Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, hello.
I am director of the Centre de traduction et de terminologie juridiques of the Université de Moncton and I am also a member of the Réseau national de formation en justice. Since I only have a few minutes to talk to you about a rather specialized subject, I am going to dive right into the heart of the matter, the standardization of French common law vocabulary.
What is standardization?
Essentially, it is the creation of Canadian common law terminology in French according to a scientific approach. The objective of standardization is to establish in French a language of common law that coincides exactly with the language of common law in English and that is the same from one province to another. The endeavour should lead to a complete terminology in all sectors making technical use of the legal vocabulary of common law.
Why is this process necessary?
It is necessary because the common law terminology network was developed exclusively in English for centuries. As a result, we find ourselves in an exceptional situation, where we have to introduce as a group a set of legal terms whose meaning is heavily charged and which simply do not exist in French. The standardization operation therefore often results in the creation of new terms or concepts in French, which are called neologisms. This terminology is documented in a terminology database called Juriterm.
The standardized terminology of common law in French is the cornerstone to access to justice in French. This is the submerged part of the legal iceberg or, if I can use another image, these are the roots of the living tree of common law. It is the existence of this technical language that makes it possible, among other things, to build and feed the tools used by legal professionals to offer legal services to justice system users; to teach common law in French; to support language training of professionals in the justice field; to provide legislative drafters with the legal vocabulary necessary to draft laws in both official languages; and to provide legal translators, court interpreters and stenographers with a reliable vocabulary for expressing the law in the other official language.
Think about the following scenario: a couple who wish to divorce appear before an attorney. The legal document templates do not exist in French. They are told that they either have to use the English templates or pay to have them translated into French. Equal access to justice in both official languages demands that these documents be available in these two languages. These documents must not only be available, but also be correct and reliable.
We can't act as terminologists by inventing incorrect or approximate equivalents where there is a high risk that they will not be interpreted as we wish by the courts. Standardization is a scientific process. Each term requires an extensive study of its terminological network in its legal context. This is a job that must be performed by expert jurilinguists.
The problem today is that there are still entire fields of law that have never been studied and fields that have been studied only partially. Common law in French has a lot of catching up to do. The essential tools it requires are also still quite insufficient.
This gives rise to another fundamental problem: if the language of common law in French is not complete or reliable, it is absolutely impossible to talk about equal access to justice in both official languages. Claiming to practise common law in French becomes an undertaking charged with risks and problems for all players in the judicial system, starting with justice system users. We then turn to English, even if it is not the justice system user's chosen language, in order to avoid potentially harmful consequences related to working in French. This is precisely what linguistic insecurity is.
For these reasons, we are making the following recommendations to the committee today.
The government must take positive measures to equip the justice system with the language code and a range of linguistic tools to enable it to function equally well in English or in French.
To do this, the federal government must mandate, empower, and equip the specialized agencies and bodies that operate in this field so that they can tackle three priority areas of action in a consistent manner. The three areas of action are as follows: the standardization of the French vocabulary of common law; the creation and development of the necessary tools, in other words, Juriterm, the Juridictionnaire, miniglossaries, model instruments, resources necessary for legal education in French, and so on; and the training of the architects of the language of law, legal translators and court interpreters, in particular.
In short, we must move from a reactive approach to a systemic, coordinated, and long-term approach.
Thank you to the committee for listening.