A major void in the Supreme Court of Canada was to be filled with the imminent departure of Justice Rosalie Abella, who was forced to leave due to a mandatory retirement requirement at age 75.. It seems that this void will be filled in a very nice way by appointing the respected Mahmoud Gamal.
Originally from Kenya and from a family that grew up in India, Mr. Jamal was raised in England before arriving in Edmonton at the age of 14. He holds a BA in Economics from the University of Toronto, and a BA in Civil Law Public Law Mahmoud Gamal from McGill University and an LLM from the prestigious Yale University, is a member of the Ontario Bar and has practiced as an attorney for nearly 24 years. During this period, he pleaded 35 times before the Supreme Court in various civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory cases. He has received numerous awards for his successful career, taught public law at McGill University and York University, and served as a judge on the Ontario Court of Appeals for two years.
There is no doubt that Mr. Jamal is a lawyer of exceptional competence, but beyond that, his appointment allays a lot of concerns from different circles.
The first is that Canada is a country with two official languages and that they should be equally understood and used by the nine justices of the Supreme Court; The second is that, to date, no colored or Aboriginal person has sat on this court, which indicates a significant underrepresentation of the Canadian population. The appointment of Mr. Jamal, a man of color and bilingual, responds to these two concerns and shows complete reconciliation between them.
If some people say that the bilingual requirement favors the exclusion and restriction of applications from minority communities in the Republic of China for which learning French was never a necessity, allow me to reply that all the basic skills required to satisfy a professional position will tend to limit the pool of candidates. This has no effect of making these requirements an anomaly. In the case of the justices of the Supreme Court, it is difficult to imagine how these justices could adequately perform their duties if they did not understand the litigant speaking French in front of them.
And let me be on my own with the interpreter’s solution, which is a crippling alternative in an area like law where the exact words used are very important.
Fortunately, the bilingual requirement has become a tradition in the appointment of Supreme Court justices. Moreover, in Bill C-32 introduced last Tuesday, the federal government wants to codify a requirement that Supreme Court justices hearing a case understand the official language of an interlocutor who appears before them without the assistance of an interpreter. This would only partially solve the problem because a monolingual English-speaking judge like Michael Moldavier could simply not attend hearings in French and leave the court to sit as a panel of seven judges instead of nine. To completely solve the problem, it will be necessary to modify a file Supreme Court Law To make bilingual an official appointment requirement. However, this may require a constitutional amendment with the unanimous consent of all the provinces, which seems doomed to failure. Let’s stick to the practice now.
In short, to get back to Judge Jamal, the Federal Government has just made an excellent appointment that is not only historic in terms of diversity, but reinforces the slow progress of the French within the country’s highest judicial institution.
*The author also holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL. L.) and an MA in Constitutional Law (LL. M.) from the University of Ottawa.