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Canada’s jurilinguistic centres

François Blais
(Language Update, Volume 6, Number 4, 2009, page 14)

The law in Canada: a unique context

Canada has two major legal systems: common law and civil law. The two systems are divided into four legal sub-systems: common law practised in English in nine provinces and three territories, civil law practised in French in Quebec, civil law practised in English in Quebec, and common law practised in French in the rest of Canada. The legal terms used in common law come from the Norman French introduced by William the Conqueror; over time, these terms became English terms. As a result, when common law was first taught in French in Canada—a little over 30 years ago—the language of Molière did not have a common-law vocabulary. In fact there were very few common-law works in French. With a view to filling that gap, Justice Canada set up the Program for the Integration of Both Official Languages in the Administration of Justice, now rebaptized as Promoting Access to Justice in Both Official Languages (PAJLO). PAJLO has devoted a significant portion of its resources to standardizing the French common-law terminology. Moreover, four Canadian jurilinguistic centres were also created under this program. Over the years, the centres have been busy standardizing French common-law terminology and have acquired partners, including the Translation Bureau. The way of working has certainly changed, but each partner has quickly adapted according to its particular expertise in various areas of the law.

Four Canadian centres

Montréal – Founded in 1975 by Professor Paul-André Crépeau, the first centre, the Quebec Research Centre of Private and Comparative Law (QRCPCL), is part of McGill University. Its mission is to develop and promote the civil tradition in Canada from a comparative perspective. The Centre brings together legal scholars and researchers from Quebec and elsewhere whose goal it is to fuel theoretical research on the fundamental institutions of Quebec private law. Over the years and centuries, Quebec private law has been heavily influenced by the common-law provinces and territories. While it has preserved its foundation, civil law, Quebec private law has been moulded by common-law influences. Quebec private law is therefore a living model for the co-existence of two distinct legal traditions. Its essentially bilingual nature makes it a relevant model in an era of growing globalization. The Centre’s ambitious research program focuses on various axes, all of which reflect an understanding of the dialogue between local law and the international legal order. The goal of all QRCPCL projects—the Treatise of Civil Law, the historical and critical editions of the Civil Code, legal terminology projects such as the Private Law Dictionary and bilingual glossaries, or transsystemic legal education—is to develop new theoretical approaches to fundamental private law.

Moncton – The Centre de traduction et de terminologie juridiques (CTTJ) was established in 1979 by the Université de Moncton’s Faculty of Law. Its role is to further the implementation of legal bilingualism in Canada’s common-law provinces and territories. Driven by its mission to serve Canada’s Francophone communities, the CTTJ has quickly grown to become an international authority on common law in French. It also plays a vital role within the network of organizations devoted to Promoting Access to Justice in Both Official Languages, thanks to financial assistance from Justice Canada. In collaboration with its partners, the Centre continues to participate in standardizing common-law vocabulary in French. Among other things, its terminological research activities allow it to expand its terminology data bank JURITERM and the Juridictionnaire, a tool that can be accessed through TERMIUM Plus®, the Government of Canada’s terminology and linguistic data bank. The CTTJ also provides on-demand support services by telephone or email, as well as terminological and linguistic revision services. The regular publication of Actualités jurilinguistiques and bibliographies is the result of a literature watch introduced specifically in response to repeated requests from jurilinguists to improve the flow of information. Lastly, the CTTJ also provides translation and revision services.

Ottawa – The third Canadian jurilinguistic centre is the Centre for Translation and Legal Documentation (CTLD). It was founded in 1981 thanks to the initiative of the University of Ottawa and the Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario. Located on the campus of the University of Ottawa, the CTLD has the mandate to create the legal documentation necessary to practise law and provide legal services in French, first and foremost in Ontario, but also in the other common-law provinces and territories. The Centre receives financial assistance from Justice Canada through the Access to Justice in Both Official Languages Support Fund. In addition to carrying out work under the Support Fund, the CTLD provides the legal community at large with translation and writing services for payment, as well as offering documentation and terminological information services free of charge. By leveraging information technology and tapping into the high level of specialization of its staff of legal experts and translators, the Centre has, over the years, carried out some major activities and produced a long list of works in the field of common law in French. In addition, the CTLD, in partnership with the Translation Bureau and the other centres, also contributes to the standardization of common-law vocabulary in French. It translates the decisions of the Court of Appeal for Ontario and provides revision and writing services upon request. This year, the CTLD is completely updating the French edition of Ontario Civil Practice, La procédure civile en Ontario.

