Thank you very much, Stephen.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee this morning.
I am a firm believer that an organization that has more than three words in its name is extremely important. Therefore, you have two very important witnesses before you.
The association first came to life in August 2016. We are a johnny-come-lately, as they say en bon anglais. Our colleagues in the rest of the country, lawyers and jurists of the francophone language, have long had associations to advocate, lobby, and research on behalf of their communities. The English-speaking community in Quebec has only recently become organized in this regard, partly because of the nature of that community.
Colleagues of mine, a number of lawyers and I, co-founded the association less than one year ago. We recognized that there's a serious problem with access to justice in the English language in Quebec; namely, it is in decline, exponentially so as the years pass, and will continue to decline. The average English-speaking citizen in Quebec has more and more difficulty interfacing with the system at all levels, including federal, in the English language. If this is not abated, if ways are not found to improve access to justice in English, then the system of English language representation and the ability of the citizen to speak in English before any instance administrative or tribunal in Quebec will gradually fade away.
This extends to other issues, too. Our Court of Appeal in Quebec is renowned for its judgments in constitutional law, human rights, administrative law, and diverse areas of the law, but in the rest of Canada, very few lawyers or judges have any idea what the Court of Appeal has said, because other than 6% of the judgments of the Court of Appeal, all of the rest, 94%, are in the French language. There are not the funds or the translation services to render these judgments into official English. So you do have anomalies where a court of appeal in another province says x when the Court of Appeal in Quebec already said y. That is not good for this country.
You will notice that the association did not submit a brief to you for this morning. That is unfortunate, but not an accident. The reason is simple. Having just started, we are a group of volunteers. We are lawyers. We are practising lawyers. We've only recently, in January of this year, received some program funding, $77,000, from Justice Canada. Most of that is for preliminary research. Research is important. Research gives us empirical data. It gives us facts, the ability to advocate based on the truth. We have no core funding. We can't hire an executive director. We have no permanent structure. We need that desperately. Funding for the association, and any group of our nature, needs a core funding program. This is true not only in Quebec, but in every single part of this great country. Absent that, we are dedicated volunteers, but there are only so many hours in the day, as I think members of Parliament here know all too well.
What is the consequence of the decline of the use of English in access to the justice system throughout Quebec? This decline is pernicious. It will have important structural effects in the future over generational time. If English goes into decline as an official minority language in the justice system in Quebec, sooner or later the rest of the country is going to say that if one of the pillars of our duality is now in decline, what about the other pillar, francophones outside Quebec? Slowly we will inadvertently, unfortunately and tragically evolve into a country where justice is rendered in Quebec in French and the rest of the country in English.
This is wrong. This must be stopped. We need more legislation. We need funding. The federal government, the Parliament of Canada, has an important role in this. It is not simply symbolic. It's implementing programs and legislation that recognize that in modern society, in the 21st century, every citizen has the important right, the liberty, the freedom, the individuality, to approach justice in his or her mother official tongue. Failing that, we fail our companions and colleagues throughout this country.
I'm certainly open to questions. Five minutes is a short time to try to get in a lot of words and a lot of important ideas, but as I said, we have more than three words in our name. You noticed I said only “association”. I didn't say “Association of English speaking Jurists of Quebec Inc.”
Thank you very much.