In December 2017, Franck Yvan Tayo Tompouba, a then 22-year-old BC resident, traveled to Kamloops to meet a young woman he met on Tinder.
After a nightclub outing, they slept at the applicant’s house, kissing and hugging before going to bed.
In the middle of the night the applicant woke up to find that they had been having sex to which she had not consented. In the days that followed, she filed a complaint for sexual assault.
After a trial in English, the man was found guilty in 2019 and sentenced to 90 days in prison.
Since Franck Tayo Tompouba – who has two children in Canada and helps his family in Cameroon – was a permanent resident, a prison sentence of more than six months could have resulted in his deportation from Canada.
In my opinion, a longer sentence would have had an unfair impact on the children of Mr Tayo Tompouba and his family in Cameroon, Judge Leonard Marchand wrote in his decision.
Not informed of his right to a trial in French
The question before the Supreme Court concerns his right to a hearing in French.
Under Section 530 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the language of a trial, a defendant whose language is one of the official languages of Canada may request to be tried in the language of his or her preference.
However, the accused was not informed of this right when he first appeared. On appeal, the panel rejected the argument that Mr. Tayo Tompouba’s rights had been violated.
The bailiff before whom Mr. Tayo Tompouba first appeared did not meet the requirements of Art. 530(3), Judge Gail Dickson wrote in her decision. However, in my view, the record does not show that his substantive right to be tried in the official language of his choice was violated by any of the courts mentioned below.
Mr. Tayo Tompouba is appealing the ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed to hear the case last week.
Important legal questions
For law professor Benoît Pelletier, several important legal questions remain, more than 20 years after the Beaulac decision, which marked a turning point for access to French justice in the country.
I think the case is a good place to revisit the Beaulac decision, he explains.
In 1999, Jean Victor Beaulac, a French-speaking British Columbian, was eligible for a new trial after being convicted of first-degree murder at a trial held in English.
The Supreme Court ruled that although he spoke English, his right to a trial in the language of his choice had been violated.
While the country’s highest court could provide an opportunity to reaffirm this principle, it could also rule on other issues in the Tayo Tompouba case.
This is about the right to be informed about this possibility, the right to a trial in the language of your choice and the consequences of not being informed in time, explains Benoît Pelletier .
A right that is not always respected
Unfortunately, the accused in court do not know that they have the right to a trial in French, notes Sandra Mandanici, president of the Association des juristes d’expression française de la Colombie-Britannique.
In some jurisdictions, justices of the peace systematically remind the accused of this right, but several judges forget it, the defense attorney regrets.
Too bad, she said. So they don’t always get along very well and it would obviously be an advantage to have a negotiation in French.
Implications for all Francophones
In a written statement, Mr. Tayo Tompouba’s attorney, Jonathan Laxer, says that in allowing the case to be heard, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that this is an appeal that raises important questions for the public.
The Supreme Court’s decision, he wrote, could have significant implications for access to justice in both official languages.
Hearings are expected to take place in late 2023 or early 2024.