3) clarifies the scope of the Charter:
Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality of status or use of English and French.
That subsection of the Charter refers to the “equality of status or use of English and French” in Canada. The Supreme Court even recognizes that French is the minority language in Canada. It recognizes that, for English and French to progress towards equality in Canada, French must be predominant in Quebec. In the 2009 Nguyen decision, it ruled as follows:
...this Court has already held... that the general objective of protecting the French language is a legitimate one... in view of the unique linguistic and cultural situation of the province of Quebec...
This allows the court to conclude that:
... the aim of the language policy underlying the Charter of the French Language was a serious and legitimate one. [The materials] indicate the concern about the survival of the French language and the perceived need for an adequate legislative response to the problem...
I am talking about a constitutional judgment.
The measures to ensure the primacy of the French language in Quebec effectively promote the equality of status or use of French in Canada. It could even be argued that the government's current practice with a view to making Quebec bilingual contravenes this, since by making French weaker in Quebec, it does not promote the equality of the two languages in Canada. That being said, there's no need to debate this here.
I had to show you that my bill is not “clearly unconstitutional”. I think I have.
I am at your disposal to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Take me, I am a francophone. It doesn't get any more francophone than the name Lapointe. I was raised in Laval, I have always worked in Boisbriand, and I promote French in the House to all my colleagues.
Isn't that right, colleagues? Say yes. Say that I speak to you in French all the time. Even when you don't understand, you manage to understand.
I promote French and do everything I can to make people bilingual. In my opinion, the higher the bilingualism rate in Canada, the better.
I sat on the Standing Committee on Official Languages with Mr. Nater and Ms. Kusie, who are as convinced as I am of the value of bilingualism.
I mean, we are promoters of bilingualism and, in my opinion, when it comes to French, we must go even further. I am uncomfortable with your bill.
I am not a constitutional expert. We have people who can help us if need be. Those working at the Library of Parliament can help us. I am just uncomfortable with this bill.
I don't make the decision. If I am told that a bill is not constitutional, I cannot challenge it as a lawyer would. I hold a bachelor of business administration degree. I don't claim to be a lawyer at all.
I cannot see myself telling the anglophone constituents in my riding, who have the right to be permanent residents of Quebec, who contribute to society in their own way even though they speak English, that they will not become Canadian citizens and that they will simply remain permanent residents.
Perhaps some of my colleagues have something to add.
The only way to deem this constitutional would be if English and French did not have equal status in the Constitution. However, their status is indeed equal in the Constitution. Moreover, there is not a single province in Canada, not one, that does not have francophones in its population.
If a bill required being able to speak English throughout the province of Quebec, it would not increase the rights of francophones, but would instead attack them. When you attack English in Quebec, you attack French in the rest of Canada.
I too would like to increase the importance of French across Canada. I am bilingual, I grew up in a family where both parents were French-speaking. However, I was raised in English because my family was not allowed to attend a French-language school because it was not Catholic. I am now English-speaking because I was not Catholic. This makes no sense.
To increase the importance of French across Canada, however, we must see both languages as truly equal. If you will allow me to make this comment, your bill is fully and completely contrary to the objectives of the Constitution. It is by no means constitutional.
I want French to be spoken across Canada. We defend all the francophone and Acadian communities. Quebec is in some way the primary home of the French language.
I don't want to get too involved in the political debate. I think it's better to keep with the constitutional debate. Around the world, regimes based solely on institutional bilingualism, wall to wall, always end up seeing the assimilation of minority languages.
There are several countries where more than one national language is spoken. In Belgium, Switzerland and Cameroon, for instance, there is a common language for a given territory. This doesn't prevent people from knowing five or six second languages very well, but it does protect their language. If you go to Flemish Belgium, you will find that Dutch, which is hardly spoken in the world, isn't threatened in this part of Belgium, where it is the common language.
In general, the Constitution is based on the principle of protecting linguistic duality. In Canada, the endangered language is French. This language must continue to exist and flourish in our country, which explains the additional powers granted to Quebec, particularly through the Cullen-Couture agreement on immigration.
Quebec's Charter of the French Language, which some have said is a great piece of Canadian legislation, aims to make French the common language in Quebec to allow francophones to work and live in their language. I don't think it's unconstitutional.
I think it is constitutional. The arguments you've raised are more political in nature. You gave the example of your spouse, who is one specific case, but the Constitution applies to the entire community and the Canadian population as a whole.
Based on your reasoning, you would be against all the measures that Quebec has taken to promote French because you would consider them unconstitutional. You would say that the criterion related to knowledge of French to select immigrants to Quebec is unconstitutional. It's the same thing.
We don't prevent people from communicating with the government in English or French. All we want is an incentive. We want people to demonstrate that they know French. The Citizenship Act already requires knowledge of English or French, and if a person does not have knowledge of either language, their application is rejected.
We believe that in Quebec, knowledge of French should be required of immigrants because it is the common language. This doesn't mean that it's not important to know English or to be bilingual on an individual level. In Quebec, French must be strengthened. I don't want to get into a political debate, but in Montreal, French is on the decline. The indicators show that there is a decline in French because newcomers are not sufficiently francized. It's not a far-fetched requirement that we want to use to crush anyone; it is a requirement that aims to ensure the future of French in Quebec.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to both of you for being here. I appreciate the discussion.
Let's talk about the Constitution, and let's focus on the legality of things, even though, with respect, your presentation seems to be far more.... I appreciate the passion—the passionate and political versus the legal—but let's focus on this.
I've had the opportunity to sit on the justice committee and have heard a lot of constitutional arguments being put forward. I didn't hear any cases put forward in your opening submission. I've looked at your subsequent submission and it cites the Nguyen case. That case deals with section 23 of the charter, and you're arguing under sections 16 and 20.
Why aren't you bringing forward cases that deal with that? If we're dealing with a very specific legal issue, why are you cherry-picking a paragraph from a case dealing with a different section of the charter to support your arguments on sections 16 and 20?