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Quebec group goes to court over Gov. Gen. Mary Simon's lack of French

MONTREAL — A group of Quebecers is going to court to argue that Mary Simon's appointment as governor general should be invalidated because she isn't fluent in French.
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Gov. Gen. Mary Simon delivers the throne speech in the Senate, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

MONTREAL — A group of Quebecers is going to court to argue that Mary Simon's appointment as governor general should be invalidated because she isn't fluent in French. 

The group, led by historian Frédéric Bastien, filed a request to Quebec Superior Court this week for a declaratory judgment stating that Simon's nomination violates Charter provisions declaring Canada to be bilingual.

The former Parti Québécois leadership candidate says choosing a governor general who doesn't speak one of the country's official languages is an insult to francophones and a signal that bilingualism doesn't matter.

"It sends a bad message to French Canadians and Acadians that they are second-class citizens, that official bilingualism is something that is just not important, (that) we can get rid of it as need be," he said in an interview Thursday.

His group is relying on judicial precedent in New Brunswick, where French-speaking Acadians recently challenged the appointment of a unilingual anglophone lieutenant-governor on similar grounds. A judge ruled in April that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated constitutional language protections when he appointed Brenda Murphy, but the judge added that striking down the nomination could "create a legislative and constitutional crisis.''

Simon speaks English and Inuktitut and has promised to learn French, but Bastien said the government should have chosen one of several qualified Indigenous candidates who speak both official languages.

"Our view is that the Constitution says the person appointed should be bilingual," Bastien said. "It doesn’t say she should learn French on the job."

The court challenge cites articles from the Charter and the Constitution that state that French and English have equal status and that citizens have the right to communicate with the federal government and receive services in either language. It also argues that the Governor General's unique role in the constitutional system means that she, personally — and not just her office — must be bilingual.

"Unlike the members of the Senate and the House of Commons, the natural person of the Governor General is the only person who exercises the office of this 'institution,' which makes it possible to conclude that the legal person and the natural person of the Governor General is one and the same," the document states.

Representatives for Simon and federal Justice Minister David Lametti directed requests for comment to the Privy Council Office, which said Thursday it has received the claim and would be "reviewing it closely."

"Since her installation almost a year ago, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Mary Simon, has represented Canada abroad, received world leaders in Canada, honoured the accomplishments of members of the Canadian Armed Forces and had the opportunity to meet Canadians from across the country who represent our diversity," spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold said in an email.

"The Governor General has done a remarkable job and shown great leadership in discharging the duties of her office."

Bastien said the documents were filed in Superior Court on Wednesday and are a "Canada Day gift to Mr. Trudeau." No hearing date has yet been set.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press