May 17th, 2024

Judge to rule on validity of Quebec language law because it delays English verdicts

By Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press on May 4, 2024.

A Quebec court judge will decide whether the province's new language reform is constitutional, because a section of the law systematically delays the delivery of English verdicts. A lawyer walks past the courthouse in Montreal, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

MONTREAL – A Quebec court judge will decide whether the province’s new language reform is constitutional because a section of the law systematically delays the delivery of verdicts handed down in English.

Judge Dennis Galiatsatos raised the question on his own initiative while overseeing a case involving a woman charged with criminal negligence causing the death of a cyclist.

In a May 1 decision, Galiatsatos said he will rule on the validity of a section of Quebec’s language law that requires court verdicts in English to be translated into French “immediately and without delay.” He invited written arguments on the issue from the attorneys general of Quebec and Canada to be filed no later than May 14.

He says the “problematic” section of Quebec’s language law imposes a rigid timeline, which he says “has the effect of obstructing the basic operation of the criminal process” that falls under federal jurisdiction.”

The judge’s concerns surfaced while presiding over the case of Christine Pryde, who is charged with dangerous driving, impaired driving and criminal negligence causing the death of cyclist Irene Dehem after a collision on May 18, 2021, on the Island of Montreal. Pryde was tired and had taken anxiety medication before she got in her car and drove to Tim Hortons for a coffee, and collided with Dehem on the way.

Pryde has elected to have her trial in English. The two-week long proceedings are scheduled to get underway on June 3, but the translation requirement of Quebec’s language law is set to take effect on June 1. As a result, the court will have to file a French-language copy of its original English ruling on the same day.

“In other words, even if the court’s final judgment itself is ready, I will not be permitted to file it,” Galiatsatos said.

“Pryde, the Crown and Irene Dehem’s family will all have to wait several additional weeks or months “¦ to receive the final judgment, even though it will be ready long before that, sitting on a shelf while we await a translation by the court services, which will then need to be reviewed, corrected and approved.”

Quebec’s attorney general objected to Galiatsatos’s decision to raise the constitutional question, arguing the judge did not have the power to do so. Following a hearing on the question, Canada’s attorney general also disagreed that the judge could raise the issue.

“Implicitly in counsel’s arguments, the attorney general of Canada considers that this is simply a non-existent problem that the court has imagined out of thin air,” Galiatsatos said. “With great respect, these arguments stem from a severe lack of understanding of how criminal trials proceed and how a judge exercises his duties.”

The judge said Quebec’s translation requirement affects how and when a judge may render a verdict on a criminal matter. “This is no collateral detail. This is as basic as it gets,” he said.

“With great respect, it is surprising that the Quebec attorney general’s office objects to the judge raising the issue,” Galiatsatos wrote. “It is akin to opening a shoe store and then recoiling at the fact that a customer would dare discuss how shoelaces are tied.”

The judge said he has full confidence both attorneys general will provide the court with compelling, well-reasoned arguments on the constitutional question he raised.

Neither Attorney General responded to requests for comment on the matter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2024.

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