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'Grossly in contempt'

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 01/06) - The leader of the NWT's French language watchdog says the territorial government has no one to blame but itself for the suspension of Hansard - the official record of legislative assembly proceedings.

Hansard was suspended Oct. 26 after House Speaker Paul Delorey decided the action was necessary to ensure the government was not in contempt of a court order.

The order, which came after the Federation Franco-Tenois (franco-tenois) won its case against the territorial government for not providing essential services in French, gave the government between six months and a year to hire French-speaking doctors, nurses and frontline civil servants and make its documents available in both English and French.

"It's a sad revelation as it's been some time now since the court order has been laid down and so far the only visible thing we've seen the government has done is remove Hansard for everybody," said Fernand Denault, president of the franco-tenois.

"And some may be tempted to say the government is grossly in contempt already.

"They also have an order to work with us and we've seen no such invitation or sign that they're even willing to do so." Denault said.

In Hansard's case, Justice J.M. Moreau gave the territorial government six months to start translating the English document into French, and that deadline expired last week.

The territorial government, meanwhile, remains unapologetic for the Hansard's demise.

"First of all, it was and continues to be our view that there's no requirement to translate Hansard based on the Official Languages Act," said Tim Mercer, clerk of the legislative assembly.

At the end of July, the government appealed Justice Moreau's decision.

Mercer added that lawyers representing the legislative assembly, GNWT and franco-tenois were negotiating a stay of the court order that could, "Stand down this order until the appeal has been ruled on."

If negotiations are successful, Hansard could return for public consumption. Under the current suspension, Hansard is available to house staff and members of the public service.

Denault did acknowledge discussions were taking place between the franco-tenois lawyer and the territorial government's legal team, referring to it as a "David and Goliath struggle" while declining to comment on any details.

The francophone's challenge was financed through the federation itself and through the federal Court Challenges Fund, for which the Harper government recently cut funding.

When asked if fighting for the rights of the francophone minority had resulted in the current postponement of Hansard and the compromising of everyone's rights, Denault blamed the territorial government.

"What a negative action, isn't it?" Denault said of Hansard's suspension. "Journalists have been forced to work without Hansard for a week; we've been forced to work without Hansard for 20 years. It's too bad when only Hansard is removed, we see the English press covering this, (issue)."

Denault went on to say that the francophone's case against the territorial government was a matter of law, asserting rights of NWT's francophone citizens and staving off assimilation.

While the NWT Bureau of Statistics counts 950 francophones residing in the territories, the francophone paints a different picture. According to its numbers, there are 3,700 francophones in the NWT, 2,500 of whom live in Yellowknife.

If the legislative assembly and the territorial government lose their appeal, the NWT assembly would become the fourth such legislature compelled to provide its Hansard in both official languages.

Official records from the House of Commons and Senate in Ottawa and the legislative assembly of New Brunswick are the only hansards currently offered in French and English. Nunavut's legislature provides two versions of its Hansard - in Inuktitut and English.