RCMP bilingualism policy violates Charter: court

A Nova Scotia RCMP detachment may have to review its policies regarding bilingual officers, court rules

A Nova Scotia RCMP detachment may have to review its policies regarding bilingual officers after a federal court ruled a man should have been spoken to in French when he was issued a speeding ticket.

The case involves a Nova Scotia man who was caught speeding on the Trans-Canada Highway more than six years ago. The Amherst, N.S., RCMP officer who issued the speeding ticket spoke English, while the driver spoke French.

The force argued that under the Official Languages Act it only has to provide bilingual service in communities with a French population of more than 500.

But the judge ruled that the RCMP is using a formula that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lawyer Rejean Aucoin, who represents the driver, said the judge agreed with him that the federal force should have been able to provide service in French on that stretch of highway, located near New Brunswick.

"What the evidence has shown is that about 800,000 francophones cross the border in Amherst every year. So basically the Amherst detachment now will have to provide a service to those people," Aucoin said.

Aucoin said he hopes the RCMP will use the federal ruling as a new yardstick to determine where it assigns bilingual officers.

"I'm assuming that if they change the regulation, the regulation will apply to all of Canada. So it could be of national importance," he said.

The RCMP would not comment on the ruling, waiting to see if the Attorney General of Canada appeals the decision.

The ruling comes as Canada's official languages commissioner said this week that Ottawa needs to speed up its efforts to provide services in both French and English.