In 1978 the Court Challenges Program was established. While its mandate eventually broadened to include all issues of equality, its initial purpose was to guarantee that linguistic groups were able to get the services they needed in the language of their choice.
In September 2006, the newly-formed Conservative government cancelled the Court Challenges Program.
On Tuesday, May 15th, the official languages commissioner, Graham Fraser, released a report stating that eliminating this program was a violation of Canada’s Official Languages Act.
Also on Tuesday, May 15th, the Conservative government halted the House of Commons Official Languages Committee, after opposition members joined together to vote out Conservative chairman Guy Lauzon after his sudden cancellation of meetings. The Conservatives then refused to let another Conservative MP run for the position, preventing the committee from reconvening.
“This is highly undemocratic,” stated CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux. “To have our government decide that partisan concerns outweigh a fair process sets off a lot of alarm bells. The same day that Prime Minister Harper was called to question for violating the Official Languages Act, the Official Languages Committee was shut down.”
The three opposition parties have joined forces and set up their own unofficial committee, and are continuing to hear from minority-language groups on the impact the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program is having on their communities.
The Harper government likes to pride itself on decisive leadership. What we see here is yet another form of bullying from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The silencing of this committee does not bode well for Prime Minister Harper. Eliminating the Court Challenges Program and refusing to put forward a Conservative member to chair the Official Languages Committee only serve as fuel to already smouldering fire for a government committed to smoke and mirrors rather than open dialogue and transparency.
“This is the sort of thing we were afraid of, when the Court Challenges Program was cancelled,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist. “Any voices wanting to challenge the current status of the laws of this land are being muzzled.”
It was under the Court Challenges Program that CUPE successfully argued for equal rights for same-sex partners with regards to employer sponsored pension plans and pension benefits.