Mazraani – Supreme Court of Canada finds that the Tax Court’s pressuring witnesses to speak in English, not French, required a new hearing

A laid-off “independent contractor” (Mazraani) appealed to the Tax Court on the basis that he had instead been employed in insurable employment for EI purposes. At the hearing, his alleged employer (Industrial) was an intervenor and called witnesses whose testimony in French would not have been understood by Mazraani. Rather than providing Mazraani with an interpreter, the Tax Court Judge exerted pressure on Industrial's witnesses to testify in English, which counsel for Industrial communicated was problematic. Industrial’s counsel also had to make his legal arguments in English, even though this was difficult.

Before affirming the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal ordering a new hearing before a different judge in response to these violations of the witness’s and counsel’s language rights under s. 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, s. 19 of the Charter and s. 14 and 15 of the Official Languages Act, Gascon and Côté JJ stated:

[E]ven if there was no error in the decision on the merits, the language rights in question would be compromised if no remedy was granted

… [A] new hearing will generally be an appropriate remedy for most language rights violations. …

The judge’s insistence that [Industrial’s counsel] speak English during most of his argument constitutes a flagrant violation of the lawyer’s language rights.

… [T]he order for a new hearing was fully justified. … The violations were numerous and, in some cases, serious and repeated, and they brought the administration of justice into disrepute.

Neal Armstrong. Summary of Mazraani v Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc. et al, 2018 SCC 50 under Charter s. 19.