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The manner in which language rights are communicated is important. Language rights can vary depending on different factors, and it is not possible to easily communicate this complexity. Simplifying the message and leaving out detail can easily lead to misunderstanding and to false expectations; whereas, attempting to explain all of the detailed legislative and regulatory provisions would lead to confusion.

There is no easy answer to this dilemma. The following statements represent just some of the common misbeliefs that exist with regard to French or bilingual proceedings:. A review of Section 2 would reveal that, although they may seem to be logical, all of the above statements are false.

Where should one turn to have questions about language rights answered? It is not the job of court staff to explain language rights or the potential implications of exercising those rights to the public. Indeed, it would be inappropriate for them to do so. Lawyers and paralegals do, however, have responsibility for advising clients who speak French of their language rights. This may help prevent some of the misconceptions mentioned above.

This Centre provides the public with free legal information and referral services in English and French, including information on language rights, [45] and was thus a perfect complement to the Pilot Project. A large banner stand and new display stands with flyers advertising the Centre were installed in the courthouse as part of the pilot. Other bilingual pamphlets on language rights and the entitlement to receive legal services in French from lawyers, produced by the Law Society of Upper Canada and AJEFO, were also made readily available.

Before turning to consult a lawyer for further information, however, the public need to know their basic rights; and it is of these basic language rights that the Pilot Project sought to promote and enhance awareness. Initiatives undertaken during the pilot to communicate these rights, both to the public and to staff and professionals involved in the justice system, are set out below.

The only communication of language rights that is mandated by legislation relates to criminal proceedings and to advising accused persons of their language rights under section of the Criminal Code. Prior to the Pilot Project, there had not been a consistent language rights advisory to accused persons at First Appearance Court and it had not been standard practice for the justices of the peace sitting in that court to systematically ensure accused persons were advised of their section rights.

A stamp was made for court informations [48] with a box for the clerk to check after accused persons have been advised of their language rights. This also serves as a visual reminder to the clerk, who can, when appropriate, make the presiding justice of the peace aware if the accused persons have not yet been advised of their language rights.

Seamless Access to Justice in French Pilot Project - Ministry of the Attorney General

The justices of the peace were provided with an aide memoire that has been placed on the dais in First Appearance Court, to promote awareness and to remind presiding justices of the peace of their obligation to advise accused persons of their right to a French trial and of the timelines for making the request. To communicate language rights in criminal matters to accused persons, the Pilot Project did not rely solely on information provided by the justices of the peace in First Appearance Court.

Other measures were taken to ensure accused persons were made aware of their Criminal Code language rights at the earliest opportunity:. The Ottawa Police were consulted to determine whether French language rights information had been provided before the Pilot Project to accused persons prior to their release, and there had been no consistent practice of so doing. Although there is no legislative requirement for the police to advise accused persons of their right to a French trial, the Access to Justice in French report had highlighted the need to:.

Many French speakers are either unaware of their right to services in French, or uncertain as to how to exercise those rights. For example, when a French speaker is arrested and released on a promise to appear, there may be nothing on the forms, or in the information provided by the police officer, advising the individual of the right to a hearing in French.

By the time the person appears before the court, he or she may have hired a lawyer who does not speak French. Thus, the information about French language rights may come too late in the process to be of real value. As part of the Pilot Project, information with respect to language rights was thus added to the following criminal law forms for both adults and young persons:.

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These amended forms, available province-wide, now include the following wording in French and English:. You must exercise that right by requesting that your trial be held in your official language of choice. If you wish to proceed in French, you should advise the judicial officer or duty counsel when you attend court.

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Duty counsel or a lawyer of your choice can explain your language rights more fully. This wording intentionally includes the important fact that a lawyer can provide further information. A large notice in poster format including this same information as well as the timelines in which the request must be made was posted outside all of the courtrooms an accused might attend for his or her first appearance.

These posters are bilingual, with the French appearing above the English, as they are primarily notices to French-speaking accused. The Ottawa Police readily agreed to also hang copies of this poster in the cell block of the courthouse and at the police station, in order to ensure that accused who are in custody would also be made aware of their language rights at the earliest opportunity. The wording for the poster was drafted to include the Criminal Code information that must be provided to accused persons on their first appearance:.

