Evidence of meeting #57 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was immigration.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Réjean Aucoin  President, Association des juristes d'expression française de la Nouvelle-Écosse
Julie Chamagne  Executive Director, Halifax Refugee Clinic
Antoine Aylwin  Vice-President, Barreau du Québec

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Monsieur Aucoin, I don't have a question for you, but I'll follow up on what Mr. Boissonnault said. I attended a conference on judicial and legislative bilingualism, and it very much echoed the concerns you have when clients are unable to receive legal services in the language of their birth. Legal concepts are very complex, and when you don't have translation services and interpretation, it's very complex. So, thank you for adding that particular testimony.

Monsieur Aylwin, I want to bring the questioning back to you. The province of Quebec is the largest province in this country, and it has a vast northern territory. What are some of the major challenges for legal aid programs that are unique to the rural and remote areas of Quebec, up in the north, and especially to first nations?

4:50 p.m.

Vice-President, Barreau du Québec

Antoine Aylwin

Thank you for the question.

We've been involved with what we call “northern justice” in recent years. We've been going to the north, seeing the status of justice there as it is. It's a shame that we live in a country that accepts the way that aboriginal and natives are treated up north. That's what I can tell you.

We've been doing an initiative. It was two or three weeks ago that we had a legal clinic up north. We went with ProBono Québec to render services, but there are so many issues it's very difficult to tackle them all at once. There's the language issue. There's the cultural issue.

For years, we've been developing guides. They don't want written material. They have a spoken tradition, so it's not the same solution. It has taken a while for us to realize that despite our willingness to help, there were some ways we were trying to help that didn't help that much.

I use the expression les plus démunis des démunis. When you look at what's happening right now up north, it's just a disaster. That's one of the priorities, right there.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

It's been a while since this committee has considered the access to justice issue. We've had a number of justice bills.

Going back to previous witness testimony, a lot of it has centred on the fact that the federal component of legal aid is bundled up in the Canada social transfer. The federal government will say it does fund legal aid, and the provinces will say, “No, you don't.”

There's a lot of this happening, so a lot of people have recommended that the federal government have that separate amount of legal aid.

Just so that we are clear, when we're writing our report, is this something you are in support of?

4:55 p.m.

Vice-President, Barreau du Québec

Antoine Aylwin

Totally. That's one of our recommendations.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Okay, thank you very much.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Mr. Bittle.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you so much.

Ms. Chamagne, you suggested that you have other recommendations. If that's the case, would you care to discuss them?

May 16th, 2017 / 4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Halifax Refugee Clinic

Julie Chamagne

Yes.

One of my other recommendations was to try to mitigate some of the damage that has been done to the reputations of refugee claimants over the past couple of years. Refugee claimants have been a very stigmatized group.

I can see this first-hand with how they don't want to be identified as such. I think a lot of that has to do with some of the language that was being used around refugee claimants, like “bogus”, “fraudulent”, and “queue-jumping”.

Now recently, there's been a bit more of a happy feeling, let's say, around refugees. I think that refugee claimants have been lost a little in that, and people still aren't clear. One of my recommendations would be to clarify and to celebrate not only government-assisted refugees and privately sponsored refugees, but also refugee claimants generally.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you so much.

Monsieur Aucoin, is there a way that the federal government can encourage more bilingual lawyers and bilingual judges to either get into the practice and/or accept more legal aid? I know you discussed increased funds, but specifically in terms of bilingual lawyers, is there any way to attract more of them?

4:55 p.m.

President, Association des juristes d'expression française de la Nouvelle-Écosse

Réjean Aucoin

I've always thought that if there were designated jobs that were posted, whether for government or federal appointees, then they would have to find bilingual candidates. Until that's done and there is an active offer of service, and until....

I'm glad that the question of funding came up, because if the federal government is funding legal aid, why isn't there an obligation to offer services like the RCMP or any other government department? Why doesn't that exist? Then the Acadians or francophones could have access to those services. Until there is that obligation, until there are more lawyers and more judges, it will be difficult.

There has been an increase in the number of bilingual lawyers practising in Nova Scotia. They're more and more in demand, and they're picked up. So it's progressing. It's not as fast as I would like, but it is progressing.

As the legal aid officer told me in Halifax, when there is someone bilingual with the equivalent references, in consultation with the local office, they will appoint a bilingual one. They're happy to have one of them. However, there's no designated post or position for that.

That's the best I can tell you at this time.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you.

I'll open this question up. Is there a role for technology to step in and bridge the gap, especially with minority languages? We discussed rural and remote first nations communities. Even with immigration and refugee files, is there a role that technology or a different use of existing technology could play? Being a lawyer, I know that courts are often reluctant to embrace advancements, but do any of you see a possibility of technology improving the situation?

5 p.m.

Vice-President, Barreau du Québec

Antoine Aylwin

Can I jump in on your last question?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Absolutely, yes.

5 p.m.

