Legal community concerned about access to justice rights under Quebec's Bill 96

After protests in CEGEPs, health care and in the business world, the legal community is now expressing concerns about Bill 96.

The proposed legislation is currently being debated in front of the National Assembly and is meant to strengthen the protection of French in quebec.

If adopted, there are provisions in the bill that state that people filing legal documents that fall under Quebec jurisdictions, such as small claims courts or administrative tribunals, must be filed in French.

And it will be up to them to pay to get their documents translated from English — a legal aberration, according to constitutional lawyer Julius Grey.

"Translation services are very expensive, and one that would be devastating to small litigants," said the veteran human rights lawyer.

Access to courts remains untouched, and the right to have a trial in French or English remains unaffected, even in Quebec or municipal courts. But the requirement that all the paperwork be filed in French is expected to face legal challenges.

"Those constitutional rights to equality before the courts, that's under article 133 of the British North-America Act. That cannot be taken away," said the lawyer and former politician.

That's not just an opinion; last fall, the Quebec Bar Association, which represents the province's 28,000 lawyers, pointed out in its brief on the proposed bill, "that article 133 of the 1867 constitution is a historical compromise, which gives the right to use French or English in front of the courts, including for procedural documents."

The Bar of Montreal said mandatory French filings will put non-francophones at a disadvantage.

"The mandatory translation of legal documents into French at their expense will create an onerous burden and discourage them from asserting their rights," said Julie Mousseau, the bâtonnière of Montreal.

That will also extend to property documents and other consumer-related contracts.

“Consumer and worker can only ask that the English version prevails after the French version is delivered," said Mousseau, who worries that non-francophones will find themselves at a disadvantage in business transactions.

Despite the worries and pressure, the ruling CAQ party has shown no signs it will amend these particular sections of Bill 96.

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