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English-only Monolingualism of U of O Lawyers Delays Academic Freedom Cases

January 27, 2012


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.

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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.

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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.”


One Comment leave one →
  1. Trainwreckspotting permalink
    January 30, 2012 5:11 pm

    Huh? Reading the actual ruling (Rancourt posted it) it like seems the only monolingualism that is causing delay is from Rancourt’s sudden demand for French.

    It says Rancourt said he wanted French for the rest of the trial, but agreed to English for the motion that day and the case conferences, which take place with the lawyers who where there that day. Then midway through the hearing he changes his mind and demands French for that motion itself too. Isn’t the delay now because the master is trying to get a new judge and dates to accomodate Rancourt’s new preference for a French trial, even though he’s done it all so far in English with no complaints?

    According the ruling posted online by Rancourt about Jan 26 2012 the Master wrote:

    “During the motion this morning, Mr. Rancourt advised the court for the first time that
    notwithstanding his pleadings in English, his motion material in English, his submissions in English, and the allegede defamation being in English, he would be requiring that the eventual motion or trial proceed as a bilingual hearing. He advised however that he was content to have the motion itself and any case conferences proceed in English.

    After I had ruled that the case conference was to proceed and convened the case conference, Mr. Rancourt advised the court he had changed his mind and he how wished the case conference to proceed in French. In fact he advised the court that he refused to proceed in English and would thereafter address the court in French which he proceeded to do.”

    You were there – is that what really played out? If that’s not what happened, then either the Master is wrong, you missed something really important in your post and need to clarify, or you gotta control the spin better cuz it the post seems biased.

    Its totally cool if Rancourt wants to have his trial done in French too, but c’mon – he has to be fair and give people notice if he is going to change his language preferences on a whim like that. The transcripts he posted of past motions confirm he did them in English with no issues. His other filings and blog are English. It reads like he was fine with English until and during that hearing, then changed his mind midway through without any reasons and demanded French. Seriously? Is that just crazy linguistic elitism or just petulance or some kind of desperate smoke-screen or delay tactic? (Unless he decides to post the actual transcript too its hard to tell if there is some other logic or context to his demand.)

    The lawyers and master don’t speak French – so what? Truth is, this is Ontario, and not everyone is obligated or privileged elite enough to be fluently bilingual like Rancourt. Its not a crime to not know French. Even at UOttawa, not everyone is or has to be bilingual, though it probably helps. Are you? It wasn’t an issue until he flip flopped – the delay is because they are trying to accomodate his sudden preference – that’s fine, and that’s all he’s entitled to – reasonable accomodation, but it takes time, especially if you drop a change of course out of the blue. If it were really important to the trial, shouldn’t he have raised this long ago before things got this far? Interestingly, Rancourt also posted online that he ended up paying $300 in costs from that hearing. Ouch. I’m no lawyer but based on other posts, it usually means losing on the actual legal issue at hand. Kinda makes you wonder if he will do any better in either language.

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