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Judge worries amendment to Quebec language law will cause 'undue delays' for English trials

 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 Quebec judge overseeing the trial of a person accused of killing a cyclist with their car has raised concerns that an amendment to the province's language charter could cause "undue delays" for trials held in English.

Court of Quebec Justice Dennis Galiatsatos wrote in a 17-page ruling that he is worried about an amendment coming into force next month that requires a French translation of any written judgment in English "immediately and without delay."

He has asked the attorneys general of Quebec and Canada to formally weigh in on the matter ahead of the start of the trial of Christine Pryde, who is charged with dangerous driving, impaired driving and criminal negligence, causing the death of cyclist Irene Dehem.

Pryde was charged after a May 18, 2021, collision on L'Anse-a-l'Orme Road on Montreal's West Island and elected to have her trial in English, which is a right under the Criminal Code.

Justice Galiatsatos wrote that the significant trial would certainly end with a written judgment.

At issue is the translation requirement under a provision of the French-language charter, which was amended on June 1, 2022.

The amendment will take effect on June 1, 2024, two days after the trial is scheduled to begin.

"This would imply that Mrs. Pryde, the Crown and Irene Dehem's family will all have to wait several additional weeks or months (the latter being more likely than the former) to receive the final judgment, even though it will be ready long before that, sitting on a shelf while we await a translation by the court services, which will then need to be reviewed, corrected and approved," the judge wrote in his ruling on Wednesday.

Her defence lawyer has argued that the new requirement is "unfair and highly problematic."

The defence is not challenging the constitutionality of the law but instead informed the court last week that it intends to file a motion for a stay of proceedings due to unreasonable delay, given the trial's direction.

The Supreme Court's landmark Jordan ruling in 2016 set strict limits on how long trials must be completed before they violate a person's Charter right to a speedy trial.

In provincial trials, such as Pryde's, the limit is 18 months, whereas the limit for cases before the Superior Court is 30 months.

Last week, the judge reached out to the attorneys general of Quebec and Canada to raise the constitutional question.

The former said at a case-management hearing that it takes issue with the fact that the judge—and not the interested parties—raised the issue on his own initiative and argued that the question was "imprecise and incomplete," according to the ruling.

The Attorney General of Canada agreed that the judge should not have been the one to raise the question and argued that it was a non-issue.

The judge has disagreed with their feedback so far.

"To be abundantly clear, the amendment impacts how and when a judgment may be rendered by a criminal division provincial court judge at the end of a trial. This is no collateral detail. It is as basic as it gets," the judge wrote.

"It goes to one of the judge's core functions, exercised almost weekly. This is far from a purely intellectual exercise being raised out of caprice or boredom. With great respect, it is surprising that the Quebec Attorney General's office objects to the judge raising the issue. It is akin to opening a shoe store and then recoiling at the fact that a customer would dare discuss how shoelaces are tied."

CTV News reached out to Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette and Minister of the French Language Jean-François Roberge to comment on the legal matter, but their offices did not immediately respond on Thursday.

Justice Galiatsatos said the issue has vast implications for accused people who want to be tried in English in Quebec and has asked both attorneys general to provide written submissions to the court by May 14.

If an accused person files a Jordan motion every time translation causes a delay, "this would have the effect of derailing every English trial in the province," according to the judge. "It would be antithetical to the sound allocation of judicial resources." Top Stories

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