French Language Rights & Interpretation

Use of French in The Court

Interpretation of Language Rights

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that language rights must in all cases be interpreted purposively, in a manner consistent with the preservation and development of official language communities in Canada:  R v Beaulac, [1999] 1 SCR 768, 1999 CanLII 684 at para 25. 

Further, language rights are not negative rights, or passive rights; they can only be enjoyed if the means are provided. This is consistent with the notion favoured in the area of international law that the freedom to choose is meaningless in the absence of a duty of the State to take positive steps to implement language guarantees:  Beaulac at para 20.

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Your Language Rights in Criminal Proceedings

Any individuals accused of having committed a criminal offence may apply to have their criminal proceedings conducted in French or English, or in both languages.

Such an application should be made as soon as possible but no later than the time of the appearance of the accused at which the trial date is set.

On June 1, 2018, the Court implemented a new procedure to ensure that all accused have systematically been advised of the rights granted in Part XVII of the Criminal Code regardless of their name or apparent language preference. This occurs through written notices and signage, as well as through a recorded notice played in arraignment courts. The Court also receives information about the language of trial as part of the pre-trial conference report (Form CC7). In the case of represented accused, Form CC2 requires confirmation that the accused are aware of their rights under Part XVII of the Criminal Code.

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Proceedings Relating to a Provincial Offence

An individual accused of a provincial offence may use French in oral communications in the proceeding, and may request that the trial be conducted in French or in both French and English.

These are offences under an enactment as defined in s. 1(e) of the Provincial Offences Procedure Act, RSA 2000, c P-34.

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Your Language Rights in a Civil Action

Any person may use French in oral communication in proceedings before the Court of Queen’s Bench. If a person intends to use French during a hearing, the clerk’s office should be advised.

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Information in French on The Canadian and Alberta Justice Systems

(The Court is not responsible for the accuracy, currency or reliability of this content)

Interpretation Services in the Court

Interpreters work with spoken or signed languages, translating one language into a different language. Translators do similar work, but with written language.

Section 14 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to the assistance of an interpreter for any party or witness who does not understand or speak the official language in which Court proceedings are conducted (English or French), or who is deaf. This right exists with respect to all languages. Depending on the context and legislative scheme, the interpreter fees may be paid by the government, or borne by one or more of the parties. For example, the fees will be covered by the government for an accused in a criminal matter, but would likely be borne by the parties in the context of a commercial matter.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that an important principle underlying the right to interpreter assistance is linguistic understanding. While the interpretation in court need not be perfect, it must be continuous, precise, impartial, competent and contemporaneous: R v Tran, [1994] 2 SCR 951, 1994 CanLII 56.

An interpreting service called LanguageLine is available at all Court of Queen’s Bench counters across the province in person or by telephone free of charge for members of the public looking for information and in need of interpretation assistance. The service has capacity to provide interpretation services for more than 200 languages including some indigenous languages. Please ask Court of Queen’s Bench clerks if you need interpreter assistance. LanguageLine interpreting service is also available in every Court of Queen's Bench courtroom in Alberta if ordered by a judge. LanguageLine is a handy option for use in short matters where an in-person interpreter is not easily available.

The Court of Queen’s Bench takes the health and safety of all those attending court during the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously, including interpreters, litigants and witnesses. As a result, various measures have been established to ensure that the involvement of interpreters in court cases complies with Alberta Health guidelines.  

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