N.B. lacks leadership on language laws: prof
A constitutional law professor says the provincial government's lack of leadership on language laws is allowing people to escape criminal conviction.
Provincial Court Judge Yvette Finn dismissed a breathalyzer charge against a northeastern New Brunswick man because the RCMP officer didn't offer the accused man the choice of service in French or English.
Michel Doucet, a language law professor at the University of Moncton, said all it takes is for the police officer to say two words in order to satisfy the judges that the constitution is being respected.
"It would be very easy for the officers to conform themselves with that obligation. The only thing they need to ask the person they are stopping is, 'Français or English,' and that would satisfy the obligation," Doucet said.
Doucet said the police cannot assume which language their suspect wants to speak.
The Provincial Court judge said the RCMP have known since 2002 when the revised Official Languages Act was introduced that they must offer bilingual services.
Finn said in her court decision that there have been too many cases of police officers ignoring the constitutional guaranty.
A similar language case involved a high-profile politician two years ago.
Economic Development Minister Paul Robichaud tried to avoid paying a speeding ticket in 2008 by arguing the RCMP officer who gave it to him did not offer him service in English.
Robichaud appealed the fine in 2009 because he was not offered the service in English. He lost the appeal.
RCMP Sgt. Jean Devost said even though the judge made the controversial ruling in January, the case she decided actually happened in 2007.
Devost said he believes RCMP officers no longer make that mistake.
"We know this has to be done, every person has the right to RCMP services in the official language of their choice," he said.
The constitutional lawyer said there's a simple solution if people are upset that some are getting off.
Doucet said the provincial government could send a clear message to all police forces.
"It's a lack of leadership and there's been quite a lack of leadership in many linguistic matters in the province of New Brunswick," he said.
No one from the Department of Public Safety was available to comment.