Ontario seeks to deliver better courthouse services for Francophones

A bulletin board shows French and English responses.
A bulletin board shows French and English responses. Stock photo by Getty Images.

Ontario is home to the largest Francophone population outside Quebec, but that community has so far been underserved by legal services in the province.

That’s why last spring Ontario’s Ministry of Attorney General launched a pilot project to improve French-language services in courthouses across the province. Last week, they followed up with a progress report that showed the initiative has had a positive impact.

Some of the successes, according to MAG spokesperson Brendan Crawley, include:

  • additional public announcements made in both official languages;
  • a counter queuing system that advises service representatives electronically when a client  selects a French language service ticket;
  • information on French language rights in criminal, family, civil, and small claims matters displayed on large screens in the courthouse;more signage indicating that French language services are offered here;
  • designated counter services representatives wearing “Je parle français” badges to clearly indicate that they can provide service in French.

Crawley, however, told FindLaw there is no new funding to support the venture.

“There is no budget associated with this project,” he confirms. “The pilot is focussing on the coordination and use of existing resources and is being delivered in a cost-effective and personnel-neutral manner.”

Crawley adds there is some “minimal funding” from the Canada-Ontario Agreement on French Language Services, which he describes as “a multi-year collaboration framework between Canada and Ontario to support the planning and delivery of French language provincial services.”

It’s commendable there is a recycling of resources that won’t affect the taxpayer’s pocket, but if the government wants to improve a program that is lacking, shouldn’t there at least be some kind of budget allowance tied to it?

In other words, can these changes be effective given there is no additional money behind it?

A 2011 MAG census found Ontario houses more than 600,000 Francophones. The province should then have the proper legal resources — and funding commitment — to service such a prominent community.

MAG started its Seamless Access to Justice in French Pilot Project at an Ottawa courthouse at the end of May. It wraps up next spring.

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