Canada has two official languages – English and French – arising from our unique heritage as a country. Given this status, one may have assumed both official languages were freely used in the courts across the country. Not so says the British Columbia Court of Appeal which recently ruled that documents, not in the English language, without a certified translation cannot be admitted into evidence in a civil trial in British Columbia. This was so even though the documents in question were in French.
In Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique v. British Columbia, 2012 BCCA 282, the British Columbia Court of Appeal sat as a panel of 5 (normal panels are of 3) and considered an appeal from a decision dismissing an application for a declaration that un-translated exhibits in the French language, attached to an affidavit, be considered by the court without a certified translation. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.
The Court relied on an English enactment entitled Proceedings in the Courts of Justice Act, 1731 (U.K.), 4 Geo. II, c. 26, which was received in British Columbia by virtue of s. 2 of the Law and Equity Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 253. The Court concluded that the requirement for civil proceedings in British Columbia to be conducted in English is prescribed by statute and that there is no discretion for a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia presiding over civil proceedings to admit documentary evidence in any other language for the truth of its contents without an accompanying certified English translation. This requirement goes beyond documentary exhibits and requires that “civil proceedings in British Columbia” be conducted in English.
Given the nature of this decision, it would not be unexpected if leave was sought to have a further appeal heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. As of now, however, civil proceedings in British Columbia have only one official language.