French services are neglected in the administrative courts in Ontario, and that both the province and by the Franco-Ontarians themselves, denounce lawyers.

Often represented by lawyers in legal aid clinics or community, francophones who appear before these courts are facing long delays, in addition to not being able to count on the help of few lawyers in private.

This erosion of the French fact is not new, said the lawyer-director of the clinic of Prescott and Russell, Me Pierre-Étienne Daignault. An example: the Social Assistance Tribunal (TAS), which allows people who have been refused this last-resort aid to have their case heard, had only one bilingual arbitrator for the entire province. for two years, he says.

The problem is “systemic”, believes the lawyer.

The government has the responsibility to improve the supply of services in French, but Franco-Ontarians themselves – like the plaintiffs lawyers – must also act, argues Me Daignault. The plaintiffs “do not ask [toujours] French services “to the courts, noted the lawyer, and legal clinics will encourage them not to do. “I have colleagues who tell me cheerfully:” We made calls in English, it is faster “” laments one who is also president of the ACFO Prescott and Russell.

The situation in some places gives sadly due to these lawyers. “Before the pandemic, the waiting time for a hearing with the CAS in Timmins was three times longer in French and English, so about 18 months instead of 6,” says Me Joy Wakefield, a lawyer employed by Legal Aid Ontario in the northwest of the province. “And that was before the pandemic: I have heard that it has worsened since. “

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A significant number of complaints

Criticism of decision Tribunals Ontario, the organization that oversees 14 administrative tribunals, not date from yesterday.

For two years, it has been the organization against which the public has filed the most complaints with the ombudsman Ontario, mainly due to the Commission in processing times and Tenant. The number of bilingual hearings that Ontario equivalent of the Administrative Court of the housing increased from 632 in 2019-2020 to 494 in 2020-2021.

Although the number of appeals received by Ontario administrative tribunals remained almost unchanged between 2016 and 2020, the number of decisions rendered has declined each year.

LAST O, delays in obtaining a decision has tripled since the election of the Conservative government of Doug Ford. Me Daignault believes that the instance has just been abandoned by the province: “The government does not invest in it because it’s not a priority.” some stakeholders fear, moreover, that the court will soon be eliminated.

“Ensuring that the courts are properly funded is a priority,” replies his side Brian Gray, spokesman of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario. Progress has been made to remedy the situation the Court welfare, he noted, with the arrival of three new bilingual referees since January 2020.

Limited services

Many lawyers, however, have doubts about the language skills of members of the Ontario legal system. “Sometimes I hear lawyers offer services in French, but in reality they have only conversational French, so their legal services are limited,” suggests Me Nathan Wainwright, lawyer with Cheadles, Thunder Bay.

Before the pandemic, the waiting time for a hearing [Tribunal de l’aide sociale] in the Timmins area was three times longer in French than in English

The only law school in the north of the province is at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, but it does not have a clear mandate to serve Franco-Ontarians in the region. The region’s bilingual legal succession therefore comes from the south of the province, for the moment. Thunder Bay has only four bilingual lawyers in private practice, including Mr.e Wainwright, despite the fact that more than 7,000 francophones live in the region.

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In Ontario, the law in criminal and family law assistance is mainly provided by lawyers or employees of private lawyers who accept certificates for a specific cause. But few French-speaking lawyers do. According to the directory of members of the French-speaking Jurists’ Association of Ontario, one private lawyer accept legal aid certificates in Eastern Ontario (Hawkesbury, Rockland and Cornwall); the northeast of the province (Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury and Espanola) has four.

Overall, fewer of legal aid certificates are issued, says Me Michael Spratt, lawyer with Abergel Goldstein & Partners in Ottawa, as Legal Aid Ontario’s resources are limited.

However, the organization assures that neither the cuts by the Ford government in 2019, which slashed a third of its budget, nor the pandemic had a negative impact on its services in French. The pandemic will even have accelerated the arrival of virtual legal services, we note. But Franco-Ontarians will have to ask for them, insists Mr.e Daignault.

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