A Study on Legal Aid and Official Languages in Canada

4. Survey of clients and potential clients of Legal Aid

Between April 18 and 23, 2002, PRA contacted 125 respondents living in 11 communities. These included two predominantly anglophone communities in Québec and nine predominantly francophone communities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. Using the survey appended, individuals were asked their first language and were screened by their responses to be included in our sample (see Table 19).

We enrolled 24 individuals in Québec who reported English as their first language.

We enrolled 101 individuals outside Québec who reported French as their first language.

PRA conducted interviews using its computer-aided telephone interviewing (CATI) system and a staff of bilingual interviewers. The English and French surveys were stored separately in the CATI system, ensuring that all Québec interviews would be conducted in English and all other interviews would be conducted exclusively in French.

Table 19: Location of respondents, by community (n=125)
Area Number of respondents percent
Clare, NS 17 14 percent
Ile Madame, NS 9 7 percent
Campbellton, NB 12 10 percent
Restigouche, NB 11 9 percent
Hudson, QC 10 8 percent
Lennoxville, QC 14 11 percent
Hearst and Kapuskasing, ON 13 10 percent
Prescott-Russell, ON 6 5 percent
St. Pierre-Jolys, MB 12 10 percent
Rural Municipality of Montcalm, MB 5 4 percent
Falher, AB 16 13 percent
Total 125 101 percent

Note: Percentages may sum to more than 100 percent due to rounding.

4.1 Respondents in profile

Table 20 on the next page provides a linguistic profile of respondents.

Among the 101 francophone respondents outside Québec:

  • Nearly nine out of ten (89 percent) said that they usually speak French at home. About half described their neighbourhood as mostly francophone (52 percent), while roughly a third (35 percent) described it as equally French and English.
  • About three-quarters (76 percent) were able to communicate readily in English, with 48 percent describing their ability to communicate in the language as excellent and 29 percent as good. One in seven (14 percent) said that he or she had limited ability in English, and one in ten (10 percent) said that he or she could not communicate in English at all.
  • Approximately one in five (18 percent) has ever needed legal services of any kind.

Among the 24 anglophone respondents in Québec:

  • All 24 (100 percent) said that they usually speak English at home.
  • Two-thirds (67 percent) described their neighbourhood as mostly anglophone, and one-third described it as equally French and English. None lived in a mostly francophone area.
  • Sixty-three percent (63 percent) said that they were able to communicate readily in French: 17 percent (n=4) described their French-language skills as excellent, and 46 percent (n=11) described them as good. Nearly four in ten (38 percent) said that they had trouble communicating in French; 33 percent (n=8) of those described their skills as limited and 4 percent (n=1) were unable to communicate in French at all.

Half (50 percent) said that they ever needed legal services of any kind

Table 20: Linguistic profile of respondents, by first language
English as first language(n=24) French as first language (n=101) All respondents (n=125)
English as first language 100% -- 19%
French as first language -- 100% 81%
Respondent's first language is usually spoken at home 100% 89% 91%

Description of neighbourhood
English as first language(n=24) French as first language (n=101) All respondents (n=125)
Mostly francophone -- 52% 42%
Mostly anglophone 67% 14% 24%
Equally French and English 33% 35% 34%

Ability to communicate in the other official language
English as first language(n=24) French as first language (n=101) All respondents (n=125)
Excellent 17% 48% 42%
Good 46% 29% 32%
Limited 33% 14% 18%
Can't communicate 4% 10% 9%

Ever needed legal services of any kind?
English as first language(n=24) French as first language (n=101) All respondents (n=125)
Yes 50% 18% 24%
No 50% 80% 74%
Don't Know / No Response -- 2% 2%

Note: Totals may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

4.2 Use of legal services

Respondents were asked where they went to obtain legal services. Table 21 shows that more than half of those who used legal services engaged a private lawyer. Only four individuals reported using legal aid. Consequently the survey questions specifically pertaining to the use of legal aid services are not reported.

Table 21: Use of legal services Q8. Where did you go to get the legal services that you needed?
Anglophone respondents (n=12) Francophone respondents (n=18) All respondents (n=30)
Legal aid office 1 3 13%
Private lawyer 9 10 63%
Community legal clinic - 3 3%
Other 4 1 17%
Don't Know / No Response - 2 6%

Note: Totals sum to more than 100% due to more than one response provided in two cases.

4.3 Likelihood of requesting a trial or hearing to be held in respondent's first language

Respondents were asked which language they would want their court hearing or trial held in if they had a legal problem and needed to go to court. Nearly all anglophone respondents (24 out of 25) said that they would want the trial or hearing to be in English. One respondent said that either language would be acceptable.

Francophone respondents were almost equally as likely to want the trial or hearing to be held in French (45 percent) as in English (43 percent), and 12 percent said that either one would be suitable.

Overall, 53 percent of respondents preferred proceedings to be in English, 36 percent in French. Ten percent would accept either language, and one percent had no opinion.

