B.C.'s highest court denies francophone's appeal for trial in French

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      Motorists who want to challenge their driving offences in one of Canada's official languages won't get very far in B.C.

      That's because the B.C. Court of Appeal has blown out a francophone's request to be tried in French for an offence listed in the Motor Vehicle Act.

      On June 18, 2014, Joseph Roy Eric Bessette was charged with driving while prohibited.

      When he arrived in Provincial Court in Surrey the following January, he asked for a trial in French.

      This was opposed by the Crown and on July 23, 2015, Judge Peder Gulbransen dismissed Bessette's application.

      Bessette then sought judicial review in B.C. Supreme Court, where Justice Murray Blok upheld the Provincial Court ruling. That prompted an appeal to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which is B.C.'s highest court.

      On July 13, Justices Richard Goepel, Mary Saunders, and Lauri Ann Fenlon unanimously dismissed Bessette's arguments.

      The Motor Vehicle Act is a provincial statute and is not part of the Criminal Code of Canada, which is federal law.

      Section 530 of the Criminal Code allows people in Canada to request trials in English or French for its offences.

      Bessette argued that B.C.'s Offence Act incorporates Section 530 of the Criminal Code of Canada into the Motor Vehicle Act.

      In B.C. Supreme Court, Blok concluded that Bessette should instead obtain a remedy by appealing the decision after the trial had concluded in English. 

      The B.C. Court of Appeal panel agreed with Blok's decision, noting that "judicial economy strongly favoured adjudicating the language issue in an ordinary appeal".

      "In exercising his discretion, Mr. Justice Blok relied on the adequate alternative remedy principle, that alternative remedies must be exhausted before a party seeks judicial review," wrote Goepel for the B.C. Court of Appeal panel. "Having found that the statutory appeal procedures provided a remedy for Mr. Bessette, he decided not to judicially review Judge Gulbransen’s decision. Mr. Justice Blok correctly recognized that the existence of a right of appeal was not determinative."