The Influence of Quebec Case Law in the ROC: The Situation and Stakes of the Translation of Judgments

Last fall, Leader of the Bar and former Chief Justice of Quebec, Mtre Michel Robert, gave a lecture on the language of judgments. His remarks were reported in the February 2016 edition of the Journal du Barreau. Upset about the lack of visibility of Quebec case law outside this province, Mtre Robert claimed that the reputations of the Quebec Court of Appeal and Superior Court suffer disastrously because their judgments are not translated.

I think these remarks deserve a closer look, one that takes into account the joint effort of the Quebec judiciary and SOQUIJ to promote Quebec case law in the ROC.

Indeed, for 12 years now, SOQUIJ has been collaborating with the Court of Appeal of Quebec, the Superior Court, and the Court of Quebec to offer translated judgments on topics of national interest. Since 2004, nearly 1,000 judgments have been translated and published on the Services aux citoyens website, which is public. New translations are added every week. Over half of the available translations are English versions of Court of Appeal judgments. There are also English versions of judgments with undeniable precedential value. In recent years, the joint efforts of the Court of Appeal of Quebec and SOQUIJ have resulted in the publication of English versions of a number of leading cases:

  1. Canada (Attorney General) v. Hinse (C.A., 2013-09-11), 2013 QCCA 1513, SOQUIJ AZ-51000894, 2013EXP-3129, J.E. 2013-1707, [2013] R.J.Q. 1451, concerning state liability toward victims of a miscarriage of justice;
  1. Quebec (Attorney General) v. Loyola High School (C.A., 2012-12-04), 2012 QCCA 2139, SOQUIJ AZ-50918665, 2012EXP-4373, J.E. 2012-2316, [2012] R.J.Q. 2112, on the compulsory nature of the Ethics and Religious Culture program taught in high schools;
  1. Re Projet de loi fédéral relatif au Sénat (C.A., 2013-10-24), 2013 QCCA 1807, SOQUIJ AZ-51011478, 2013EXP-3451, J.E. 2013-1869, [2013] R.J.Q. 1711, the reference on the proposed Senate reform; and
  1. Saguenay (City of) v. Mouvement laïque québécois (C.A., 2013-05-27), 2013 QCCA 936, SOQUIJ AZ-50969282, 2013EXP-1892, J.E. 2013-1012, [2013] R.J.Q. 897, the highly publicized case of the prayer recited during meetings of the municipal council of the City of Saguenay.

In most cases, various administrative delays mean that the translation is available only in the weeks following the date the judgment was rendered. In five cases, however, the close ties between SOQUIJ and the Quebec Court of Appeal made it possible to publish the translations and judgments simultaneously:

  1. Droit de la famille — 139 (C.A., 2013-01-11), 2013 QCCA 15, SOQUIJ AZ-50925569, 2013EXP-99, J.E. 2013-50, [2013] R.J.Q. 9, regarding Quebec child support guidelines;
  1. Canada (Attorney General) v. Quebec (Attorney General), (C.A., 2013-06-27), 2013 QCCA 1138, SOQUIJ AZ-50965380, 2013EXP-2166, J.E. 2013-1155, [2013] R.J.Q. 1023, on the constitutional validity of the provision allowing the destruction of the firearms registry;
  1. Girard (Trustee of), (C.A., 2014-10-21), 2014 QCCA 1922, SOQUIJ AZ-51116673, 2014EXP-3162, J.E. 2014-1811, concerning the effects of a stay of proceedings under section 69.3 of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act on a notice of assessment;
  1. Munyaneza v. R. (C.A., 2014-05-07), 2014 QCCA 906, SOQUIJ AZ-51071101, 2014EXP-1425, J.E. 2014-805, in which the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of Désiré Munyaneza on charges brought under the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act; and
  1. Adoption — 152 (C.A., 2015-02-25), 2015 QCCA 348, SOQUIJ AZ-51153040, 2015EXP-769, J.E. 2015-403, in which the Court held that a near relative could not adopt her nephews, who are foreign nationals of full age, to regularize their situation under immigration laws.

We cannot disagree with Mtre Robert’s remark that the quality of translations improves when there is communication between the deciding judge and the translator. This is exactly how SOQUIJ has worked since it was first assigned the task of translating judgments of Quebec courts.

We have implemented processes that allow the deciding judge to revise, comment on, and ultimately approve the translations prepared by SOQUIJ. Our translations are published only once they have been approved by the judge or court.

