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Faculty of Law

Robson Hall to offer bilingual legal training

Access to Justice program to train Manitoba law students in both official languages

June 6, 2019 — 

The Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba can now offer French language legal education for law students in the form of a full certificate program, thanks to financial support from Justice Canada.

On June 5, 2019, the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, announced the Government of Canada is supporting the development of a common law certificate in French at the University of Manitoba. The Department of Justice Canada is providing $768,372 in funding over four years (2018/19 to 2021/22) through its Access to Justice in Both Official Languages Support Fund. With this funding, the University of Manitoba will also conduct activities related to the assessment and certification of the language proficiency of students, and undertake activities to improve the capacity of justice stakeholders in Manitoba to offer services in both official languages.

“Our Government is actively working to improve access to justice in both official languages across the country,” says Lametti. “By increasing the capacity of institutions like Robson Hall to offer legal training in French, it ensures that more graduates in Manitoba will be able to provide legal services in their clients’ official language of choice. I am proud to support this initiative, which helps support the vitality of the Franco-Manitoban community and the development of our legal professionals.”

Up until now, the Faculty of Law could only offer one or two courses in French per year. With this funding, Robson Hall can expand its French-language offering and launch a full certificate program to its students.

“I am very excited that Justice Canada has agreed to fund our program,” says Jonathan Black-Branch, Dean of the Faculty of Law. “Being able to offer French-language legal education is a great development for us to train our students to practice law in both official languages. This is critical to improving access to justice for Manitobans.”

Joint program co-directors, Professors Lorna Turnbull and Gerald Heckman, will assist to develop a certificate program to allow law students to develop their legal skills and knowledge in French, allowing them to become better able to assist French speaking clients by representing them in French before courts and tribunals, and by drafting wills and other legal documents in French.

“I am heartened with the dedication of Dr. Turnbull and Dr. Heckman to this important project,” says Black-Branch. “We have worked very hard to make it happen and are most appreciative that Justice Canada has made French language legal education, as a means of improving access to justice, a priority.”

Equality in courts and classrooms

The Honourable Richard Chartier, Chief Justice of Manitoba, said, “In Manitoba, unlike the other western provinces, there are constitutional provisions mandating the equal status of English and French in the laws and in the courts of the province.  As a result, the English and French versions of all statutes have equal authority.”

“When judges consider statutory interpretation issues, they will often look at both the English and French versions before making their final determination on the question.  Offering French language legal education in our province not only enhances the law students’ ability to represent clients in the French language, it also provides them with an additional tool in their toolbox when making arguments relating to the statutory interpretation of laws.”

Specifically, he explained, “When judges consider statutory interpretation issues, they will often look at both the English and French versions before making their final determination on the question.  Offering French language legal education in our province not only enhances the law students’ ability to represent clients in the French language, it also provides them with an additional tool in their toolbox when making arguments relating to the statutory interpretation of laws.”

Expressing commitment to access to justice in all its forms, Black-Branch added, “Canada is a bilingual country celebrating both French and English as official languages whereby neither is to be given preference of priority. It is vital that a province like Manitoba offer French language training to our students to prepare them for legal practice to all Manitobans, including Franco-Manitobans.”

The program’s objective is to enable bilingual students and those with advanced French to enhance their written and oral French language proficiency and their knowledge of French common law legal terminology as well as to acquire skills in advocacy and negotiation. Students will also be exposed to substantive areas of law for which there is an acute need for French-language services, including criminal law and family law.

Heckman, an associate professor and program co-director explained that “several reasons have driven our efforts over the past decade to enable our students to experience part of their legal education in French. Manitoba is one of the few Canadian provinces where legislative and judicial bilingualism is constitutionally guaranteed. Our bilingual and francophone students have asked for the opportunity to be trained in French Language common law.”

He added, “Most importantly, there is an acute need for lawyers who can represent their clients in the French language. We are pleased and thankful that Justice Canada recognizes the role of bilingual legal education in addressing these access-to-justice needs.”

Tailor-made learning

A key component of the certificate program will be to offer bilingual students entering the program a tailor-made learning plan that allows them to become more proficient in French, and tools to assess their proficiency upon graduation. Especially important is that the program will encourage participating students to develop their identity as members of a community of bilingual law students and future practitioners who, together, can respond to the access to justice needs of francophone communities in Manitoba and other Canadian provinces outside of Québec.

Turnbull, professor and program co-director, spoke on the issue of ethic and access to justice, saying, “All lawyers, whether bilingual or not, have an ethical obligation to ensure that every client is aware of and able to access their right to be represented in the language of their choice. With the influx of families immigrating from French-speaking countries, there is a growing need for French language legal representation, especially in key areas affecting their rights such as family, immigration, and criminal law.”

The facts regarding this growing need are clear: According to the 2016 Census, 46,055 (3.7%) Manitobans identified French as their Mother tongue. The same report shows an increase in bilingualism in people whose mother tongue is English of almost 25% (nationally). The 2016 Census also states that 108,455 Manitobans (8/6%) were bilingual and that over 24,000 Manitoba students were enrolled in French immersion programs.

“It’s our responsibility as Manitoba’s law school to provide both the ethical foundation for all our graduates to ensure that clients are able to access their language rights,” says Turnbull, “and the practical linguistic foundation for our bilingual graduates to offer services to meet the growing needs of our French speaking communities.”

 

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