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Language Rights

Lawyers and paralegals must, when appropriate, advise a client of the client’s language rights, including the right to proceed in the official language of the client’s choice (rule 3.2-2A of the Rules of Professional Conduct (“lawyers’ Rules”) and rule 3.02(22) of the Paralegal Rules of Conduct (“Paralegal Rules”).  The lawyer or paralegal should advise the client of the client’s language rights as soon as possible.  Lawyers and paralegals should be aware of relevant statutory and constitutional law relating to language rights including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 19(1) and Part XVII of the Criminal Code regarding language rights in courts under federal jurisdiction and in criminal proceedings.  Lawyers and paralegals should also be aware that provincial or territorial legislation may provide additional language rights, including in relation to aboriginal languages (commentary [1] and [2] to rule 3.2-2A of the lawyers’ Rules and Guideline 6 of the Paralegal Professional Conduct Guidelines).

The choice of official language is that of the client, not the lawyer or paralegal.  When a client wishes to retain a lawyer or paralegal for representation in French, the lawyer or paralegal must not undertake the matter unless the lawyer or paralegal is competent to provide the required services in French.  In such circumstances, the lawyer or paralegal should carefully consider whether it is possible to render those services in a competent manner. 

In order to provide competent services, the communication should be effective for the client for whom it is intended. Lawyer and paralegals who offer services in Ontario in the French language should have sufficient knowledge of the French language, including sufficient knowledge of French common law terminology (as opposed to civil law), to competently act for the client. Lawyers and paralegals should be able to communicate effectively, orally and in writing, with the client and, where applicable, effectively represent the client before courts, tribunals, and/or quasi-judicial tribunals.

If a lawyer or paralegal does not feel competent to undertake the matter for reasons described above, the lawyer or paralegal should recognize his or her lack of competence for a particular task and the disservice that would be done to the client by undertaking the task.  In such circumstances, the lawyer or paralegal should either decline to act or obtain the client's instructions to retain, consult, or collaborate with a lawyer or paralegal who is competent for that task (rule 3.2-2B and commentary [3] of the lawyers’ Rules and rule 3.02(23) of the Paralegal Rules).


Additional Resources

Advising Clients of their French-Language Rights – Lawyers’ Responsibilities

Advising Client of their French-Language Rights – Paralegals’ Responsibilities

The Law Society Referral Service  provides online referrals to lawyers or paralegals who are able to provide services in French.

The Law Society’s Lawyer and Paralegal Directory also includes information about the lawyer or paralegal’s ability to offer services in French.

The Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario (AJEFO) also provides an online directory of lawyers who provide services in French.

Terms or Concepts Explained