You may make this request at any court appearance up to and including:. The police station has a list of lawyers whom accused persons may wish to consult if they are held in custody. Another Pilot Project initiative was to ensure that this list clearly indicate which lawyers speak French. During the Ottawa Pilot Project, the same language rights wording used in the release documents referred to above was also added to an information package that is now given province-wide to accused persons upon their first appearance.

Through all of the above-mentioned means, accused persons are now made aware of their section rights at the earliest opportunity.

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Accused and members of the public are not the only ones who need to be aware of basic language rights in criminal matters. It is equally important to promote awareness on the part of professionals working in the justice system and court staff in particular. This useful reference tool formed the basis of criminal language rights training that was provided to some of the same staff. This section would not be complete without also referring to the promotion of awareness of Pilot Project initiatives that went above and beyond the Criminal Code provisions and the legislative framework.

As indicated earlier in the report, French bail hearings and French guilty pleas had been provided upon request in Ottawa for some time. Protocols were drafted to formalize and improve upon these practices and affected staff and the public, accused persons in particular, were made aware of these options. The French bail and plea protocols were also announced at a Criminal Bench and Bar meeting and at a separate meeting with French-speaking criminal defence counsel.

To do so, please advise the court, your lawyer or Legal Aid duty counsel. The Pilot Project French bail hearings and guilty plea protocols will be described in more detail in the next section of this report. The initial contact with the justice system for parties to civil proceedings is, of course, different than that for accused persons.

A person wishing to initiate a civil, family or Small Claims Court proceeding, or to respond to a claim or an application that has been brought against them, will find both French and English forms simultaneously on the Ontario Court Forms website or at the court counter.

Filing these initial documents in French in Ottawa [51] constitutes a request for a bilingual civil proceeding. The request for a bilingual proceeding applies to all hearings associated with the case, unless otherwise indicated. In this way, access to justice in French may appear to be more seamless for civil than for criminal matters, as all hearings may take place before a presiding judicial official who speaks French.

On the other hand, the proceedings themselves are not actually French proceedings, but rather bilingual proceedings. For example, the opposing party and their counsel do not necessarily speak French. It is very important, for civil matters where a party has exercised their language rights, to always properly refer to these proceedings as bilingual, and not French.

The way in which the language rights provisions of the Courts of Justice Act and the ensuing Bilingual Proceedings Regulation are drafted can be confusing, as some general language rights provisions are followed by more restrictive specific provisions. In order to fully understand the implications of the various legislative provisions relating to bilingual proceedings, it is therefore important for litigants to know that a lawyer can provide them with detailed information.

As for communicating the more basic language rights pertaining to civil proceedings, various initiatives were undertaken as part of the Pilot Project.

The new information screens and the Q-Matic screens display information on basic language rights in civil, family and Small Claims Court matters. Messages include:.

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Language rights tip sheets for family, civil and Small Claims Court proceedings Appendices K to P were developed as an easy reference outlining the specific legislative provisions that apply for each of those practice areas. These were discussed with and provided to supervisors of court staff working in those court offices. Staff were already aware of their specific responsibilities. Some Ottawa practices involved going above and beyond the legislated requirements; it was therefore left with the supervisors to ensure that their staff were trained in such a manner as to ensure FL rights were not adversely affected and that staff were aware of their obligations.

The family law language rights tip sheet was provided to LAO family duty counsel and discussed at an awareness session held for them on family law language rights at the start of the Pilot Project. Also in the area of family law, the Pilot Project Executive Lead worked with the Mandatory Information Program service provider to ensure an understanding of French language services and rights on its part.

Déborah Blocker

The Pilot Project Executive Lead also worked with the appropriate CSD corporate office to have basic language rights information included in the information sessions given to family litigants throughout Ontario. These sessions now include how to request a bilingual proceeding and how to find a bilingual family law lawyer, not only in Ottawa but province-wide.

In addition to the inherent complexity of language rights and common misconceptions such as those referred to earlier in this section, specific challenges relating to the communication of language rights in criminal matters were encountered throughout the Pilot Project and must be mentioned. One such challenge involved unrealistic expectations that were unintentionally created by the French guilty plea protocol.