Legal community concerned about Court of Quebec plans

The Quebec justice system, in crisis following an acute shortage of court personnel and strained labour relations that has led to walkouts and strikes, may face even more serious judicial delays if the Court of Quebec follows through with plans to have judges of the Criminal Division sit every second day as of this fall.

Court of Quebec Chief Justice Lucie Rondeau informed Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette earlier this year that 160 provincial court judges who preside over criminal proceedings will curb the amount of days they sit, from two days out of three to one day out of two so that they can spend more time writing judgments and managing cases. The Chief Justice is calling for the appointment of 41 provincial court judges to attenuate judicial delays once the new work scheme is implemented.

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Quebec justice system in crisis

The Quebec justice system, buckling under the weight of years of chronic underfinancing, is stricken by such a serious manpower shortage that hardly a day goes by without a trial, a preliminary inquiry or a sentence being delayed or postponed, an untenable situation that could lead to “significant harm” to the public and undermine faith towards judicial institutions, warn top legal officials.

The “catastrophic” situation is exacerbated by tense labour relations with a host of different legal actors and the Quebec government, with legal aid lawyers recently launching half-day strikes, private sector lawyers who take on legal aid mandates now refusing to accept cases dealing with sexual and intimate partner violence, and court clerks launching walkouts that may metamorphose into a strike.

“The situation is at a minimum very troubling,” remarked Catherine Claveau, head of the Quebec Bar. “The system has reached its limits. At the moment, there are very real risks of breakdowns or disruptions of services that could cause significant harm to citizens and generate a great deal of insecurity towards judicial institutions.”

Former Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice Jacques Fournier is just as concerned by the turn of events, asserting that parts of the justice system is in the midst of cracking, a state of affairs that will unlikely improve with an ageing workforce progressively retiring – unless more monies are poured into the justice system.

“It’s very, very worrisome, very worrisome, because it’s not going to get better,” said Justice Fournier, who along with the chief justices of the Court of Quebec and the Quebec Court of Appeal wrote a letter to the Quebec government last year entreating it to boost the salaries of their judicial assistants. “To be satisfied with justice that is delivered in twelve, fifteen or eighteen months is not ideal. In my opinion, justice should be rendered almost in real time. It will take major investments to modernize, but modernizing in terms of access and in terms of speed of execution.”

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Sexual harassment prevalent in Quebec legal profession, reports study

Sexual harassment and violence is rife in Quebec legal workplaces, the overwhelming majority of which goes unreported for fear of repercussions, claims a report that calls on the province’s legal actors to work together to take concrete steps to raise awareness and address the pervasive culture of silence and impunity that permits harassment.

Sexual harassment, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion takes place in all workplace contexts, formal or informal, is often perpetrated by a colleague or a partner with a higher hierarchical status, and has far-reaching personal and professional consequences, with up to nearly 20 per cent of women changing career paths following the sexual misconduct, according to the study conducted by researchers at the Université Laval who were given the mandate by the Quebec Bar.

“The study denounces the culture of silence and impunity that endures in the legal profession,” remarked Julie Lassonde, a member of the Law Society of Ontario and the Barreau du Québec who has developed a consultancy business focused on the areas of gender, sexuality and social justice. “That is what will shock the most.”

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Quebec Bar unveils report on sexual harassment in the legal profession

Half of Quebec female lawyers have been subjected to sexual harassment, a third of Quebec lawyers were the subject of unwanted sexual conduct, and 4.2 per cent of women suffered “negative consequences” for refusing to engage in sexual activities. Approximately one per cent of lawyers who were the subject of sexual misconduct reached out to police.

So reveals a report unveiled by the Quebec Bar, three years after it was launched. Only 14 per cent of Quebec Bar members, or 3785 members out of 28,000 lawyers in the roll, responded to the survey.

Following the 76-page report, the Barreau du Québec intends to launch free training on harassment and sexual violence, and is considering making it compulsory. A committee will examine other options.

Here is the report (en français).

Bill paves the way for Quebec law students to provide legal advice and consultations

The heads of Quebec’s law schools welcomed a new bill that would allow law students working at university legal clinics to give legal advice and consultations under the supervision of lawyers and notaries, a development that would finally put them within reach of what law students in the rest of the country can provide.

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Legal aid agreement reached with Quebec government

After three years of negotiations, the Quebec government and the provincial bar association reached an agreement to raise legal fees and to establish an independent working group that will conduct an exhaustive review of the tariff structure.

The agreement, widely perceived to be a “step in the right direction” by the Quebec legal community, calls for a five per cent retroactive increase in legal aid fees for the period of October 2017 to May 2019, and a 14.7 per cent increase in fees from June 2019 to September 2022.

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Time for the Quebec disciplinary council to Zoom out

The Quebec justice system, like elsewhere, is scrambling to put in place measures to make things move along during the Covid-19 outbreak. Sometimes, though, well-intentioned efforts risk doing more harm than good, especially if the recourses are rushed and not necessarily well researched, examined and analyzed.

This appears to be the case with efforts by the Quebec disciplinary council of presidents.

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Quebec bar launches free telephone call-in legal clinic

The Barreau du Québec has launched a free telephone call-in legal clinic to help citizens with questions they may have regarding their rights and responsibilities in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some 200 Quebec lawyers from across the province are expected to voluntarily man the phones to reply to legal questions. Lawyers will answer legal questions ranging from employment to insurance to mortgage payments as well as admissibility to federal and provincial aid packages launched over the past week.

The bilingual service, a collaborative effort with the Quebec Ministry of Justice, the legal information broker Centre d’accès à l’information juridique (CAIJ) and the provincial legal aid agency Commission des services juridiques, is expected to be in operation for at least several weeks.

Calls by citizens will be screened so that they can be forwarded to lawyers who can reply to their questions.

Here’s how you can reach them.

  • 1-866 699-9729 (toll-free)
  • 1-514-789-2755 (Montreal)
  • 1-418-838-6415 (Quebec City area)
  • 1-819-303-4080 (Gatineau)

Quebec inquiry that examined treatment of Indigenous people calls for changes to justice system

It will take a healthy dose of political will, huge investments and nearly a generation for the Quebec government to implement the wide-ranging recommendations an inquiry that examined treatment of Indigenous people made to the province’s justice and correctional systems, according to legal experts.

In the latest of a growing body of reports examining the plight of Indigenous people in Quebec, retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens concluded after an 18-month examination that “it seems impossible to deny” that members of the First Nations and Inuit are victims of systemic discrimination in accessing public services in Quebec.

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