40 years of advocating for access to justice in French
As Canadians, we are proud of our cultural diversity, especially our linguistic diversity.
Since the beginning of the Canadian Confederation, our leaders have noted that Canadian federalism can only be sustained as long as every citizen feels represented and heard. The francophone population, among others in Canada, knows all too well the consequences when this is not the case.
Nonetheless, the fight for language rights continues, and the justice system is no outlier.
Several bills that serve as pillars to our institutions are law in English alone. For example, the Constitution Act of 1867, to this day is officially recognized only in English, presenting several obstacles.
The Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario, otherwise known as the AJEFO, is not only a witness to this struggle, but plays an active role in advancing the Francophone case in the justice system in Ontario, and in Canada.
Founded in 1980, the AJEFO is a group of francophone and francophile jurists in Ontario, whose goal it is to promote French in the legal profession and provide professional training for its members.
The year 2020 not only represents the era of the pandemic but a new era for the AJEFO with President Marc Sauvé, who was recently elected with the task of leading the AJEFO in a new virtual world. He remarks,
“We define ourselves as ‘a group of jurists’ because we represent not only francophone and francophile lawyers, but also judges, paralegals, and law students, all of whom have an important role in our justice system.”
In the 40 years of AJEFO's existence, there have been several advances in the case for language rights which can be attributed to the efforts of the AJEFO, in particular access to justice in French.
“One of the recent projects we’re proud of is CIJO,” Sauvé says.
The CIJO, or Ontario Legal Information Centre, provides legal information and referral services to Ontario residents. An anglophone or a francophone can meet with a lawyer, at no charge, for 30 minutes in order to receive legal guidance on how to best navigate the justice system.
Although much progress has been made, there is still more to be done.
According to Sauvé, the AJEFO wants to have more of an active role as an intervener in language rights cases,
“In the past, we have intervened in several cases at the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. I want to strengthen our role as an intervener, in order to promote access to justice in French, not only in Ontario but in other provinces and territories as well."
Recently, the AJEFO, along with its sister AJEFs, contributed to the modifications and reform of the divorce law to make it more accessible to the francophone population.
In 1998, a Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access proposed that the option of divorce proceedings in English and French should be legislated.
“The Committee agrees that, as the Divorce Act governs all divorces in Canada, and Canadians whose preferred language is either French or English are found across the country, divorce-related judicial services in both languages should be available nationwide.”
Only 21 years later, in 2019, the AJEFO with FAJEF (Fédération des associations de juristes d’expression française de common law), was able to implement their wishes in the passage of Bill C-78. Today, the Divorce Act reinforces the right to have a bilingual procedure, in both French and English.
For the future, Sauvé also hopes to expand AJEFO’s reach,
"Our goal is to increase our membership. We currently have more than a thousand members, but there are a number of francophone and francophile jurists who have yet to be made aware of our cause."
“There is no justice without access to justice” – The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin
To find out more please visit: AJEFO
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