English-only Monolingualism of U of O Lawyers Delays Academic Freedom Cases
A motion hearing took place on January 26, 2012 in the lawsuit of U of O professors Joanne St. Lewis vs. Denis Rancourt in order to establish case management of the suit, to abandon a motion for summary judgement by Ms. St. Lewis, and to commence the first case conference (scheduling session for future motion dates). The parties appeared before Master Calum MacLeod at the Ottawa Courthouse.
Richard Dearden of Gowlings LLP was present, representing Ms. St. Lewis. As has been previously reported, the U of O is funding all of Gowlings’ legal fees in the case. Also present was Mr. Peter Doody of Bordner Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG), intervening in the matter for the first time on behalf of the Univerity of Ottawa with regards to Mr. Rancourt’s motion to strike the suit on the basis of champerty. Mr. Dearden and Mr. Doody do not speak French.
Although evidence in French has already appeared in the case, neither Gowlings nor BLG provided French-speaking counsel at Thursday’s hearing. The case conference was unable to proceed due to the U of O lawyers’ and the Master’s incapacities in the French language, and had to be scheduled for a later date, before a bilingual Master and with translation services to be arranged.
* * *
Similarly this week, in the Rancourt vs. University of Ottawa labour arbitration, the university’s principal counsel announced he will have to step down because of his inability to speak French. Lynn Harnden, of Emond Harnden LLP, who has represented the university since the arbitration commenced in May 2011, stated to the board at hearings on Monday and Tuesday that delays will be necessary to allow his firm to prepare and provide a new, bilingual lawyer before French-language witnesses take the stand at upcoming hearings.
* * *
The University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual university in North America, with the statutory mission to “further bilingualism and biculturalism and to preserve and develop French culture in Ontario.”