EDMONTON -- The Alberta government is appealing a court decision that threw out a traffic ticket against a francophone trucker because it was written only in English.
But it's really a legal fight to ensure that all French-speaking Canadians can get government services in that language, says the man's defence lawyer.
"Rather than spend many years in court, we would like the government to recognize the constitutional rights of the francophone community of Alberta, and the rights of all French speakers in Alberta," Rupert Baudais said Thursday in an interview from his law office in Regina.
Provincial court Judge Leo Wenden ruled earlier this month that the ticket issued in 2003 to Gilles Caron wasn't valid because it wasn't printed in French.
"It really never was about a traffic ticket specifically. It's about raising the constitutional validity of Alberta's language law, which makes English the only official language in the province," Baudais said.
Similar cases have been fought over traffic tickets in Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba, he said.
Alberta Justice is mounting the appeal, seeking to clarify whether the province's Languages Act and Traffic Safety Act must be written in both languages.
A Supreme Court decision in 1988 ruled that the provinces have the power to determine their own language rights legislation.
"The issue to us in this case is that the judge's decision seems to suggest that Alberta's laws, as they are written in English, are invalid," said David Dear, a spokesman for Alberta Justice. "Our argument has been that the Supreme Court has already ruled on that matter and, in fact, our laws as they are in English, are valid."
Under the North-West Territories Act of the 1870s, both the English and French languages had equal standing under the law, he said.
But because of the Supreme Court ruling in the 1980s, provinces had the right to repeal that act, and that's what Alberta did, Dear said.
But Baudais said the Alberta government, and all other provincial governments, are obligated to honour the commitment to ensure language rights, which he said were guaranteed when the responsibility for the northern territories was transferred to Canada by the United Kingdom in the 1800s.
"I think this has to go to the Supreme Court because it's obvious the government will not voluntarily correct this situation," Baudais said.
The Alberta government adopted a law in 1988 which, in essence, abolished French language rights, Baudais said.
"Without that, there can not be any French language services rendered by government agencies or departments. So it takes that foundation in order to have French language services from the government in areas which really matter to citizens," he said.
While Dear said the legal case may have specifically centred around Caron, he suggested the provincial government was concerned about the message the ruling might send.
A 90-day stay on the original court decision remains in place and Alberta's traffic rules will continue to be enforced.
"As we said in applying for our stay of Judge Wenden's decision, it's to no one's advantage, not to the legal system's advantage, nor the Alberta public's advantage, to have a person to whom some of the laws would no longer apply," Dear said.
Dear argues that provisions have been made to provide court services in French to people who don't speak English, including hiring interpreters and providing French-speaking prosecutors and judges for trials.
No date has been set for the appeal in Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench, though Baudais said he's been told by the Crown that it must be heard within the next 120 days.
While Baudais said the case should go to the Supreme Court, he also admitted that Caron may not have the financial resources to take it that far.
I don't see the big deal, if I went to Quebec and I got a ticket written in french.... that wouldn't suprise me.... but I'm not that incompetent that I can't translate the ticket or seek english translation or english legal council to deal with the matter.... nor would I be so damn petty to disregard the ticket because it's not in my favored language.
You got people bitching about the rights of french speaking people..... well what about the English speaking people in which you are interacting with when you enter their provience or other country? Do you expect to have everybody on bended knees to suit your language issues? What about your own obligations to their languages when you are in their area?
What's next? People who speak Korean or Arabic now can exclude tickets that are written in english and are not in their own preferred language?
Am I supposed to suddenly learn Gaelic when I head to Cape Breton....... just in case?