Founded in 1797, the Law Society of Ontario is an institution to which the Ontario legislature delegated the authority to govern the legal profession in the province. The Law Society’s enabling Act imposes certain major obligations on it, including the duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law; to act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario; and to protect the public interest.
It is unclear whether the Law Society is an institution of the legislature within the meaning of the French Language Services Act that is required to make an active offer of services in French of equal quality to the services available in English to licensees and the public. However, the Law Society’s enabling statute guarantees francophones the right to require that any hearing of the Law Society Tribunal be heard by panel members who speak French.
The Law Society codified its linguistic obligations in Part V of By-law 2, which guarantees everyone the right to use French to communicate with and receive services from the Law Society in five specific areas: (1) the licensing of persons to practice law in Ontario as barristers and solicitors or to provide legal services in Ontario; (2) the regulation of licensees; (3) the administration of freezing and trusteeship orders; (4) the administration of the Compensation Fund; and (5) the administration of unclaimed trust funds.
However, By-law 2 provides that no one is entitled to continuing professional development in French or to public education programs delivered by the Law Society in French, even though this programming is available in English. It is difficult to reconcile this unequal treatment with the spirit of the French Languages Services Act, the Law Society Act, and the Law Society’s mission of protecting the public interest.
There are two mechanisms for language complaints against the Law Society: the French Language Services Advisor and the Ontario Ombudsman.
1. The French Language Services Advisor
2. The Ontario Ombudsman
The Ontario Ombudsman may receive language complaints concerning the Law Society.
A protocol signed by the Law Society of Ontario and the former Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (OFLSC) in 2014 provided that any language complaint first had to be submitted to the Law Society. That practice should still apply after May 1, 2019, the date on which the Ontario Ombudsman assumed the functions of the former OFLSC. It is therefore preferable to exhaust the Law Society’s internal remedies before having recourse to the Ontario Ombudsman.
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