Three levels of court in B.C. have rejected francophone’s bid to have his trial heard in French. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk).

No French trial for francophone in Surrey

Accused has lost in provincial, supreme and appeal court to have his one-hour trial heard in French

A man set to be tried in Surrey provincial court under the Motor Vehicle Act for driving while prohibited has lost yet another attempt to have his case heard in French.

Joseph Roy Eric Bessette, a francophone, appeared in the Surrey court on Jan. 19, 2015, and asked that his trial be done in French. The case was adjourned to Jan. 28 and the Crown advised him, two days prior to that date, that it would oppose his request.

Provincial court Judge Peder Gulbransen dismissed Bessette’s application to be tried in French on July 13, 2015. The Crown noted that B.C. law since 1858 has been that proceedings in all of the province’s courts must be in the English language.

“While Canada is a bilingual country and all provinces should support the ability of those who speak either official language to use those languages effectively in any province, including participating in court proceedings, ultimately the decision to pass laws for that purpose is completely up to the province,” Gulbransen noted. “British Columbia has chosen not to specifically provide that persons being prosecuted under the provincial statutes may be granted the right to have their trial in French.”

On March 14, 2016, Bessette filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster seeking to quash Gulbransen’s decision, but Justice Murray Blok did not rule in Bessette’s favour.

“The provincial court may have been right or it may have been wrong in its ruling — a matter on which I express no opinion — but it was competent to make the ruling it did,” Blok noted in his reasons for judgment.

Bessette then went to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, in Vancouver, asking it to set aside Blok’s order, quash Gulbransen’s decision and direct that his provincial court trial be conducted in French.

Justice Richard Goepel noted that the appeal court was advised Bessette’s trial “would likely take no more than an hour.”

Goepel dismissed his appeal on July 13, 2017, concluding that “Mr. Bessette has not shown any error in principle or other reason why this court should intervene.”

Justices Mary Saunders and Lauri Ann Fenlon concurred.

tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com