Did you know that every Ontario lawyer has an obligation to advise francophone clients of their linguistic rights in the justice system? It will not be long, in my estimation, before a client brings a complaint or a professional liability suit against a lawyer after defeat in a civil, family or criminal matter because the client was not fully able to express himself or herself as witnesses at trial, or on the basis that a bilingual judge or jury would have decided a case differently.
Since 2001, the Commentary to the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Rules of Professional Conduct, s. 1.03, has set out this requirement as part of the standards of the legal profession. In practice, it is rarely observed. In litigation in particular, I have encountered cases where opposing lawyers for francophone parties have neglected to opt for bilingual court proceedings to their clients’ prejudice.
Bilingual does not mean French-only. That means your clients can still employ you as counsel of choice, but if they wish to give testimony in French, they can do so on the basis the court will also understand them. It goes beyond linguistic rights. In the right case, opting for a bilingual proceeding can provide your client with an advantage. Failing to consider that advantage can also be considered a departure from the standard of care.
Bringing to a client’s attention a new web portal, CliquezJustice.ca (ou cliquer sur l’image à droite en haut), can start you and the client on the right foot. According to CliquezJustice:
CliquezJustice.ca, the legal information portal for minority francophone communities, is also helpful for lawyers since it facilitates the lawyer-client relationship. … [It] is a Web portal that provides simplified and accessible legal information in French. It was designed for out-of-Quebec Canadian Francophones. This includes kids, teenagers, teachers and the general public. It offers simplified, accessible and adapted legal information on various legal topics (family law, employment law, immigration law, contracts, etc.), on careers in the justice sector and on the workings of the judicial system.
Don’t let the topic of Canadian minority language rights intimidate you. Moreover, if you are able to plead and make submissions in French, employ your ability to your client’s advantage. All those “French without Tears” classes will definitely pay off!