English-speaking lawyers trained in French

In Calgary, a dozen future lawyers, the majority of whom do not have French as their mother tongue, are nevertheless learning to practice law in this language. These students are enrolled in the French Common Law Certification (CCLF). This 30-credit program offered by English-language faculties, which represents a third of their law courses, will make them lawyers capable of practicing their profession in Canada’s two official languages.

Once they graduate, these professionals will improve access to justice for Francophone minorities living outside Quebec. Created in 2016, the CCLF now exists in four law faculties in Western Canada, told me the director of the program, Caroline Magnan, an Alberta lawyer whom I met last March in Calgary. And other faculties wish to do the same.

Quebec, which has its own Civil Code, cannot do much for justice in French in the other provinces, except McGill University, which offers a bilingual bijural program (common law and Civil Code, in French and English). Outside Quebec, only two law faculties train common law lawyers entirely in French: Ottawa, with about 80 graduates per year, and Moncton, with about forty.

The creation of the CCLF stems from a report by the federal Department of Justice which, as early as 2009, had recommended that English-speaking universities prepare future lawyers to practice law in both official languages. Because even English-speaking students who have a good level of French (nearly 10% of English-speaking students in Canada go through French immersion, according to Statistics Canada) will have great difficulty practicing in French if they are not trained in this language. .

It is first of all a problem of legal jargon. An assault, in the language of a lawyer, is called an “assault”. An order from the judge is an “injunction”. “And that’s just the terminology,” explains Caroline Magnan. To practice in French, you have to learn to search the case law, to question witnesses, to plead, to write legal documents “in this language.

Caroline Magnan studied law in Ottawa in French and a master’s degree in tax law at Harvard. In 2015, she was acting as a bilingual legal advisor to the Court of Appeal of Alberta when the University of Ottawa suggested that she launch the CCLF program.

Certificate students therefore take law courses in French, including a full semester in third year in Ottawa in immersion in the French program — in addition to an internship and moot court competitions, in French of course. The program already has four participating universities: those of Calgary, Saskatchewan, Alberta (in Edmonton) and Lakehead (in Thunder Bay, Ontario). And Caroline Magnan is discussing with other faculties to implement the training there.

Of the hundred or so students who have gone through the program since 2016, 45 have completed the certificate (there are few failures, but not all students complete the 30 credits, especially the session in Ottawa) .

The Manitoba model

Manitoba, on the other hand, has created its own way of doing things. As early as 2009, the Association des juristes d’expression française du Manitoba had called for training in French at the Faculty of Law of the University of Manitoba.

“We offered the first course in 2011,” says Gerald Heckman, co-director of the Concentration in Access to Justice in French, which offers students the opportunity to take 26 out of 92 credits in French within the University’s Faculty of Law. of Manitoba (English speaking). It is to this native of Quebec, living in Winnipeg for 17 years, that the Faculty asked to see to the creation of this concentration, officially recognized by the Senate of the University since 2022. “In 2023, we welcomed 7 students, and I think we can get to 12 pretty quickly. That would represent 10% of an annual cohort. »

The University of Manitoba prefers to do everything locally rather than sending its immersion students to Ottawa for a semester, like those of the CCLF. “Some of the Manitobans who leave to study elsewhere don’t come back,” says Gerald Heckman.

In terms of language, Caroline Magnan and Gerald Heckman have to row harder than their colleagues from the French faculties. The vast majority of their students, who do not have French as their mother tongue, must do a linguistic upgrade. Gerald Heckman, for example, has created a partnership with the Université de Saint-Boniface (francophone) to assess each student and determine if they need French lessons and a tutoring plan.

Future lawyers must also overcome certain anxieties (Caroline even invited me to Calgary in order to help them understand that the accent has nothing to do with the quality of the language). Another strategy adopted is to award “pass” or “fail” for certain law courses, which has no effect on the average mark. This approach reduces performance anxieties.

work the system

Will such efforts be enough to improve the administration of justice in French? Probably not, because it is a question of increasing not only the supply (the number of French-speaking lawyers), but also the demand (many litigants are unaware that they are entitled to justice in French). Not to mention that the administration of justice resists change.

In Ontario and New Brunswick, which together graduate some 120 French-speaking lawyers a year, the problems are mainly with the system: many judges are able to hear cases in French, although in insufficient numbers, but the paraprofessionals of justice (from the police to the clerk) are much less familiar with language and the notion of language rights.

Elsewhere, almost everything remains to be done. However, progress has been notable: in Alberta, for example, the Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench (the superior court), the French-speaking Mary T. Moreau, ensures that her courts offer an active offer of services in French. .

According to Caroline Magnan, it is still too early to notice a profound difference in the West, although the number of members of the Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Alberta has increased from 75 to 128 in a few years. “It takes four years to train a lawyer and 20 years to make a judge. Our first graduates have three years of practice, and I have several who are doing a master’s degree,” she rejoices.

Having herself worked at the Supreme Court when she was a student, Caroline Magnan notes that one of the things that encourages English-speaking faculties in the West to set up courses in French is the better access to the most prestigious positions, where bilingualism is required or preferred, such as the federal courts, the courts of appeal, the civil service and, of course, the Supreme Court. Most of its students obtain the best internships, in particular at the Courts of Appeal and at the Supreme Court. “The need for bilingualism will increase with the overhaul of the Official Languages ​​Act,” predicts Caroline Magnan. And that is why other faculties in the West are beginning to take an interest in the CCLF. »

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