In addition, for over a year now, SOQUIJ has been responsible for translating judgment summaries for publication on the Court of Appeal website, thus ensuring that the legal community is informed in both languages of recent judgments rendered by the Quebec Court of Appeal.

We agree that more needs to be done to offer a greater number of translations. Indeed, between 2010 and 2012, a grant from the federal Department of Justice allowed us to do just that. Since the grant was cut, SOQUIJ has continued to dig into its own pockets to invest in translation, because we believe that this activity is important. Given the current climate of budgetary constraint, however, and the close scrutiny to which the balance sheets of organizations are subjected, there may come a day when this is no longer possible. Nevertheless, translation needs are real and growing; in the interests of the legal community and the public, it would behoove all interested parties to contribute.

Without SOQUIJ’s translations, the ROC would be deprived of a significant legal corpus. SOQUIJ does everything it can to extend the influence and reach of the case law and legal community of Quebec, thanks in part to the popularity of our website. SOQUIJ is going one step further by giving CanLII and other editors over 1,000 decisions translated in the past and will provide them as they become available in the future. We would like to believe that our contribution helps to maintain and even enhance the reputation of Quebec courts.


Mtre Danielle Blondin is Director of legal information at the Société québécoise d’information juridique (SOQUIJ).


  1. Is lack of translation limiting the use of judgments of Quebec courts? Or do lawyers in other provinces perceive those judgments to be of limited precedential value because of their origin in the Civil Code?

    No matter how well-reasoned the cases are, I don’t think having them available in English helps most lawyers in common-law provinces.

  2. Xavier Beauchamp-Tremblay

    This is a common misconception that Quebec cases can simply be ignored because it’s a civil law province, but Quebec judges (as everywhere else) hear disputes in matters of federal law, including criminal law, divorce law, bankruptcy and insolvency law, intellectual property law, etc.

    Civil procedure in Quebec is also largely influenced by common law procedure (see I heard a few times that Quebec was the province where most Anton Piller orders were issued. Courts in Quebec also issue Norwich orders and Mareva orders.

    It remains that the precedential value of Quebec civil procedure caselaw is probably limited outside the province, but that shows how aside from “pure” civil law, a lot of what’s being decided in Quebec is relevant elsewhere.

  3. I am curious as to why you listed the AGQ v Loyola HS QSC decision as a case of interest. This judgement was overturned by the SCC.

  4. This interesting question has been reviewed before on Slaw, notably by Kim Nayyer in “Jurisprudential Solitudes”. From time to time, Slaw has noted Quebec decisions, for example by adjudicative tribunals, such as here and here – where the author has been able to read the original French. Clearly not everything can be translated, so some openness to reading in the original, even at the cost of some extra effort, is sometimes justified.

  5. Alejandro Manevich

    I think translating judgments is helpful, at least until we achieve the far-off dream (well, my dream anyway) of a functionally bilingual Canadian bar. But there is a deeper problem, aptly illustrated by the first comment above. In my experience, most Canadian lawyers who obtained their common law degree outside Quebec get little or no exposure to Quebec caselaw during law school. And so they infer, not unreasonably, that it must not be very important for them. That only gets reinforced in practice, where senior lawyers, judges, and so on have spent years treating Quebec jurisprudence as terra incognita. (I got used to receiving funny looks from colleagues for my use of Quebec authorities in factums or opinions, which I never hesitated to do where I thought it was appropriate.)

    Change needs to start at the bottom, I think. I would love to see a push for law schools across Canada to include Quebec cases and even doctrine wherever possible: most obviously for areas of federal jurisdiction, but provincial public law would be beneficial as well. Even much of Quebec private law – contract, corporate and commercial law especially – is often very similar to its Canadian common law equivalents. By way of example, after Dell Computer v. Union des consommateurs many common lawyers questioned if the case applied outside Quebec. To anyone familiar with Quebec arbitration law, that argument wouldn’t even pass the giggle test, yet it remained a point of debate until Seidel v. Telus four years later.

  6. Danielle Blondin

    Neil Rogers, unlike the bulk of SOQUIJ’s translations which are after-the-fact, at the time Quebec (Attorney General) v. Loyola High School was highly awaited across the country so the decision was rendered simultaneously in both languages thanks to the CA’s collaboration with SOQUIJ.

  7. Alejandro Manevich, I’m the first commenter above and I had plenty of exposure to Quebec civil law in my common law training.

    I admit that my comment is informed by my area of practice, which deals primarily with areas of provincial jurisdiction (secured transactions and corporate matters). But my larger point stands – that there’s more than just language standing in the way of a wide acceptance of Quebec judgments across Canada.