Justice in Both Languages
English and French are the official languages of the courts in Ontario.
The Rights of French-Speaking Individuals in the Ontario Justice System
1. The Right to a Trial in the Accused’s Official Language of Choice for Criminal Cases
Section 530 of the Criminal Code states that accused persons have the right to be tried in French if it is their language of choice. In certain cases, accused have the right to a bilingual trial. The justice or judge must make the accused aware of their right to be tried in the language of their choice or to a bilingual trial, and the accused must exercise that right by requesting that their trial be held in their official language of choice.
If the request is granted, accused persons have the right to:
- A preliminary hearing and trial with a judge or justice and prosecutor (other than a private prosecutor) who speaks the same official language of choice.
- Use either official language in documents used in the proceeding.
- Apply to have their information or indictment translated into their language of choice.
- Jurors who speak the official language of their choice, or change the location of the trial to an area where there are enough French-speaking people to form a jury.
Witnesses may testify in their language of choice, and if needed, the court will also provide an interpreter.
2. The Right to a Bilingual Court Proceeding for Family, Non-Jury Civil and Provincial Offences Act Cases
You have the right to a bilingual court proceeding for all Provincial Offences Act (POA), family, and non-jury civil cases held in the following courts:
- Ontario Court of Justice
- Small Claims Court
- Superior Court of Justice (including the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice)
- Court of Appeal for Ontario
The right to a bilingual proceeding also extends to all other hearings associated with your case, such as procedural motions, pre-trial hearings, and hearings to assess costs.
During a bilingual proceeding the judge, prosecutor (in cases prosecuted on behalf of the Crown), registrar/clerk, and the court reporter/monitor are all bilingual. You may address the court directly in French and witnesses may testify in their language of choice. If needed, the court will also provide an interpreter.
You can exercise your right to a bilingual proceeding by:
- Filing or issuing your first document in French (where authorized or on the consent of the other parties)
- Filing a requisition form requesting a bilingual proceeding
- Filing a written statement with the court requesting a bilingual proceeding
- Making an oral statement to the court during an appearance in the proceeding asking that the proceeding be conducted as a bilingual proceeding
You have the right to request a bilingual trial if you receive the following provincial notices:
- Offence notice
- Parking infraction notice
- Notice of impending conviction
To request a bilingual trial, check the appropriate box on the notice of intention to appear in court. In the case of a summons, you may request a bilingual trial when the court date is set.
The prosecutor will be bilingual if the matter is prosecuted on behalf of the Crown.
3. The Right to a Civil Jury Trial with a Bilingual Jury in Certain Areas of the Province
In a civil case, you can receive a bilingual jury in: the counties of Essex, Middlesex, Prescott and Russell, Renfrew, Simcoe and Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry; the County of Welland as it existed on December 31, 1969; the territorial districts of Algoma, Cochrane, Kenora, Nipissing, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timiskaming; the Municipality of Chatham Kent; the City of Hamilton; the City of Ottawa; the Regional Municipality of Peel; the City of Greater Sudbury; and the City of Toronto ( Courts of Justice Act, s. 126, Schedules 1 & 2).
4. The Right to Bilingual Administrative Tribunal Hearings
All administrative tribunals reporting to the Ministry of the Attorney General will hold bilingual hearings upon request. These tribunals include the Ontario Municipal Board, the Assessment Review Board, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the Board of Negotiation.
5. The Right to File Documents in French
Documents written in French may be filed before a hearing in a proceeding in the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice or the Small Claims Court. This applies anywhere in the province.
You may file pleadings and other documents written in French in a civil proceeding if the proceeding is being held as a bilingual proceeding and if the proceeding is commenced in one of the areas listed in section (3) above, or elsewhere in Ontario if the parties to the proceeding consent.
On request of a party, the court will provide translation into English or French of: (1) a document filed before a hearing in a proceeding in the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice or the Small Claims Court; and (2) a process issued in or giving rise to a criminal proceeding or a proceeding in the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice or the Ontario Court of Justice.
Note: All forms commonly used in the courts are either bilingual or available in separate French and English versions.
6. The Right to Make a Contract in French
A contract is a private agreement between parties and may be written in French if all parties to the contract agree. This includes marriage contracts, separation agreements, employment contracts and leases.
7. The Right to Make a Will in French
A will may be written in French. In order to confirm the appointment of an estate trustee (executor), an application must be made to the Superior Court of Justice. The original will must accompany the application. In areas where documents can be filed in French, it is not necessary to submit an English translation of the will. In all other areas of the province, an English translation must be submitted with the original French document.
Legal Resources Available to French-Speaking Residents of Ontario
The Law Society of Upper Canada
The Law Society of Upper Canada operates a bilingual referral service that can provide the names of French-speaking lawyers in your area. For further information, contact:
Lawyer Referral Services
Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5H 2N6
Telephone: 1-800-268-8326 or 416-947-3330 (within the GTA)
Web site: www.lsuc.on.ca
The Ontario Bar Association
The Ontario Bar Association offers bilingual information on locating and working with a lawyer. You can access this information by visiting their Web site at www.oba.org or by calling the association toll free at 1-800-668-8900.
Legal Aid is available to people who cannot afford the services of a lawyer. If you qualify for legal aid, you will be offered a variety of legal services and, if appropriate, given a legal aid lawyer certificate. This certificate is a guarantee of payment from Legal Aid Ontario to the private lawyer of your choice, subject to the rates and limitations set out in the legal aid tariff. For further information, contact:
Legal Aid Ontario
40 Dundas Street West, Suite 200
Toronto ON M5G 2H1
Toll Free: 1-800-668-8258
Web site: www.legalaid.on.ca
Laws of Ontario
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario adopts all public statutes in both French and English, and both versions are equally valid. Ontario's public statutes are available on-line in both English and French at www.e-laws.gov.on.ca. Copies may also be obtained through your public library or ordered from:
5 th Floor, 880 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1N8
Toll Free: 1-800-668-9938
Web site: www.gov.on.ca/MBS/english/publications/
A Brief History of Access to the Justice System for French-Speaking Residents of Ontario
1978: Amendments to The Judicature Act provide for bilingual civil trials and selection of bilingual jurors in certain areas of Ontario.
1979: Amendments to the Criminal Code provide for a criminal trial anywhere in Ontario before a judge, or judge and jury, who speak English or French.
1984: The Courts of Justice Act, 1984, declares English and French the official languages of the courts of Ontario. The Act makes detailed provision for use of French in court proceedings, and expands the areas in which bilingual trials are available to cover the whole province.
1986: The French Language Services Act, 1986, gives French-speaking residents of Ontario the right to communicate in French and to receive services in French from the Ministry of the Attorney General head office and regional offices in 22 designated areas. (Note: The City of London and the County of Middlesex have since been added as designated areas of the province, respectively in the French Language Services Act and Courts of Justice Act.)
1990: Amendments to the Courts of Justice Act, 1984, ensure that French-speaking litigants have the right to civil trials in French. The amendments also recognize the right to file documents in French in specific parts of Ontario.
1991: All public Acts of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario are enacted in both French and English.
2001: A new regulation under the Courts of Justice Act streamlines and simplifies administrative procedures for obtaining a court hearing in French.