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Federal Court's unilingual decisions unacceptable

The Federal Court of Canada needs to push forward on posting judgments in both official languages, says Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL) has spent the last decade investigating the time lag between the release of original decisions online and the translated version, which can often take months or even years. But the office has failed to come to a resolution with the Courts Administration Service (CAS), which is responsible for the release of decisions by the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tax Court of Canada.

“It’s quite shocking that you can be waiting that long for a decision in your language,” Deliscar tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The OCOL received its first complaint on the matter back in 2007, with most concerning decisions posted in English without the French versions. However, some refer to French-language decisions and their outstanding English counterparts.

In 2015, the OCOL concluded that CAS had breached the Official Languages Act, but Interim Commissioner Ghislaine Saikaley has expressed frustration at the lack of action since then, even demanding a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada to settle the matter.

“Numerous discussions with the institution have failed to resolve the dispute,” Saikaley told a senate standing committee in April. “The [CAS] did not act on our recommendation to take measures that would enable them to publish decisions simultaneously in both official languages. This issue therefore requires greater statutory clarification. I hope that the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages will see fit to recommend that the government draft a bill to clarify the linguistic obligations of the federal courts in this regard.”

In an interview with Télévision française de l'Ontario, the interim commissioner said complaints are still coming into her office about decisions, calling the problem an “access-to-justice” issue that affects litigants’ ability to prepare for trials. 

Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation, a law firm that offers services in English, French and Spanish, says that she would also like to see Superior Court decisions across the country available in both French and English.

“French-speaking litigants have the right to file documents and be heard in French. If you have those rights, you ought to be able to access court judgments in French as well,” she says. “I think many of the barriers are financial in nature.”

Although many Ontarian Francophones also speak English, Deliscar says it can be difficult trying to navigate the legal system in a second language.  

“People are normally more comfortable reading and writing in their native tongue,” she says. “If you’re self-represented, and you can’t find decisions in your own language while doing research, it’s a big problem. If you’re a lawyer, you might have to bill your clients extra for translations.”

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