Supreme Court

Constitutional Law

Language rights

Under Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Counsel for insurance company took appropriate steps to assert his own language rights

Individual worked for insurance company, and when his contracted ended, individual asked that his employment be considered insurable employment, which Canada Revenue Agency rejected. Individual took case to tax court and insurance company intervened as party, and examined witnesses to make point that individual’s contract was contract for services and not employment. Individual was self-represented at hearing and indicated that he had troubles understanding French and that he would need translator if French were used during proceedings. Some of witnesses and counsel for insurance company indicated that they wanted to speak in French, but judge asked them to speak in English and judge steered testimony and presentation of counsel’s argument back to English. Individual was successful in his proceedings, but insurance company successfully appealed and Federal Court of Appeal found that language rights of insurance company’s counsel and witnesses had been violated, and new hearing before different judge was ordered. Individual appealed. Appeal dismissed. It was found that there were numerous language rights violations, and they had undeniable impact on witnesses and parties, on conduct of hearing and even on its outcome, and brought administration of justice into disrepute. All persons who appeared in federal courts must be able to freely exercise their fundamental and substantive right to speak in official language of their choice, as two legislative provisions, namely s. 133 of Constitution Act, 1867 and s. 19 of Charter of Rights and Freedoms, protected individuals’ rights to use English and French in those courts. Counsel for insurance company took appropriate steps to assert his own language rights as well as language rights of his clients and his witnesses, and language rights were raised from start of hearing and reiterated forcefully throughout proceedings. Counsel’s choice to defer to judge’s instructions was result of judge’s insistence that witnesses speak in English and was not tactical move, therefore order for new hearing was fully justified.

Mazraani c. Industrielle Alliance, Assurance et services financiers inc. (2018), 2018 CarswellNat 6701, 2018 CarswellNat 6702, 2018 SCC 50, 2018 CSC 50, Wagner C.J.C., Abella J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., Gascon J., Côté J., Brown J., Rowe J., and Martin J. (S.C.C.); affirmed (2017), 2017 CarswellNat 1457, 2017 CarswellNat 1458, 2017 FCA 80, 2017 CAF 80, Johanne Gauthier J.A., Richard Boivin J.A., and Yves de Montigny J.A. (F.C.A.).

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