Saint-Boniface – Last but not least, the Institut Joseph-Dubuc (IJD), founded in 1984, is a resource centre for French-speaking legal practitioners in Western Canada. For almost two decades, the IJD has been offering various services, including translation and legal services, to the community. In 2002, it conducted an in-depth review of its operations and activities. As a result, it decided to focus its efforts on providing continuing language training for Western and Northern Canada’s French-speaking legal practitioners, as well as those from the Atlantic provinces, and to continue developing work tools. This shift was confirmed by the enormous success of the French legal terminology training for Western and Northern Canada pilot project. The IJD gives workshops on legal terminology, mainly in criminal law, as part of its national legal terminology training program. The courses are taught in 12 Canadian cities and attract Crown counsel, judges, clerks of the court and other officers of the court. On request, the IJD also provides other workshops on legal terminology to a varied clientele, which mainly includes associations of French-language legal practitioners, law firms and other groups and organizations, such as translators and the Winnipeg Police Service. The IJD regularly publishes its “Juricourriels,” original summaries of decisions and articles on language issues. Lastly, it compiles glossaries, extracting terminology from existing resources, and provides access to its library.

Strength in numbers

In February 2009, the four centres agreed to create a network in order to make their resources available to one another. In fact, the centres will work together on four joint projects, the selection of which was motivated by the desire to share the centres’ expertise for the benefit of those who use their products and services.

More specifically, the centres have appointed project managers for each of the four initiatives. Essentially acting as a champion, each project manager oversees the effective implementation of one project and reports on its progress, with the three centres not managing the project nonetheless also being directly involved in the project. Each project also has a working committee, made up of a representative of the project manager centre and one representative from each of the other three centres.

Joint projects

Standardization – The first joint project deals with the standardization of French common-law vocabulary and is led by the CTTJ at the Université de Moncton’s Faculty of Law. Through their participation in the committee for the standardization of French common-law terminology, the centres are contributing to the compilation of a precise, standard vocabulary. Apart from the four centres, the standardization committee includes the Translation Bureau (Public Works and Government Services Canada) and Justice Canada. The centres are tasked with preparing terminology case files for each term submitted for standardization and sit on the standardization committee. The committee focuses on one or two fields of law at a time. To date, it has covered evidence, property and estate law, the law of trusts, the law of contracts and the law of torts, and the law of security. In the coming fiscal years, the committee will be focussing on family law. Once the committee has standardized a term, the term is included in the reference tools published by the centres and the Translation Bureau. Canadian governments, including the federal government, have committed to using the standardized terms in legislation and publications. The use of standardized French terms also extends to other institutions, such as the Supreme Court of Canada, which uses these terms in its documents.

Training – The second of the centres’ four joint projects is the training given by the IJD at the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface. Through IJD, the centres train professionals working in the area of justice to allow them to improve their French common-law and English civil-law language skills. Courses are geared to the judiciary, lawyers in private practice or in the employ of the public service (counsel, legal advisors, legal aid lawyers, etc.), and other professionals working for or with the courts, such as clerks of the court, court reporters, processing support clerks and probation officers. The applied training is adapted to participants’ specific needs. The centres prepare the course material and develop the teaching approach. This process relies on the continuous updating of course material.

Professional development – The third project involves the organization of the Summer Institute of Jurilinguistics and is led by McGill University’s QRCPCL. The Summer Institute, which has been held three times, provides legal drafters with an opportunity to hone their jurilinguistic skills. Although the Institute attracts participants from all areas of legal practice, most work in translation and legal drafting. The Institute offers them training and discussion forums, introduces them to the new tools available to jurilinguistic experts and gives them an opportunity to network. The Summer Institute is a nationwide initiative and, this year, was held on August 31 at McGill University in Montréal.

A jurilinguistic portal – Lastly, the University of Ottawa’s CTLD is tasked with completing the fourth project, the creation of a Web portal designed to bring together all jurilinguistic tools. Albeit of modest size to begin with, the project has progressively become more ambitious, as its goal is to centralize information about all jurilinguistic products and services, not only those offered by the centres but those made available by all Canadian jurilinguistic stakeholders. Once completed, the portal will provide direct access to all electronic jurilinguistic tools, thus becoming a showcase for Canadian jurilinguistic know-how.

Finding the words

The jurilinguistic centres recognize the importance of coordinating their work. Their individual efforts complement each other and have common goals. By working together more closely and as part of a network, the four centres are maximizing their efforts to contribute to the visibility of Canada’s official languages within the country’s two legal systems.

In addition, the four centres’ joint endeavour aims to highlight the centres’ achievements. Consequently, all law practitioners, directly and indirectly, benefit from the work of the centres, whose aim is to enable an increasingly standardized, precise discourse in matters of common law in French and civil law in English.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The author wishes to thank the directors of Canada’s other jurilinguistic centres, who allowed him to describe the centres and their activities and to use the descriptions published on their respective websites.