Finding English Translations of French Language Court Decisions in Canada
A frequent posting on the Canadian Association of Law Libraries listserv (CALL-L) is a request for an English translation of a Canadian court decision written in French, typically from a Quebec court.
Although the CALL-L Archives contains some of the information that follows, it does not contain all of this information. In addition, responses in the Archives are not accessible by non-subscribers and hence are not indexed by Internet search engines. As such, my goal with this post — with the help of any SLAW readers adding additional information or clarifications in the Comments section below — is to update and consolidate postings from the CALL-L Archives and past SLAW posts to create a fairly definitive answer to the following question: Where can I find English translations of Canadian court decisions written in French?
The reality is that unless the decision is published in an official court reporter or a bilingual jurisdiction (see below), most court decisions in Canada will be published only in a single language, typically the language in which the cases is argued. For most decisions in Canada, this means that the decision will be in English only and there will not automatically be English translations of most French-language decisions.
The short answer? To check to see if there is an English translation of a French-language court decision in Canada:
- search by case name on LexisNexis Quicklaw, Westlaw Canada, BestCase, SOQUIJ/AZIMUT, REJB and CanLII and check for bilingual versions by looking for two decisions under the same name on the same date or click on a “English” link, where available, to see if there is an English version available (of these services, if your case is a recent one, searching only on CanLII is likely sufficient in most situations).
- check the free database on SOQUIJ of unofficial translations into English of French decisions
However, despite the usefulness of this free database from SOQUIJ, realize that it is quite limited in scope, providing by my count translations of only 395 decisions broken down by the following courts/tribunals (with the number indicating the total number of translations as of today’s date):
– Quebec Court of Appeal (167)
– Quebec Superior Court (95)
– Court of Quebec (118)
– Quebec Human Rights Tribunal (10)
– Quebec Professions Tribunal (5)
In addition to the foregoing, consider the following information:
Supreme Court of Canada
As explained on the Lexum/SCC website, decisions published in the Supreme Court Reports from 1970 to date are available in both English and French, with older decisions being available in the language of publication only.
Federal Court of Canada
Section 58 of the Federal Courts Act, RSC 1985, c F-7, discusses the law reports for the Federal Court and Federal Court of appeal, with s 58(4) mandating that each decision published in the official reports be published in both official languages.
My understanding from colleagues in Quebec is that Quebec judges are generally very flexible and will accommodate litigants and their counsel by hearing arguments and rendering a judgment in the language of preference to the parties. As mentioned above, however, this most often means that the judgment will only be in a single language without there being an official translation provided by the court or an unofficial judgment otherwise being available.
However, in some situations, Quebec courts do provide translations, such as with the following criminal decision where there is both a French and English version:
– FR: Morin c R, 2009 QCCA 187
– EN: Morin v R, 2009 QCCA 187
[I welcome comments from anyone in Quebec if there are other things we anglophones should know about French-language decisions from La belle province]
New Brunswick Courts
The official languages page from the New Brunswick Courts website explains that s 24 of the Official Languages Act, SNB 2002, c O-0.5, requires that “[a]ny final decision, order or judgment of any court, including any reasons given therefore and summaries, shall be published in both official languages where (a) it determines a question of law of interest or importance to the general public, or (b) the proceedings leading to its issuance were conducted in whole or in part in both official languages.”
Of course, reference should be made to Eric Appleby’s SLAW post of 23 June 2010 entitled Evolution of Bilingual Judgments in New Brunswick for an excellent overview of bilingual judgments in that province and the role that Maritime Law Book played in that development.
I welcome any additional comments or clarifications.
Thanks for pointing these out, especially the SOQUIJ sources.
Also useful are links to the Code of Civil Procedure and the Civil Code of Québec, because in addition to translation, there’s a need for interpretation between civil code and common law concepts.
Help with the interpretation between civil code and common law is available at the Department of Justice’s Bijural Terminology Records site.