Access to Justice begins with understanding
Faculty of Law Access to Justice week event examines importance of French language-trained lawyers
The fourth National Access to Justice week took place October 23 – 27, 2023. This year’s theme was centred around the 10th Anniversary of Canada’s Justice Development Goals. In Manitoba, the Faculty of Law, the Law Society of Manitoba and the Manitoba Bar Association joined forces to present a full week of events. For its part, the Faculty of Law hosted a hybrid panel discussion on Tuesday, October 24, titled Access to Justice in French: A World to Discover.
Events were intended to inform and educate both members of the public and the legal community. All events were free, livestreamed and recorded for public access and education. Other Manitoba events included an online panel hosted by the Law Society of Manitoba on Wednesday, October 25th titled “Are we there yet? Reflecting on A2J Progress & the Obligation to Advance A2J in Manitoba”, and two Manitoba Bar Association Section online panels: “Racial Equity, Legal Education, and Access to Justice“ (Thursday, October 26th, 2023), and “Access to Justice in Family Law and Navigating a File with a Self-Represented Litigant” (Friday, October 27th, 2023).
Natasha Brown, Director of Access to Justice and Community Outreach at the Faculty of Law said, “Manitoba’s A2J Week demonstrates a commitment of the law school, the Law Society and the MBA to work together, in collaboration with Manitoba’s justice system stakeholders, to discuss meaningful solutions to advance access to justice. Making the law accessible and transparent to the public is of utmost importance to all three organizations. Between us, we had a total of 750 registrants this year which would not have been possible without the many individuals who devoted their time and expertise to make the week a success. I look forward to working with all three organizations for A2J Week 2024.”
The Faculty’s event featured Manitoba’s Chief Justice Marianne Rivoalen as the Keynote speaker, along with Judge Denis Guénette of the Provincial Court who moderated a panel that included Dr. Lorna Turnbull and clinical instructor Andrea Doyle of the Faculty of Law,
Tarik Daoudi, Executive Director of the Association des juristes d’expression française du Manitoba (AJEFM), Ruphine Djuissi, a lawyer at AJEFM, and Jean-René Dominique Kwilu, Executive Director and Lead Counsel at la Clinique Juridique Franco-Justice (CJFJ).
Panelists discussed bilingualism and the important role it plays in legal practice in jurisdictions where French and English versions of laws are equally authoritative. They noted how the demand for French legal services in Manitoba and in Canada has been increasing and shared how each has tried to work towards addressing this demand and what further work needs to be done. The panelists spoke in French and an online interpreter translated the discussion into English to enable a completely accessible session.
Guénette introduced the session, emphasizing the importance of training lawyers in French in order to help French-speaking communities and immigrants from French-speaking countries. He explained that linguistic insecurity is a major barrier to access to justice.
Turnbull shared what the Faculty of Law is doing to fill the gap by training French-speaking law students in the Access to Justice in French Concentration program. Currently, 24 law students are receiving both linguistic and practical legal training in French at Robson Hall. Doyle shared achievements of the program to date, including examples of the many successes the programs’ students had competing in last year’s moot competitions.
Daoudi described the AJEFM’s activities to facilitate access to justice for French-speaking Manitobans. A major step toward this, he noted, is having a bilingual Chief Justice who can be a resource for both lawyers and judges for statutory interpretation in French and English.
Djuissi spoke from personal experience in her legal practice about how the need to understand the law in one’s own language extends to all areas of law including domestic violence, family and criminal law.
Kwilu, who lectures on commercial law at l’Université de Saint-Boniface, in addition to practicing family, criminal and immigration law, shared his experiences representing French-speaking clients in court, describing the nuances and difficulties that arise with both cultural and language differences. For example, he said, family law in Canada is very different for individuals not from countries based in a common law justice system, and needs to be both translated and explained culturally.
Chief Justice Rivoalen shared her experiences practicing for 15 years as a bilingual lawyer and reflected on how the law in Canada says that everyone is supposed to have legal representation in the official language of their choice and how that plays out in reality where often clients go unrepresented because they cannot find a French-speaking lawyer. She also summarized areas of ongoing need such as connectivity to remote areas of Canada, translation of documents and the need for bilingual clerks, staff and judges. She noted that while there’s an obligation for areas of public law to have bilingual services, there is no such obligation in areas of private law. Ultimately, having legal services in French is not a luxury but is essential for people to live their lives.
Audience members attending the Robson Hall event included a number of law students from the Faculty’s Access to Justice in French Concentration, some of whom reacted strongly to hearing support for French language access in the legal system.
Bradley Légaré (3L), and other students hoped the Faculty would hold more similar events. “Improving access to justice in French has been something near and dear to my heart since I started in the A2JF Concentration at Robson Hall, and this is the first time we’ve had a seminar that has focused on this topic in French,” he said. “On a personal level, it was really validating having members of the French legal community explain the importance of pursuing an education which will allow myself to help members of the community. Moreover, I feel like it allowed a light to be shone on the true goals of the A2J in French Concentration, and the important role it has played in the lives of myself and many of the other students who are in [the program].”
“I appreciated the opportunity to hear from lawyers, academics, and jurists who are working hard to improve access to justice in French,” said Dominique Gibson, 3L. “In particular, it was interesting to learn more about various initiatives to improve French legal services in Manitoba, such as InfoJustice. While I left the event feeling optimistic, I also recognize that there is a lot of work to be done to improve access to justice in both official languages in our province. As a future lawyer, I look forward to being part of that work.”
Access to justice does not demand perfection; rather, it requires open-mindedness, cultural humility, and compassion.
– Avery Alexiuk, 1L
New to the A2JF Concentration this fall, Avery Alexiuk (1L) said, “What I took away from this event is that being a lawyer and an advocate means being a part of something much greater than yourself. As lawyers, we must adapt and evolve to best accommodate the needs of the populations we serve. In order to bridge the gap that exists for diverse and multicultural individuals when accessing legal services, they must have access to legal representation and proceedings in the official language of their choice. Access to justice does not demand perfection; rather, it requires open-mindedness, cultural humility, and compassion.”
Tess Poulton, also in her first year of law shared that, “The opportunity to engage with the legal francophone community of Manitoba is very valuable as a first year law student in the Access to Justice in French program. This panel discussion further inspired me to engage with the French language to the best of my abilities.”
Yomna Eid (1L) shared, “This session provided a great opportunity to hear about the progress that has been made thus far in our community regarding access to justice in French in Manitoba. It was encouraging to hear open and honest interpretations about the challenges that the panelists have encountered. As future legal professionals, it is very valuable to hear about the advantages of offering services in French from current practitioners. These opportunities, along with the A2J concentration in French at Robson Hall allow us to feel empowered to use languages other than English when it best serves the interest of our clients and our communities.”
Adam Gislason (1L) said the panel “emphasized the need for French legal services in all fields of law. With a continually growing Franco-Manitoban community, it becomes increasingly important for law practitioners to facilitate services in both languages such that unilingual French-speaking Manitobans can properly understand the services they require and receive.”
Finally, 3L Eric Gagnon said, “It was wonderful to hear firsthand from deeply respected members of the French-speaking legal community in Manitoba. As a francophone from rural French Manitoba, I deeply appreciate how involved our Faculty of Law has been in organizing initiatives such as L’accès à la justice en français: Un monde à découvrir.”
A member of the public listening to the event online said they were glad they had stayed and listened to the whole Manitoba event, adding, “The information has been great. Makes me want to move to Manitoba, as you seem to havea greater grasp on the importance to litigants.”
The Faculty of Law event was recorded:
Watch the English version here.
Watch the French version here.