Theory, Practice, and Perception: Unreliable Access to Courts and Tribunals in Quebec Post-Bill 96

The most recent Access to Justice in English project explores the discrepancy between what should be theoretically possible, is practically possible, and is perceived possible in the English language in front of Quebec courts and administrative tribunals. The report largely focuses on English Quebecer’s experience in front of less formal tribunals which cover every-day legal issues like housing, welfare, and employment disputes.  

Although theoretically these tribunals have to use language policies which incorporate Canadian’s constitutional and legal linguistic rights, we found that many had not tailored their language policy to meet these requirements. This was confirmed in our consultations with community organizations and lawyers, which found instances where court staff or even administrative judges would refuse service in English. Our survey of 1500 English Quebecers found low confidence in the court system, mistaken beliefs in non-existent rights in the courtroom, and the perception that using English in court would prejudice one’s case. These indicators demonstrate that Quebec courts and especially tribunals must have better linguistic policies that affirm English-speakers rights.  

The report offers 22 recommendations to address these issues. Among these, we strongly suggest that administrative tribunals prepare and adopt language policy directives that clarify English-speaker’s linguistic constitutional and procedural rights, provide clear guidance for exceptions to French service, and that English versions of these updated directives are accessible to the public both online and in person. Our report further recommends that administrative tribunals adopt policies to better guide self-represented litigants especially on their linguistic rights, both through judicial involvement and increased staff assistance. This measure would also require that informational materials and forms produced by courts, tribunals, and the Ministry of Justice are made available in English. Finally, the AJEQ report encourages administrative tribunals to work with the Conseil de la magistrature to implement a similar voluntary English-language training for their administrative judges. These, alongside our other recommendations, will increase English-speaking community’s access to justice and improve its perception of the Quebec legal system.  

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