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October 11th 2006

Announcement of the abolition of the federal Court Challenges Program

Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick announcement of the abolition of the federal Court Challenges Program

Fredericton, October 11, 2006 – New Brunswick’s Official Languages Commissioner has added his voice to those expressing surprise and great disappointment at the announcement of the abolition of the federal Court Challenges Program.

“As Commissioner, I have a mandate to protect and promote the rights and freedoms of New Brunswick’s Anglophone and Francophone communities. Use of the courts over the past few decades in the area of language rights, in New Brunswick and throughout the country, has represented a tool for the protection and promotion of language rights that has been favourable to the development of minority official-language communities. The Court Challenges Program has made it possible for numerous cases to be brought before the courts. Without that program, we would not have benefited from decisions that unquestionably contributed to our advancement at a remarkable pace and with remarkable vigour.”

The Commissioner said he was especially concerned about the statement by the Treasury Board president that it does not make sense for the government to financially support legal proceedings to challenge the laws of the land.

The Commissioner went on to say that, “Federal and provincial legislation and the actions of our governments cannot go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The law is clear. Citizens who feel that a particular measure violates the wording of the Charter or the principles that inspire it are entitled to ask the courts to step in. It is absolutely normal and essential in a democracy that we offer easy, unhindered access to our courts. Elected officials know very well that use of the courts very often involves high costs and that, as a result, few persons or groups have sufficient financial resources to initiate legal proceedings, especially when such proceedings raise issues of constitutional law.”

The Commissioner plans to contact Premier Shawn Graham in order to urge him to intercede with Prime Minister Harper in an effort to have this alarming decision reversed and the program restored.

“We have to make sure we preserve our achievements and continue our progress. Abolition of the Court Challenges Program is a step back and will certainly have a negative impact on the advancement of language rights in Canada."

CONTACT PERSON: Patricia Parent, Director of Public Affairs and Research (Acting), Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, (506) 444-4229, 1-888-651-6444 (toll-free), e-mail patricia.parent@gnb.ca.