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Ethics complaint filed against judge who challenged constitutionality of Quebec language law

 The administrator of a driving school is fined for defrauding Revenu Quebec. A lawyer walks past the courthouse in Montreal, Wednesday, July 12, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi
Christinne Muschi The administrator of a driving school is fined for defrauding Revenu Quebec. A lawyer walks past the courthouse in Montreal, Wednesday, July 12, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi Christinne Muschi

A rights group is accusing a Quebec judge of politicizing the courts after he challenged the constitutionality of the province's language law that requires immediate French translations of English-language judgments.

The non-profit group Droits Collectifs Québec (DCQ) says Court of Quebec Justice Dennis Galiatsatos put himself into a conflict of interest with his ruling last month, alleging he violated three articles of the Judicial code of ethics. The DCQ filed an official ethics complaint last week with Quebec's Judicial Council, the Conseil de la magistrature.

On May 17, Justice Galiatsatos raised concerns in his 17-page ruling that an amendment to Quebec's French-language Charter would cause "undue delays" to trials held in English because of a new requirement for English rulings to be translated "immediately and without delay." The amendment was set to come into force on June 1, 2024, but his ruling rendered it "inoperable" because it would slow down the judicial process for anglophones, according to the ruling. 

He raised the issue before the start of a trial he is overseeing for Christine Pryde, an anglophone who is currently being tried on charges of dangerous driving, impaired driving and criminal negligence in the 2021 death of cyclist Irene Dehem.

"If there's anything unconstitutional in this case, it's this activist, political decision by the court to attack laws passed by the Quebec Parliament without even being asked to do so by a party," said the DCQ's executive director, Etienne-Alexis Boucher, in a statement on their website.

"This is a denial of the separation of powers and the role of the courts in our Quebec civil law, whose role is to apply, not to make law."

Galiatsatos said translation of court rulings can take weeks or months to complete, and adding this new requirement in Quebec could force English-speakers to wait longer than those who are tried in French.

However, in Boucher's complaint, filed on June 5, he accused the judge of stepping outside "the framework of the law" and disregarding "the limits of the powers of his judicial office."

He also took issue with Galiatsatos ruling on the matter on his own and not after either party in the Pryde case had raised it.

"Judge Denis Galiatsatos thereby placed himself, once again if not by intention at least by effect, in a situation of conflict of interest and partiality, blurring the line between judge and party," the complaint reads.

"Judges are in no way above the law. He does not have the inherent power to set himself up as the inquisitor of the constitutional validity of Quebec laws; even less so before they come into force, to declare them invalid on his own initiative, in the name of the Canadian constitutional system; and even less so when the parties have explicitly asked him not to do so."

The Quebec Judicial Council said it could not comment on specific complaints that are in their early stages. Top Stories

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