A resolution calling on the Barreau du Québec to quash its bombshell court action against the provincial government was passed by a slim majority of the 750 lawyers who attended a rare special general meeting last night in Montreal.
But it is still unclear if and when the Barreau will adhere to the vote result from the standing-room-only meeting — only the second of its kind in the recent history of the provincial regulator.
“It was a great day in the democratic history of our profession,” says François Côté, a Montreal lawyer and co-author of both the petition that forced the Barreau to call the meeting and the three resolutions that were debated and voted on.
Côté also introduced each of the three propositions in five-minute presentations at last night’s meeting, which ran from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the 730-seat Théatre Symposia in the Centre Mont-Royal in downtown Montreal.
The Barreau’s bâtonnier (or president), Paul-Matthieu Grondin, offered five-minute counter arguments.
The floor was then open to two-minute interventions from participants at several microphones around the room.
Electronic votes were held following each discussion period, with the results flashed immediately on a big screen.
The first resolution — a call for the Barreau to end its month-old motion in Superior Court to have all of Quebec’s laws, regulations and decrees declared unconstitutional because they were drafted and adopted in French only — passed by a vote of 362-345 (or 52.5 per cent).
The second resolution — that the Barreau desist from launching a similar court action in future — passed by an even-slimmer 362-345 margin (or 51 per cent).
A third resolution — that the Barreau consult its 27,000 members before taking stands on public issues that are beyond its mandate — was defeated 299-354 (or 54 per cent against).
There were fears that emotions would run high at the meeting, which followed weeks of public outrage and ridicule over the action filed jointly by the Barreau du Québec and the Montreal Bar on April 18.
In their 21-page motion, the bars argue that Quebec's failure to translate laws at all stages of the legislative process deprives some litigants of their rights under article 133 of the Canadian Constitution.
It also slams the grade-school quality of English in the new Code of Civil Procedure, a major reform that came into effect on Jan. 1, 2016 with the goal of making justice more accessible in Quebec.
The bars argue that the Quebec government has ignored repeated calls for the hiring of more English translators.
However the action has drawn harsh words and angry rebuttals from Quebec politicians, pundits and people of all stripes.
Adding to the outrage is the fact the Barreau’s court action is being funded by a federal linguistic program to the tune of $125,000.
Under article 106 of Quebec’s Code des professions, the Barreau must call a special general meeting if 100 of its more than 27,000 members call for one.
A petition with 100 signatures was officially filed on May 11 (an online version of the petition has gathered nearly 1,500 signatures).
Despite the emotional build up, the mood at last night’s closed-door meeting was described as calm and respectful.
“I was totally impressed by the quality of the speeches and the arguments made by both sides,” says Félix Martineau, a young lawyer with the Montreal firm of Roy Bélanger who helped organize and signed the petition. “Everything was civil and transparent.”
The highlight of the evening, he adds, was when the results of the first two votes flashed up on the screen.
“There was loud applause and shouts of joy — including from me,” says Martineau.
He says one bumpy point in the evening was when Maryse Bélanger, president of the Association des avocats et avocates en region, which represents the thousands of Quebec lawyers who work outside of the major centres of Montreal and Quebec City, slammed the Barreau for not making last night’s meeting available online.
In a post-meeting statement, Bâtonnier Grondin called it an “opportunity to exchange directly with our members and listen to what they had to say.
“I find it stimulating that we had a respectful debate on the question of the protection of the public, which is our mission. Our professional order is democratic and we all have our opinions.”
Grondin also said that the Barreau’s board of directors “will meet to discuss the issue and will communicate with its members soon.”
For his part, Côté says it would be foolish for the Barreau to consider anything less than ending their court action.
“It was very clear from the discussions last night that the members don’t want the motion modified or reworked — they want it to end,” says Côté.