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screen shot of Bastarache Moot team on a Zoom call

The Michel Bastarache Moot Court Competition took place virtually March 18 to 20, 2022. Top to bottom, left to right, the Robson Hall contingent consisted of: Ramsay Hall (2L), Dr. Gerald Heckman, Sara Fretwell (2L), Catherine Litinsky (3L), Kennedy Pinette (2L), Coach Richard Goulet, Senior Implementation Officer, Manitoba Hydro, researcher Ashley Fouad (2L).

Bastarache Prize-winning moot team earns respect for fair play, dedication to French, & camaraderie

March 25, 2022 — 

March 18 to 20 was the fourth annual version of the Michel Bastarache Moot Court Competition, named for the Honourable Michel Bastarache, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and leading jurist and champion of language rights. The Manitoba team was nominated by their fellow competitors – and won – the Michel-Bastarache Prize, which is awarded to the team that exemplifies the spirit of fair play and dedication to French.

This is the second team spirit prize a Robson Hall moot team has won this year, in addition to the Spirit of Negotiation award presented at the Canadian National Negotiation Competition earlier in March. Last year the Manitoba Team of Reanna Blair and Menal Al Fekih received an Honourable Mention for the Spirit of Negotiation award and in 2019, the Manitoba Laskin Moot team won the “Spirit of the Laskin” award, presented to the law school that (according to the Laskin rules) “best exemplifies the Laskin spirit of fair competition, commitment to bilingualism, and professional camaraderie.” There may be something in the water at Robson Hall, but our moot teams seem to be excelling in the camaraderie, professionalism and fair competition departments!

At this year’s Bastarache moot, students were asked to moot on the constitutionality of an amendment to the federal Official Languages Act that would require every judge on the Supreme Court of Canada to understand both official languages without the assistance of an interpreter, effectively requiring judges to be functionally bilingual. The problem is far from theoretical: the amendment has in fact been proposed in Bill C-13, introduced by the federal government on March 1. The competition featured students from the University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan, Université de Montréal and Université de Moncton.

“In addition to mastering areas of law with which they were not familiar, including language rights and the interpretation of our Constitution’s amending formula, Manitoba’s Bastarache students learned the art of appellate advocacy and how to craft and deliver persuasive written and oral arguments,” Heckman explained, adding that with French being a second language for all this year’s team members, “this is most extraordinary.”

“I would like to express my appreciation to all the francophone jurists, including some of my Robson Hall colleagues, who acted as judges in our practices and, combining tough questions with a healthy dose of encouragement, prepared our students for the competition,” said Heckman.

One highlight of the students’ preparation was to be judged in their final practise by the Honourable Richard Chartier, Chief Justice of Manitoba and a language rights champion in his own right.

“As always, I am grateful to the Association des juristes d’expression française,” Heckman added, “which played a key role in recruiting jurists as practise judges, to Sacha Paul for sharing with our Laskin and Bastarache teams his wisdom and experience in appellate advocacy, and to our coach, Richard Goulet, for his constant encouragement to team members and willingness to read “one more draft factum” and listen to “one more oral argument”!”

As coach of the University of Manitoba Bastarache moot team Goulet said that despite working in their second language, the team demonstrated the extent to which hard work, dedication and perseverance pays off. “In a very short time, their advocacy and French language skills improved tremendously,” he observed. “This was noticed by all those judging the competition as well as student participants who selected the U of M team as recipient of the Bastarache prize awarded to the team which most exemplified the spirit of fair play, dedication to French and camaraderie between colleagues.”

“As a coach it was very gratifying to have such a team of gifted individuals who listened carefully and incorporated the advice of judges, practitioners and coaches and worked very hard to achieve their objectives.” – Richard Goulet, Senior Implementation Officer, Manitoba Hydro

Team member Ramsay Hall (2L) shared the experience of mooting in a second language. “Although making nuanced legal arguments in French was initially very daunting given that French is my second language, by the end of the moot it was clear that my efforts had led to a huge amount of improvement, and I am now far more confident in both my capacity to argue orally and my French-language abilities,” he said, adding, “I learned so much about language rights, and it was very satisfying to be able to show this off by giving a well-prepared answer to a judge’s difficult question; the back-and-forth discussions that I had with the judges were my favourite part of the moot experience.”

Catherine Litinsky (3L) who graduates this spring, was also glad to refine both her French language and litigation skills, and was most appreciative of the team’s coaches. “Throughout this experience I learned the strength in asking for help and guidance, especially from our coaches who were not only knowledgeable in the sphere of our topic, but gracious with their time,” she said.

Researcher Ashley Fouad (2L) was very proud of the team’s work, “particularly as a team of anglophones competing in a French competition,” she noted, adding that from her perspective, “Researching for the Bastarache was a big learning curve. I had a lot of late nights spent reading both English and French texts. I learned so much about research, finding appropriate sources fast, and properly summarizing them for arguments.”

Kennedy Pinette (2L), confirmed that taking part in the Bastarache Moot was one of the most rewarding experiences she has had in law school so far. “I learned so much about advocacy and language rights while being part of such an amazing team,” she said. “I am so proud of what we have accomplished, it was an honour to represent Robson Hall!”

Much is to be gained from the experience of competing in a second language as team member Sara Fretwell (2L) confirmed. “Representing Manitoba in the Bastarache moot on French language rights will undoubtedly help my future in law,” she shared. “The experience was empowering, and the camaraderie was abundant. Starting out, I was inclined to doubt myself, but through personal dedication and the support of my teammates and coaches, I am leaving with nothing to fear and much to be hopeful about. Reflecting on the Bastarache Moot 2022 will always evoke a feeling of sentimentality without any sense of regret.”

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