Access to Justice in French in Ontario
1. L’accès équitable à la justice dans les deux langues officielles est-elle une question importante pour vous?
Oui, c’est-une question importante, parce que la justice sans l’accès equitable c’est vraiment pas juste.
Equitable treatment and equitable access is an inherent part of justice as I understand it. Whether or not the court proceeding itself is procedurally fair, when there are barriers to accessing that proceeding that are based on a lack of bilingual staff, Justices of the Peace, or Judges, then the justice system is not acting fairly.
2. Selon vous, quelles mesures est-ce que le Barreau du Haut-Canada pourrait prendre afin d’améliorer l’accès à la justice en français ?
The Society can do, and needs to do, two things:
The first thing that the Society should be doing is gathering information from licensees regarding the performance of Ontario Courts and Tribunals. How often are matters delayed due to a lack of court or tribunal staff, judges or adjudicators who are competent to conduct a hearing in French? How often are Provincial Offences matters dismissed because the Justice of the Peace knows no better way to handle a person who wishes a trial in French? With that information, the Society would be in a good position to push for government action.
The second would be pushing the government to improve services provided in French, and to commit to continued improvement.
The Courts of Justice Act, and the French Language Services Act, give rights to access to justice in both French and English. Unfortunately, rights without remedies are … not much better than no rights at all. The goals set by the Courts of Justice Act for the administration of the courts need to include not just access to justice, but access to justice in both languages. The Society has the capacity to lobby for that inclusion, and I believe that it should.
3. Est-ce que le Barreau du Haut-Canada offre des services en français adéquats à ses membre et au public ? Sinon, quelles mesures pourraient être prises afin d’améliorer ces services ?
The Society needs to ensure that its staff can offer services in French, and that such services are of the same high standard in both languages. It is ridiculous that one can easily find pages on the Society/Barreau website that are up to date in English and out of date, incorrect or non-existent in French. There’s a certain irony in (for instance) the “Important Dates” page having all dates and information in English – with the only difference between the English and “French” page being that the latter has no sidebar, and gives “Version imprimée” as the link to the printable version … which is also in English. If the website is any measure of the assistance available to the Francophone public and Francophone licensees, the Society has a long way to go before it can fairly call itself le Barreau du Haut-Canada.
I would hope that the recent introduction of the French Language Services Protocol and Policy at the Law Society will result their rapidly addressing the sorts of problems exemplified by the gaps in the Society’s French website. At the same time, that hope needs some evidentiary backing if it is to survive. The Society needs to collect – and publish – information regarding its progress in updating the site, progress in dealing with complaints, and -ideally- a resulting decrease in number of complaints being made.
Anglophone licensees can easily remain ignorant of the lack of services offered by the Society in French. Much as the report on Barriers faced by Racialized Licensees has been enlightening to some, a proper accounting of the difference in services offered in French and in English would undoubtedly be equally illuminating. Such an internal survey would also provide an opportunity for the Society to work with Francophone licensees in prioritizing the gaps that need to be filled first. While I expect that Francophone licensees would prefer just to receive the services they need in French, until that happens, perhaps the Society should also consider reducing licensing fees proportional to the difference in resources available in English and French.
The Society can choose to keep the historic idea of “Upper Canada” in their name, however it is long past time for them to get rid of the remaining linguistic barriers that disadvantage Franco-Ontarians.
I would like to thank the Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario for the insightful questions, and for their hard work in holding the province, the judiciary and the licensees of Ontario to their legal and constitutional duty to provide access to justice in both of Canada’s official languages.