The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner notes that there is a lack of knowledge with respect to language rights even among those charged with administering justice and enforcing the law, as evidenced by a few complaints in the past:
“A family court judge denies a litigant’s request for a bilingual proceeding, even though the request was in proper form. The litigant then hires a lawyer, who has to tell the judge that he intends to apply to the Superior Court to force the judge to honour his client’s language rights. Only then does the judge recognize the litigant’s right to be heard in French.”
“A citizen who wishes to adopt the son of his new partner fills out all the documentation for this purpose. While this type of adoption normally requires only a week or two to be processed, the file stagnates for over three months, because the application was filed at the court office in French.”
“A family court judge refuses a bilingual trial for a defendant despite a request having been made in good and due form. The defendant then hires a lawyer, who must go so far as to tell the judge he intends to apply to the Superior Court to force the judge to respect the linguistic rights of his client before the judge in question finally recognizes the right of the defendant to be heard in French.”
The French Language Services Act clearly specifies the status of French as an official language of Ontario’s courts. Together with the Courts of Justice Act and the Criminal Code, the Act guarantees litigants’ right to French-language services in Ontario, including the right to have their case heard by a judge who is fluent in French, anywhere in Ontario. However, the complaints that the Commissioner’s Office continues to receive show that more must be done. Much more.
Access to justice in French is a key issue for the Office, which is not surprising since justice is ever-present in our lives (contracts, fines, estates, divorces, trials, etc.) and its administration has profound repercussions.