"Immigration hearing must be in French, Montreal lawyer argues"

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"Immigration hearing must be in French, Montreal lawyer argues"

Client more fluent in English, feds note


A Montreal lawyer's claim that he can't conduct a hearing in French before the regional office of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada are exaggerated, according to immigration division board officials.

Lawyer Stéphane Handfield represents a U.S. citizen who says he is Cuban-born and who applied in English for immigrant status in July.

In December, he hired Handfield as his lawyer, and according to Handfield, he has no objections to having his case heard in French ...



Interesting.  It's important that BOTH counsel and the client be able to understand the proceedings and be understood.  I would think that the overall calculus would fall on the side of the client's ability to communicate.  IRB interpreters (at least out west) are notoriously variable in quality and impartiality, and interpretation significantly extends the hearing duration, and so if you can avoid using one, you generally will. 

I'm aware of hearings where perfectly English-fluent claimants were required by the ID to use an interpreter because they weren't born in an English-speaking country (and the ID was just basically covering it's ass).  Even so, it should be the election of the client which official language the hearing is held in.  Whether this is good legal advice is another question, depending on the individual case, I would imagine.  Perhaps M. Handfield is more comfortable making submissions in French -- in which case, as long as it's still in the balance of interest for his client, it should be the claimant's decision, not the ID's.


Wouldn't all the decision-makers speak French, in Montreal? Particularly if the case materials are all in French, they would pretty well have to. I know I've been at hearings in Ottawa (not IRB) where parties and panel both flip back and forth between languages, and no one complains.


It's unclear to me from the stories, if the counsel here is comfortable in English.  We know he is French-dominant.  What is clear is that the claimant *is* fluent in the language of Shakespeare.

But in Quebec, the overall calculus falls on the side of, what's best for the French-majority collectivity?  Just ask the usual suspects, like the Societe St-Jean Baptiste. The claimant's preference is of lesser importance.  And now his hearing is even being delayed because of this political wrangling:


A complaint was filed last week with the Official Languages Commissioner, while Bloc Quebecois MP Thierry St-Cyr recently raised the issue in Parliament.

In Quebec, the feds have already abandoned the principle of trying the defendant in their dominant language. In a group trial, the language preference of the majority of defendants determines how it will be conducted.

The quality of interpretation available in Montreal is not an issue; the political will to serve the claimant's best interest, is.

This claimant is fluent in English; he's not asking for third-language interpretation, although his lawyer is.  The lawyer and his separatist sympathizers are the ones covering their collective butts.

The client seems to be following his lawyer's political agenda, not just his advice.  The lawyer has a right to make submissions in French, as the IRB has itself stated, but that should not determine the language of the proceedings.

George Victor

I know, why don't Macho and todd sort of deke it out - dueling banjos style? :-)


As long as this guy is getting an interpreter, I don't see what the problem is.  Of course, the unfortunate thing is that the IRB apparently often provides extremely inadequate interpretation services to claimants, which affects the outcome of their cases if the incompetence of the IRB adjudicators haven't already.  But that's a systemic problem across the country, not a French-English problem.


You go abroad, you learn the lingo or hire an interpreter. Where's the problem?


The problem would appear to be wilful disregard of the clients' rights, on spurious grounds.