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N.B. lieutenant-governor does not need to be bilingual, says Court of Appeal

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FREDERICTON -

New Brunswick's Court of Appeal says that while it is desirable for the province's lieutenant-governor to be bilingual, the Constitution doesn't impose such a requirement.

Residents of Canada's only officially bilingual province have a constitutional right to receive services from and communicate with the office of the lieutenant-governor -- or any other institution of the legislature or government -- in either official language, the court affirmed in a ruling Thursday. But that right doesn't depend on the "personal linguistic capabilities" of the office holder.

"It is not the right to 'speak' to the head of state or to the individual who personifies the institution or to otherwise communicate with him or her," the Court of Appeal said.

Thursday's ruling reverses a lower court ruling that said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated constitutional language protections when he appointed unilingual anglophone Brenda Murphy as lieutenant-governor in 2019.

The Acadian Society of New Brunswick had challenged Murphy's appointment, arguing that it violated the right to communicate with and receive services from the government in either official language.

In April 2022, the Acadian society scored a victory when New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Tracey K. DeWare said Trudeau had indeed violated the Constitution. But the judge did not strike down Murphy's nomination, arguing that doing so would cause a constitutional crisis. Instead, DeWare wrote that it was up to the federal government to decide what to do.

DeWare had found that a unilingual lieutenant-governor would have "significant difficulties" delivering a speech from the throne "with equal attention given to both languages. Can such a situation really be deemed to represent equality of the linguistic communities pursuant to the charter? In my view, it cannot."

The Acadian society said in a statement Thursday that it maintains its position that a bilingual lieutenant-governor is a constitutional imperative and it intends to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Acadians in New Brunswick cannot accept that the appointment process for the position does not respect the province's linguistic regime," said Nicole Arseneau-Sluyter, president of the society. "That is why we will use all legal means at our disposal to defend the rights of the Acadian and francophone community in New Brunswick."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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