Kudos to Justice Russell Brown. But “bilingual privilege”? Has our notion of what privilege is and who possesses it gone too far? I’m unconvinced that the argument of bilingual privilege holds water. Privilege implies that some people are denied access, even if they tried or wanted to. As far as I’m concerned, most, if not all Canadians born in Canada (heck — even naturalized Canadians) can become bilingual if they really want to.
My bilingualism did not come as a result of having bilingual parents. Far from it. It came from hard work. It came from immersing myself in Francophone environments. It came from initiative. English is my mother tongue. I’m the only person in my family that speaks French. But the fact of the matter is that I can still speak French — not because of expensive programs (of which I was not a beneficiary) nor because of anything else to which the general public does not have access but because of desire and initiative, plain and simple. And believe me — I don’t have an affinity for languages either.
We have “White privilege” and “male privilege” for a reason: I can’t become White, even if I tried. I can’t become male, even if I tried. But I can become bilingual — and I did — because I tried. I dare say that Barb — and anyone else for that matter — can too. My story is not anomalous.
It would behoove Justice Brown to learn French, if only for his personal betterment and benefit. But it will not be egregiously detrimental to his work, since there are justices of the Supreme Court of Canada who hail from Quebec (and ergo speak French) as well as law clerks who speak French.
The fact of the matter is, however, that we need more bilingual jurists in the judiciary across Canada, at every instance, and especially in areas with a Francophone population.
I was having a conversation about this issue with a colleague a few weeks ago. As a staff lawyer with Legal Aid Ontario, he sees the problem first hand. The fact of the matter is that, at least in courts of first instance, Francophones are heavily pressured to speak English when interacting with the government and they are prejudiced when not able to express themselves in their mother tongue.
So, like I said, congrats to Mr. Justice Russell Brown. By the sounds of it, this is a post that is well-merited. But this appointment still does not mean that Trudeau is incorrect — we still need bilingual judges.