Absolutely. If French is your language of choice, and you have been charged with breaking a federal statute, Section 530 of the Criminal Code states that the accused in a criminal trial has the right to be tried in French.
That section states, “On application by an accused whose language is one of the official languages of Canada … the accused (can) be tried before a justice of the peace, provincial court judge, judge or judge and jury, as the case may be, who speak the official language of Canada that is the language of the accused or, if the circumstances warrant, who speak both official languages of Canada.”
What’s more, the judge or justice of the peace must make you aware of your right to be tried in the language of your choice or through a bilingual trial. You must exercise that right by requesting that your court proceedings or trial be held in French, if that is your choice.
Having a French hearing means:
- A preliminary hearing and trial with a judge or justice and a public prosecutor who speaks French.
- Have French used in the proceeding’s documents.
- Apply to have your information or indictment translated into French.
- Having jurors in your trial who speak French. If no French speaking potential jury members can be found – for instance, if you’re a Francophone living in an area of the Upper Ottawa Valley where few French speaking people live and you want the jury trial to be in French – the trial can be moved to an area of the province where there are enough people who speak French to form a jury, (for example, in Ottawa, where there is much more of a Francophone population).
What Happens if My Right to a French Trial is Violated?
There could be serious penalties applied to a court that does not allow you to have your trial conducted in French when you are charged with a federal Criminal Code offence.
In 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal (the province’s top court) ruled that a French-speaking Ottawa man’s right to a French trial on charges of possessing and trafficking cocaine was violated. Not only did the Ontario Court of Appeal strike down the man’s conviction, but it even ordered the Crown to pay his legal costs!
Can a Witness at a Trial Speak French?
Yes. Witnesses can speak in the official language of their choice, and, if needed, the court will also provide an interpreter.
What If My Case is Covered by Provincial Law?
If you haven’t broken a federal Criminal Code law, but are being accused of breaking a law covered by an Ontario provincial statute, you will still have the right to have a bilingual trial. This right extends to every Francophone or French-speaking person living in Ontario no matter where you live in the province.
This means that:
- Your hearing must be presided over by a bilingual judge.
- If your hearing or trial is held before a jury, jury members must speak French and English – but only in designated areas in accordance with the Courts of Justice Act in Ontario. All of Ottawa, and much of the area to the south and east of Ottawa, is a designated area. Consult this map for more information.
- Evidence will be received, recorded and transcribed in the language it was received in – again, only in a designated area of Ontario.
- You can file a plea and other documents written in French – once again, in a designated area such as Ottawa. In an non-designated area, you may file pleas and other documents in French with the consent of the other party in your case.
- Reasons for decisions may be written in French and English.
You can request a bilingual trial in Ontario if you receive the following provincial notices:
- Offence notice.
- Parking infraction notice.
- Notice of impending conviction.
How do I Request a Bilingual Trial or Court Proceeding in Ontario?
You can exercise your right to a bilingual court proceeding by:
- Filing or issuing your first document to the court in French (in a designated area or otherwise with the consent of the other party involved).
- Filing a requisition form requesting a bilingual proceeding.
- Filing a written statement with the court requesting a bilingual proceeding.
- Making an oral statement to the court during an appearance in the proceeding asking that the proceeding be conducted as a bilingual proceeding.
To request a bilingual trial, you’ll need to check the appropriate box on the notice of intention to appear in court. In the case of a summons, you may request a bilingual trial when the court date is set. Note that all forms used in the Ontario courts system are either bilingual or available as separate French and English documents.
The prosecutor will be bilingual if your case or legal matter is prosecuted on the Crown’s behalf.
Consult Armoured Suits
If you want to know more about your right to a French language trial in Ontario, Armoured Suits offers a complimentary 30-minute private consultation. Contact Armoured Suits by phone at 613-233-0008 or e-mail at [email protected] to book your meeting.