Right to Trial in French

If I speak French, can I insist on a trial being held in the French language?

Yes.  In addition to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 14) there are other laws which support this right to have a trial in the French language, if requested.  The Courts of Justice Act (C.O.J.A) provides the following sections which accommodates this situation.

Under the LANGUAGE title of the C.O.J.A. section 125 “Official languages of the Courts”  states:

Section 125. (1) The official languages of the courts of Ontario are English and French.

Section 126. (1) A party to a proceeding who speaks French has the right to require that it be conducted as a bilingual hearing.

Section 126. (2) The following rules apply to a proceeding that is conducted as a bilingual proceeding:

  1. The hearings that the party specifies shall be presided over by a judge or officer who speaks English and French.

Section 46 (2) of the The Provincial Offences Act states “Right to Defend”- The defendant is entitled to make full answer and defence.

Section 14 of the Charter states: A party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter.

This is just part of the law which makes reference to a French speaking person’s right to have a proceeding in the French language.  There are other laws that also come into play, the French Language Services Act, R.S.O. 1990 where the Government has a duty to ensure that services (ie- administration of justice) are provided for in the French language. In addition to the Courts of Ontario, there are twenty five (25) other designated areas where Government services in Ontairo, must be offered in the French language, see link

What are the rights to French language services for Provincial Offences Act matters? see link

Bilingual Highway & Road Signs – Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation Official Bilingual Signing Policy Q’s & A’s and frequently asked questions about Ontario’s French-Language Services as answered by Ontario’s Office of Francophone Affairs.

In 2006 the Government of Ontario celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the French Language Services Act.

There are other interesting stories.

Update: June 11, 2009 – Ontario residents may now proudly display the official Franco-Ontarian emblem on their French-language licence plates. More than 580,000 Francophones live in Ontario – the largest French-speaking community in Canada outside Quebec. See information posted on Ontario Newsroom.

Update: May 17, 2011 – A recent decision by the Court of Appeal in R. v. Petruzzo, 2011 ONCA 386 has denied Mr. Giovanni Petruzzo’s appeal with respect to his charge. Mr. Petruzzo argued in his appeal that a traffic sign in Toronto, must be bilingual (in compliance with the French Language Services Act and unilingual traffic signs in the City of Toronto were not valid

Here is the entire decision:
On a motion for leave to appeal the decision of the Provincial Offences Appeal Court by Justice Eric N. Libman, dated October 13, 2009.

Decision, as follows, by Justice John Laskin J.A.:

Mr. Petruzzo was convicted of disobeying a traffic sign contrary to s. 182(2) of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990 c. H-8. He was driving south on Bay Street and turned right onto Richmond Street contrary to a sign that prohibited right-hand turns. The appeal from his conviction was dismissed by Libman J. of the Provincial Offences Appeal Court.

Mr. Petruzzo now seeks to leave to appeal to this court under s. 139 of the Provincial Offences Act, R.S.O. 1990 c. P.-33. To obtain leave he must show that “it is essential in the public interest or for the due administration of justice that leave be granted.”

Mr. Petruzzo raises two grounds of appeal: 1) he should have been charged under s. 144(9) of the Highway Traffic Act, which specifically prohibits turns at intersections; and 2) his conviction was invalid because the sign prohibiting a right-hand turn at Bay and Richmond was in English only, instead of in both English and French, contrary to the French Language Services Act, R.S.O. 1990 c. F-32.

Neither ground of appeal warrants granting leave. Before dealing with each grounds specifically, I make two preliminary points. First, neither ground was raised at trial. Second, Mr. Petruzzo has not served a notice of constitutional question challenging the constitutionality of the French Language Service Act.

On the first proposed ground of appeal, the prosecutor was entitled to proceed under s. 182(2) of the Highway Traffic Act. Section 182(2) is a general provision requiring motorists to obey instructions or directions on a traffic sign. I know of no authority or principle that required the prosecutor to seek an amendment to change the charging section to the more specific provision dealing with intersections. Mr. Petruzzo was aware of and understood the allegation against him and, on the facts found by the trial judge, was properly convicted under s. 182(2).

On the second ground, Mr. Petruzzo contends that the French Language Services Act obliges the City of Toronto to have bilingual traffic signs. He points to two sections of that Act, ss. 5 and 14, in support of his contention. Neither section assists him.

Section 5 stipulates that a person has the right to receive available services in French from any head or central office of a government agency. However, the definition of government agency in s. 1 expressly excludes municipalities.

The City of Toronto is designated in the Schedule to the Act as a bilingual area, and under s. 14 may pass a by-law providing that the administration of a municipality shall be conducted in both official languages and that all or specified municipal services shall be available in English and French. However, the City of Toronto has not passed such a by-law. Because it has not done so, s. 52 of Regulation 615 under the Highway Traffic Act applies and forecloses the need for bilingual traffic signs. Section 52 states:

A municipality situated in an area designated by the French Language Services Act is not required to comply with the sign requirements for such areas unless it has passed a by-law under section 14 of that Act.

Nonetheless, Mr. Petruzzo finds support for his argument in the decision of Justice of the Peace Napier in R. v. Myers, 2004 CarswellOnt 5638 (C.J.). In that case, the Justice of the Peace held that unilingual traffic signs in the City of Toronto were not valid. In his view, because the City is a designated bilingual area under the French Language Services Act, traffic signs under the Highway Traffic Act must be in both English and French.

Respectfully, I consider the decision in Myers to be wrong. It does not satisfactorily explain why the City of Toronto is obliged to have bilingual signs when it has not passed a by-law under s. 14 of the Act. Most important, Myers does not refer to s. 52 of Regulation 615, which expressly states that absent a by-law under s. 14, bilingual signs are not required.

The motion for leave to appeal is dismissed.

“John Laskin J.A.”
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