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B.C. court rules against allowing man's trial to be held in French

Last Updated Dec 28, 2016 at 5:00 pm PST

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. – A judge in British Columbia has ruled against a man’s bid to have his trial heard in French.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok says in a written decision released Wednesday that the Francophone man who applied for a judicial review of his request did not prove that a lower court made a mistake in refusing him a French-language trial.

Joseph Bessette is disputing a charge of driving while prohibited dating back to September 2014, and asserts his right to have a trial in French.

Bessette applied for the right in provincial court, claiming he can request his trial be conducted in either of Canada’s official languages, but the judge refused.

“(Bessette) says the trial judge is directly implicated in the violation of what he describes as his quasi-constitutional language rights,” the decision says.

The Crown claimed at both hearings that because the alleged offence falls under provincial law instead of the federal criminal code that it can only be tried in English, with interpretation if necessary.

Blok ruled there is not “ongoing significant” infringement of Bessette’s rights to have his trial heard in English.

“The decision of the learned judge below is not so obviously wrong, if indeed it is wrong at all, that it merits immediate intervention by this court,” the decision says.

The judge also left the door open for Bessette to appeal the language decision after his trial is complete.

Bessette argued that prolonging the court action with an appeal would be “absurd” because a second trial could be avoided if the potential language issue was dealt with by the B.C. Supreme Court.

But Blok disagreed, saying the lower court had every right to rule on the language issue.

“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,” he writes.