Vice-President, Barreau du Québec

Antoine Aylwin

When the federal government says that Supreme Court judges must be bilingual, that's an incentive for many lawyers in the country to be bilingual as well. That's something really positive, to address the question you asked. If we want to have some positive discrimination in universities or bar schools in favour of francophones, or for bilingual people to become lawyers.... I say the latter because it's easier to take a bilingual person and make them a lawyer than to make a lawyer bilingual.

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

5 p.m.

Vice-President, Barreau du Québec

Antoine Aylwin

I know that at Dalhousie University, if I'm not mistaken, there's a program for natives. There's positive discrimination in their favour, so that they can create aboriginal lawyers. That might be a way to address the situation.

As for technology in terms of access to justice, unfortunately there are a lot of people who lack access to justice and to technology as well. Don't get me wrong, that's a priority for us, to bring technology into the courtroom, to stop carrying that much paper—not just for the health of lawyers, but just to be more efficient. It's insane how much paper we're carrying around in our justice system.

When we're talking about people at the bottom who really need the basics, often they don't have access to technology. To provide the service, I think we can think about ways to get translators available on Skype, or things like that, as a plan B. But it cannot be at the front end of the services.

5 p.m.

Executive Director, Halifax Refugee Clinic

Julie Chamagne

I have a bit of the same reticence, I guess. As I was saying, we do all our refugee protection division hearings by video conference—not out of choice but because that was part of the legislative change in 2012.

At the same time, we've used technology; we've used video conferencing; we have been instrumental in setting up a sister clinic that operates in quite the same way as our model in New Brunswick, which also doesn't have legal aid for refugee and immigration matters. It's called the New Brunswick Refugee Clinic. We're in contact with them, obviously by telephone. I don't know if that's technology; it has existed for a while. We're also in contact by video conference, and it's a good way to prepare our clients for that.

It would be really helpful, not only because of the sheer volume of paper and trees used, but also because, for us, when we courier a huge stack of papers to the Immigration and Refugee Board in Montreal, it costs us $30 every time. It would be excellent to be able to just scan and upload documents. Postage is quite a big cost, actually, for a small organization.

Yes, I definitely think there's a role for technology.

5 p.m.

Vice-President, Barreau du Québec

Antoine Aylwin

If I can add to that, you were talking, Mr. Boissonnault, about what the federal government can do. I know you're not making the rules of the Federal Court, but you make the law.

The rules are shaped against the use of technology and efficient practices. We lose so much time in making copies and making sure that you have the right margins and things like that, that we lose sight of what we're trying to achieve.

Sometimes we're trying to be very nice, but are we achieving what we are trying to do, by having so many rules and being so complicated?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you so much.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Now we'll go to whatever shorter questions members of the committee have.

By the way, I would like to welcome Mr. Levitt and Mr. Duguid, who are joining us today. It's nice to have you with us.

Mr. Boissonnault.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

My fellow colleagues, thank you for mentioning that Supreme Court judges must now be bilingual.

The court challenges program is a priority for Minister Joly and Minister Wilson-Raybould. When I was sitting on the Standing Committee on Official Languages, as parliamentary secretary, it was an important issue for us.

I agree with you when you say it's a benefit for the community and for the principle of access to justice. I'm happy to hear you say it.

As you know, the Standing Committee on Official Languages is studying the issue of access to justice in full compliance with the Official Languages Act. I encourage you to follow its work closely.

First, I want to make a suggestion. Then, I'll ask Ms. Chamagne a question.

We saw that the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne, or ACUFC, wanted more francophone doctors. This association said that not enough francophones were registered in medical programs. The ACUFC then surveyed all the medical students across the country, regardless of their language of study. According to this survey, 642 francophones and francophiles said they wanted to provide services in French during their medical career. This amounts to one third of the students across the country.

I strongly encourage the justice system and your colleagues to do the same thing with all the law students, because I think assets can be found.

As you said, we can train people once they've learned the language, but not the other way around.

Ms. Chamagne, I want to know whether you've had the opportunity to work with aboriginal people or people from the LGBTQ2 community on issues concerning refugees?

5:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Halifax Refugee Clinic

Julie Chamagne

More and more, I would say. I haven't had the chance to work with aboriginal people, but I've had the opportunity to work with the LGBTQ+ community.

We've had cases of people from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and around the world. We've had many refugee protection claims, which we handle, of course. However, we've also had many questions regarding whether it's a good idea for these people to start the process. On some occasions, foreign students have asked us whether it would be worth it to lose their student status. We work a great deal on this issue at the Halifax Refugee Clinic.

We also provide a training and information session to the clinic's volunteer lawyers and to other volunteers regarding the new guide.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Do you mean the new guide for refugees?

5:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Halifax Refugee Clinic

Julie Chamagne

Yes, thank you.

It's the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada's new guidelines on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The purpose of the training is to better explain the changes and barriers when it comes to the representation of the LGBTQ community.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

My next question is for all the witnesses.

It concerns an element of cooperation between the provincial, territorial and federal levels.

If we were able to have a training program or to find more ways to help train lawyers on issues concerning marginalized people, especially in criminal law and immigration law, would lawyers be interested?

Is it something we could address with the justice systems in your own provinces?