Bilingualism of judges
The original impetus behind the 2008–2009 recommendation to establish a committee to study access to justice in French was in fact the Commissioner’s concern about the apparent shortage of bilingual judges in Ontario. Although in the end the Committee was unable, because of a lack of precise statistics, to confirm that there were not enough bilingual judges in Ontario, it nevertheless concluded that “the linguistic qualification process for judges in some courts in Ontario […] is not adequate”.8 Indeed, the evaluation of the language skills of judges appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice is currently an informal process. The implementation steering committee is working to rectify the situation.
The Court of Justice is not the only court involved in the settlement of legal disputes in Ontario, though. Two other important bodies are the Superior Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal for Ontario. However, the appointment of judges to these two courts is a federal responsibility. This division of powers could have complicated efforts to improve the language skills of judges and justices of the peace in Ontario, if the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada had not himself launched an important study of the bilingual capacity of the judiciary in Canada’s superior courts.
In August 2013, the Commissioner of Official Languages published the results of an in-depth, systemic review of the issue, conducted in conjunction with the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario and the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick. The study, entitled Access to Justice in Both Official Languages, makes 10 recommendations for improving the appointment process and providing better language training and language rights education for the superior courts’ judiciary.
One of the recommendations is particularly important for access to justice in French in Ontario: the establishment of a memorandum of understanding between the Minister of Justice of Canada and the Attorney General of Ontario to clearly define the language skills that a bilingual udge should have and identify the appropriate number of designated bilingual positions in the judiciary for superior courts (Recommendation 2). In light of the remarkable commitment demonstrated by the Ministry of the Attorney General to improving access to justice in French in Ontario, the Commissioner is hopeful that this recommendation will not be ignored and that such a memorandum of understanding will be concluded in 2014. Stay tuned.
8Available online: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/pubs/bench_bar_advisory_committee/full_report.pdf (page consulted in May 2014).