What our Complainants Have to Say about Access to Justice in French

Every day, thousands of transactions take place between citizens and the justice system. It is normal that there may be hiccups from time to time. However, the French Language Services Bench and Bar Advisory Committee notes that access to justice in French is often slower and more costly than in English.

The complaints that I state in my 2011-2012 Annual Report are only a small part of the much bigger issue relating to the tendency for Franco-Ontarians not to ask for French-language services because of their lack of confidence to be treated equally. This has consequences on each individual, his or her family and the community.

Such is the case with the Supervised Access Program, which is a Ministry of the Attorney General program that provides a safe location where parents can rebuild or maintain their emotional relationship with their child, in the presence of a supervisor who prepares reports on his or her observations. A court may order supervised visits if, for example, there are conflicts between parents who are in the process of obtaining a divorce.

Well, if an organization does not have any supervisors who understand French, Francophone parents and children have no choice but to converse in English, whether they are in a region designated under the French Language Services Act.

I would also like to highlight the case of a complainant who had asked employees of the Ministry of the Attorney general for advice on how to ensure that her case would be heard in French in Superior Court. The complainant was misinformed regarding the process and found herself in pre-trial proceedings before an English-speaking judge, who denied her request for a trial in French.

Since the decision was made by a judge, the complainant’s only recourse was to appeal, which she did. In the end, the judge’s decision was overturned. But the complainant had to fight tooth and nail and incur considerable expense just to obtain recognition of her right to be heard in French, a right that is spelled out unambiguously in the Courts of Justice Act.

Another example relates to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Communications Centre, the OPP being an arm of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Under the French Language Services Act, the OPP is required not only to provide services in French in designated regions but also to ensure that its central agencies are equally accessible for both Francophone and Anglophone citizens.

Nonetheless, a complainant wanted to report a possible fraud to the OPP. He dialled their toll-free number and, to his great surprise, no one was able to take his statement in French.

In addition, my Office continues to receive complaints from Francophone citizens who receive parking infraction notices in English only. Since it is clearly stated in the notices that the underlying law concerned is the Provincial Offences Act, those citizens feel that they have the right to be informed of the charges against them in French, and if applicable to dispute them in French.

However, Ontario municipalities have been responsible for responding to parking infractions since the mid-1980s. Parking infractions also have special status in Ontario: they are governed by Ontario Regulation 949. My staff continue to cut through the complexities of municipal parking infractions processes and explain them to complainants. My hope is that the Ministry of the Attorney General will take concrete action to remedy these problems.

One last example: the proportion of bilingual regulations in 2011-2012 was less than 40%. Yet, the Ministry of the Attorney General expects their number will increase to over half in 2012-2013.

The Ministry of the Attorney General and the OPP are exploring possible solutions to each one of these situations. This being said, I hope these examples have reminded you how important it is for Ontario Francophones to have access to French-language services in the justice sector. I urge you to read the section of my 2011-2012 Annual Report that describes these examples in more detail.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *