In my previous blog post, I looked at the recommendation made in the Access to Justice in French report (“2012 report”) regarding possible harmonization of the French Language Services Act and the Courts of Justice Act. In this blog post, I will examine another law whose administration would benefit from being more closely allied with that of the French Language Services Act to properly address the needs of Francophone litigants.
The 2012 report identified huge challenges relating to access to French-language services in the handling of offences under the Provincial Offences Act, including parking infractions. These problems stem primarily from the fact that the rules in the legislative framework are somewhat contradictory. On one hand, the Provincial Offences Act is based on provincial legislation that extends a set of French-language rights to the entire province, and on the other hand, provincial offences cases are largely handled at the municipal level. Consequently, some municipalities provide services in French under the French Language Services Act, while others do not. Moreover, in the case of parking infractions, municipalities have special powers to decide (under Ontario Regulation 949) what language to use (usually English) up to the point where the Francophone litigant submits a request for trial.
The 2012 report contains a list of recommendations aimed at remedying the lack of French-language services in the handling of offences under the Provincial Offences Act. I encourage you to consult my review of the 2012 report’s conclusion on this matter and the resulting recommendations. My observations on the challenges posed by the Provincial Offences Act and its administration appear in a number of my annual reports: 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and particularly 2011-2012.
It is essential to provide French-language services to litigants across the province, consistently, from the beginning of the process to the end (including parking tickets and associated notices), even in non-designated areas. In Ontario, as in many other jurisdictions, there is a backlog in the processing of court cases. Uniform provision of French-language services throughout the process, no matter whether the area is designated to receive French-language services or not, will increase the number of cases resolved efficiently at an early stage. A reduction in the number of cases that go to trial would be beneficial for all Ontarians. Uniform French-language services will also help earn the respect of the Francophone community and end the expectation that Franco-Ontarian litigants should be fluent in English.
The 2015 report, the response to the 2012 report published last year, focuses on these problems and shows more or less that the actors may not be as committed as they should be. The necessary measures recommended in the 2012 report to address the weaknesses in the current French-language services regime have not been taken. Implementation of the recommendations is a work-in-progress. It seems that the province is exploring so-called innovative ways of contesting parking tickets and offences under the Provincial Offences Act. Unfortunately, the report provides few details regarding the methods being considered.
According to the 2015 report, the Law Commission of Ontario wants to remove parking infractions from the jurisdiction of the Ontario Court of Justice. Certainly, this recommendation may help reduce the backlog of court cases, but it would not necessarily eliminate the problems associated with the provision of French-language services or lack thereof. This transfer of responsibility may even be worrisome, since it could result in the complete absence of French-language services.
As recommended in the 2015 report, it is paramount that the policy group responsible for considering the recommendations made by the Law Commission of Ontario regarding modernization of the Provincial Offences Act and its administration address French-language services issues.