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June 7th 2006

RCMP and Official Languages in New Brunswick - Clarification

For immediate release

Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
RCMP and Official Languages in New Brunswick - Clarification

Fredericton, June 7, 2006 - The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Michel Carrier, has issued a clarification of the current state of language rights in New Brunswick with regard to policing services, including those provided by the RCMP when acting as a provincial or municipal police force.

According to the Commissioner, judging from the reporting on the recent Federal Court of Appeal decision in the matter involving the RCMP, one might think that this police force is not subject to New Brunswick's Official Languages Act. Certain articles about the decision imply that "only Anglophones have the right to be served in their language throughout New Brunswick. Francophones have this right only where numbers warrant." The Commissioner believes this statement is erroneous and should be corrected.

The Official Languages Act states clearly that members of the public have the right, when communicating with a peace officer, to receive service in the official language of their choice and must be informed of that right. This right is in no way modified or diminished by the recent Federal Court of Appeal decision. "For the purposes of this release, there's no need to comment on that decision or to debate the legal issues it raises," the Commissioner said. "We simply wish to ensure that there is no misunderstanding with respect to the rights conferred by the Act."

When acting on behalf of the province under the Provincial Police Services Agreement, an RCMP officer is a peace officer subject to the obligations set out in the Official Languages Act. As such, the officer, when communicating with members of the public, must inform them of their right to receive service in the official language of their choice and must then respect that choice. If the officer is unable to provide service in the official language chosen, he or she shall take whatever measures are necessary, within a reasonable time, to ensure compliance with the choice made.

"Concerned about the position that the federal Department of Justice seemed to be taking in this matter involving the RCMP, we contacted the provincial government and the commanding officer of the RCMP's "J" Division last year," Carrier said. "From our discussions with them, we learned that, after the adoption of the new 2002 Official Languages Act, the province had contacted the RCMP to inform it of its official languages obligations and that the RCMP had responded by assuring the government it was fully committed to meeting the requirements of the Act. We received the same message during our meeting with the commanding officer of "J" Division. In fact, "J" Division's 2004-2005 annual report confirms to the general public that the RCMP is committed to complying with New Brunswick's Official Languages Act and that the provision of bilingual services in all regions of New Brunswick is essential to ensuring effective policing services."

"Although we don't want to sow doubt about the goodwill expressed by the parties concerned, we believe that a clear, specific clause to that effect must be added to the Provincial Police Services Agreement. We already suggested this in a letter to the Premier in 2005, and we are going to revisit this issue and reiterate to the government that it must initiate discussions to ensure that such a clause is added to the agreement. Judging from the commitment expressed by the RCMP, one would think that there should be little debate, and the whole matter ought to be concluded fairly quickly."

"We would like to repeat that the RCMP, acting under the agreement with the province, must comply with the obligations imposed by the Act on peace officers. Under subsections 31(1), 31(2), and 31(3) of the Act, you have the right to receive service from the RCMP in the language of your choice, no matter where you are in New Brunswick. You should therefore take advantage of that right."

If, while communicating with a peace officer, members of the public feel their right to be served in the official language of their choice is not being respected, they may report this to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick. Complaints can be filed by calling 1-888-651-6444 or by consulting the Internet site www.officiallanguages.nb.ca.


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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.