1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 176

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Access to Justice in French

Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Tardif, calling the attention of the Senate to access to Justice in French in Francophone Minority Communities.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I address you today to pursue Senator Tardif’s motion concerning access to justice for francophones in minority French-speaking communities in Canada.

I wish to thank the Honourable Senator Tardif for initiating this motion on a subject that is also close to my heart. For a long time, Canada has been a country of immigration.

According to Statistics Canada, on December 23, 2009, Canada’s population stood at approximately 33 million. Again according to Statistics Canada, during the third quarter of that year, Canada’s population grew strongly by 133,000 people.

Interestingly, somewhat more than two-thirds of the increase — about 90,000 — was due to international immigration. Moreover, francophone immigration into minority communities has shown fresh growth in the last few years.

On 28 June 2002, the Government of Canada passed a new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Section 3 of that act states that, with respect to immigration, the objectives of the act are to enrich and strengthen the social and cultural fabric of Canadian society, while respecting the federal, bilingual and multicultural character of Canada.

This law also highlights the importance of fostering the development of minority official language communities in Canada. As a country that welcomes immigrants, Canada tries to recruit immigrants who will make a positive contribution to the development of Canadian society.

Let us remember that about 137,000 francophone immigrants live in these communities, with 70 per cent living in Ontario, 15 per cent in British Columbia and 8 per cent in Alberta.

According to the 2006 Census, immigrants represent 13 per cent of the total population of francophone minority communities. However, one problem has emerged: immigrants who settle in francophone minority communities do not always have access to legal services in French.


In Ottawa, a complainant who had filled out the “Notice of Intention to Appear” form in French arrived to discover that while the provincial prosecutor was bilingual, the justice of the peace was a unilingual English speaker. In order to address this problem, a national study was conducted on behalf of the Fédération des associations de juristes d’expression française de common law.

The federation represents regional, provincial and territorial associations of French-speaking jurists working to promote and defend the language rights of francophone and Acadian communities.

The study, L’accès à la justice et les carrières en justice pour les immigrants francophones dans les communautés minoritaires du Canada, focuses on access to justice and careers in justice for French-speaking immigrants in minority communities in Canada, and its purpose was to explore needs, priorities and possible courses of action in relation to access to justice for French-speaking newcomers living in Canada’s minority francophone communities. The study sought not only to target access for newcomers to available resources, but also to suggest changes designed to promote access to justice in French.

Here are some important facts about newcomers to Canada.

The first is that access to justice is not seen in the same positive light as access to health care.

Second, a significant number of the groups questioned in connection with this study, such as refugees, had been marked by their own experience of the justice system in their country of origin. Hence the importance of stressing the reliability of Canada’s justice system, as well as opportunities to access services in French.

For example, the study shows that about half of the respondents do not know where to go to obtain the services of a lawyer or learn about legal aid services in their province.

Canada is founded on the rule of law. That said, cultural and other customs must comply with the law. According to the study, it is therefore important to take these factors into consideration in the implementation of strategies to assist newcomers.

The issues and challenges identified in this study confirm that it will be necessary to develop strategies and activities that target francophone immigrants directly in order to increase access to justice in French.

The study proposes four major strategic orientations that will have to guide project implementation.

The first strategic orientation is to position access to justice in French as a determinant in successful immigration. The study notes that access to justice in French should be positioned as a determinant in successful immigration on the same basis as the economic, social and cultural integration of francophone immigrants.

The second specific orientation is to work on the attitudes and beliefs of francophone immigrants respecting access to justice. It is important to improve their awareness with support materials that provide a clear, straightforward explanation of the bases of Canada’s justice system.

The third specific orientation is to organize a concerted approach by the various community agencies. One major finding from the demographic analysis is the unequal distribution of immigrants among provinces and territories. That said, there will be a need to accept that projects and strategies will differ from region to region, depending on the distribution of francophone immigrants across Canada.

The final specific orientation is to develop working relations with immigrant communities, taking advantage of their natural gathering places.

The strategies proposed in this study are but the beginning in the process of developing and enhancing access to justice in French for newcomers. These strategies help us understand the scale of the problem confronting francophone immigrants when they arrive in Canada.

Another point made in the study is a proposal for projects to address access to justice in French. The following are examples of two projects that emerged from the study.

The first is designed to raise the profile of justice in French by instituting an “Access to Justice in French Week” in francophone immigrant communities. Canada’s Right to Know Week, Black History Month and the Semaine de la francophonie are important annual events in Canada. An event of this kind would provide an opportunity for community organizations to develop a series of events in order to raise the profile of the justice system among francophone immigrant communities and the host communities.

The second project would be the presentation of a provincial award recognizing services to justice and immigration to a person or organization that promotes justice issues to francophone immigrant communities.

The most important thing that emerges from this study is the need to work together, hence the importance of collaboration and cooperation among community organizations.

Before closing, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the significant contributions made by Rénald Rémillard and his team at the Fédération des associations de juristes d’expression française de common law.

Honourable senators, this study has enabled us to highlight the problems confronting newcomers with respect to access to justice in French. Given the facts that have been established, some projects and strategies could improve the situation by promoting access to justice in French for immigrants living in minority francophone communities.

(On motion of Senator Tardif, for Senator Robichaud, debate adjourned.)