An Ottawa resident is one of the 70 tenants of a housing complex to receive a notice of a unilingual English hearing from the Landlord and Tenant Board, an administrative tribunal in Ontario. The hearing will be held in order to consider the landlord’s request for a rent increase above the guideline.
The resident phones the Board to request a French version of the documentation. She is told this will be done, and is then invited to testify at the hearing. The citizen verbally expresses some interest in the case, without thinking, however, that in doing so, she was committing to attend the hearing.
Not having received any document or reminder that her testimony was imperative, and having determined that it was not a good idea for her to testify against her landlord in any case, the citizen considers the matter settled and resumes her daily routine.
A few months later, the citizen receives the Board’s decision regarding this case in the mail. Imagine her surprise to find that not only is she specifically singled out for having requested services in French, but also that she is being charged a $300 fee on the grounds that the Board retained the services of an interpreter in order to accommodate her! To make matters worse, the decision in question is distributed to the 70 other tenants in her housing complex.
Having violated Ontario’s Guidelines for Administrative Tribunals so blatantly, the decision to impose costs on this citizen is quickly rectified. What cannot be rectified, however, is the fact that this citizen was humiliated in her own neighbourhood simply because she asked for services in French from a body responsible for administering justice.16
Because of their scope and their impact on citizens, some sectors will undoubtedly be on the Commissioner’s radar indefinitely. Justice is one of those sectors. Following are some justice-related issues that the Commissioner’s Office plans to study in support of improving the quality of French-language services in the sector and, consequently, its fairness to Ontario’s Francophones.
16These guidelines are subject to controversy, since the use of interpreters in cases involving Francophones in Ontario goes against a modern interpretation of language rights.