A good day for access to justice in French

Yesterday’s announcements by the Attorney General of Ontario were hardly mundane. They directly address recommendations made in a number of important reports on improving access to justice in French as well as in my own annual reports.  Let’s look at the announcements one by one. First, the final report of the Seamless Access to Justice in French Pilot Project was made public, as I had recommended. Second, the notable improvements we obtained at the Ottawa courthouse will remain in place permanently. As a result, the new signage, the greeting by security officers at the courthouse entrance, the ticketing system used to alert staff when a litigant is requesting service in French, and the large signs advertising both French-language services and useful information about language rights will stay on. In addition, ongoing staff training, back-up planning, and inclusion of active offer in the performance plans of managers and employees will remain. Outstanding coordination with the courts and other important organizations such as Legal Aid Ontario, the Ottawa Police Service and the Legal Information Centre made the pilot project a success.

How do we know the pilot project was successful? For the simple reason that the Ottawa courthouse used to be one of the courthouses – if not the courthouse – that generated the most complaints to my office. Since the pilot project’s inception in May 2015, my office has not received a single complaint about deficiencies in French-language services at the Ottawa courthouse. Does that mean everything is perfect? Of course not. Some significant challenges remain. But the measures that have been developed, which are explained in simple yet eloquent terms in the final report, point to possible solutions that in some cases are so simple they only require some thought, and in others so innovative they only take some reflection. The final report is lengthy, it’s true. However, it is also clear and well crafted, asking the right questions and presenting fact-based conclusions. The report was written by public servants for public servants (and that’s not at all negative, quite the contrary), but it can and must be used by all interested parties and litigants across the province and even in other parts of Canada.

Another piece of good news: we hoped that this pilot project would contribute to the growth of French-language services. Consequently, I was heartened by the Attorney General’s statement that discussions are currently under way with partners, including the courts, to identify other regions where measures similar to those tried in Ottawa could be implemented. Moreover, we should also acknowledge the resources that are present in the National Capital so that we can improve access to justice in other regions that may have a smaller Francophone population.

That brings me the last announcement of the day, which was that the Attorney General of Ontario plans to establish an advisory committee that will report directly to him. This committee will be responsible for making connections between the objectives in the 2012 Access to Justice in French (Rouleau-LeVay) report, the 2015 Enhancing Access to Justice in French (Thorburn) report, which tended to focus on identifying concrete measures, and this recent report, in which the measures are analyzed and evaluated. Although the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario has not yet announced the composition of the new advisory committee, I have no doubt that they will select members from the courts, the Francophone legal community and their senior management. Hence, the committee will definitely help hold people’s feet to the fire, so to speak, and thus ensure that none of the recommendations and improvements are shelved or forgotten.

We will see what tomorrow brings!

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