Table 22: Preferred language for court hearing or trial to be held in
Q22. In general, if you had a legal problem and needed to go to court, in what language would you want the court hearing or trial to be held?
Language Anglophone respondents(n=24) Francophone respondents(n=101) All respondents(n=125)
English 96% 43% 53%
French -- 45% 36%
Either one 4% 12% 10%
Don't Know / No Response -- 1% 1%

Note: Totals may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

4.4 Importance of having a lawyer who is able to speak the respondent's first language

Both anglophone and francophone respondents considered it important to have a lawyer who is able to speak to them in their first language.

  • Seventy-four percent (74 percent) of respondents (96 percent of anglophones and 69 percent of francophones) said that it was important to have a lawyer who is able to speak to them in their first language.
  • Twenty-two percent (22 percent) of all respondents (27 percent of francophones and 4 percent of anglophones) said that it was not important.
  • Three percent (3 percent) of respondents, all francophones, had no opinion.

4.5 Factors in choosing a lawyer

Respondents were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed that the following characteristics would affect whom they would choose to represent them in legal proceedings:

  • The lawyer's ability to speak the respondent's first language.
  • The lawyer's reputation, even if unable to speak the respondent's first language.
  • The lawyer's ability to speak to the respondent in his or her first language in a case being conducted in the other language.

Fifty-six percent (56 percent) of respondents agreed that they would choose a lawyer to help them because he or she speaks their first language. This was particularly important among anglophone respondents, with 71 percent agreeing. Francophones had mixed feelings on this issue, with 52 percent agreeing and 38 percent disagreeing.

Fifty-four (54 percent) of respondents agreed that they would choose a lawyer because of his or her reputation, even if the lawyer did not speak the respondent's first language. Opinions between the two language groups differed significantly, with 59 percent of francophones agreeing with the statement compared to 29 percent of anglophones.

Fifty-four percent (54 percent) also agreed that they wouldn't mind their case going to court in the other official language, as long as they could speak to their lawyer in their first language. There was little difference between anglophones and francophones in this regard, with about half of both groups (54 percent of francophones, 50 percent of anglophones) agreeing.

Table 23: Factors in choosing a lawyer, by language

Q24: I would choose a lawyer to help me because he speaks my first language.
Anglophone respondents(n=24) Francophone respondents(n=101) All respondents(n=125)
Strongly disagree 8 percent 21 percent 18 percent
Somewhat disagree 17 percent 17 percent 17 percent
No opinion 4 percent 9 percent 8 percent
Somewhat agree 17 percent 17 percent 17 percent
Strongly agree 54 percent 36 percent 39 percent

Q24B. "I would choose a lawyer because of his/her reputation, even if the lawyer only speaks (other language)."
Anglophone respondents(n=24) Francophone respondents(n=101) All respondents(n=125)
Strongly disagree 46 percent 20 percent 25 percent
Somewhat disagree 17 percent 13 percent 14 percent
No opinion 8 percent 7 percent 7 percent
Somewhat agree 17 percent 19 percent 18 percent
Strongly agree 13 percent 41 percent 35 percent
Don't Know / No Response -- 1 percent 1 percent

Q24C. "I Don't mind my case going before the court in (other language), as long as I can speak to my lawyer in my first language."
Anglophone respondents(n=24) Francophone respondents(n=101) All respondents(n=125)
Strongly disagree 42 percent 20 percent 24 percent
Somewhat disagree 8 percent 10 percent 10 percent
No opinion -- 14 percent 11 percent
Somewhat agree 21 percent 20 percent 20 percent
Strongly agree 29 percent 36 percent 34 percent
Don't Know / No Response -- 1 percent 1 percent

Note: Totals may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

4.6 Effect of long delays in contacting a lawyer who is able to speak the respondent's language

Respondents were asked what they would do if they were faced with long delays in contacting a lawyer who was able to speak the respondent's first language.

About half of all respondents (48 percent) said that they would contact a lawyer who spoke the language of the majority instead. However, francophones were much more likely to contact an English-speaking lawyer (53 percent) than anglophones were to contact a French-speaking lawyer (29 percent). This reflects the fact that francophones are more likely to be bilingual than anglophones.

Thirty-seven percent (37 percent) of respondents said that they would continue to wait until a lawyer who was able to speak their first language became available. Francophones were somewhat more likely to wait (39 percent) than were anglophones (29 percent).

Ten percent (10 percent) would use the services of an interpreter, if available. This was the preferred choice of anglophone respondents, cited by 33 percent. Francophone respondents were less inclined to use an interpreter, with only 4 percent willing to do so.

Table 24: Expected results of long delays in contacting a lawyer able to speak respondent's first language, by language
Anglophone respondents(n=24) Francophone respondents(n=101) All respondents(n=125)
Contact a lawyer speaking the language of the majority 29 percent 53 percent 48 percent
If available, use the services of an interpreter 33 percent 4 percent 10 percent
Continue to wait 29 percent 39 percent 37 percent
Don't Know / No Response 8 percent 5 percent 6 percent

Note: Totals may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

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