Funding Provided for Implementing Divorce Act Bilingual Language Rights Amendment in Manitoba

Written by Eric Epp

As a bilingual nation, a baseline of accessible justice should include the right to conduct a court proceeding in either official language. In an effort to meet this baseline, the Canadian government recently announced that it would be providing $1.6 million in funding for the Manitoba government to implement the amendments to the federal Divorce Act, which was assented to in March of 2021.

The noted amendments bring clarity to the Divorce Act, where the previous version was quiet on the language rights of litigants. The changes explicitly guarantee the right of Canadians to file a proceeding in either French or English and are enacted as clauses 23.2 (1) through (4). This includes simultaneous interpretation, a judge who speaks the same language, and transcripts/documents in the official language of choice.[1] As a federal statute this requirement affects all provinces and territories but is uniquely important to Manitoba considering the bilingual roots of the province.[2]

In Manitoba, the amendments made to the Divorce Act do not create a new right. The language rights of Manitobans have been constitutionalized since 1870 in section 23 of the Manitoba Act, which already allows for French or English to be used in any Canadian or provincial court in the province.[3] This is not to understate the importance of initiatives such as this one. In fact, it may be more of an imperative to implement these changes in a substantive way in Manitoba.

Manitoba’s bilingual history has made it an attractive landing spot for French speaking immigrants. In recent years, the combination of rising French immigration and more graduates of immersion schools seem to be pointing towards a need for expansion of French speaking courts.[4] As of 2016, about nine percent of Manitoba’s population speaks French.[5] Proper funding of French family and divorce courts will expand access to justice, for both longtime Manitoba resident francophones and our newcomer francophone population. Manitoba and Robson Hall have previously identified a pressing need for keeping more French speaking lawyers in Manitoba and have addressed it by establishing a bilingual law certificate that trains lawyers to practice French common law, with an emphasis on criminal and family law.[6] This was established in 2019 so it is only now that a difference might begin to be felt.

There are no specifics as to where and how the federal funding will be allocated at this point, but it has been noted that likely areas include staffing, technology, and to provide work opportunities to bilingual students which will hopefully expand family law bilingual talent.[7] With the focus in family law services, it might be hoped that a bilingual judge will be appointed to the family law division of the courts, which currently lacks a French speaking judge, although that may be outside the specifics of this funding.[8]

When Canadians have the right to speak either language in court, the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed in Mazraani that this should be a substantive right.[9] Monetary support to provide better ease of language access aids in giving this meaning to this right in Manitoba. The more comfortably and regularly courts provide language support, the more comfortable French speaking litigants will be within the court system. It is exciting to see proactive support coming from the government to provide for the execution of this right and hopefully is the sign of more language initiatives to come.

[1] Divorce Act, RSC 1985, c 3 (2nd Supp), s 23.2(1)-(4).

[2] Department of Justice Canada, Support for access to family legal resources in both official languages a priority for the Government of Canada and the Province of Manitoba, (Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada) <> [].

[3] An Act to amend and continue the Act 32-33 Victoria chapter 3; and to establish and provide for the Government of the Province of Manitoba,SC 1870, c 3, s 23.

[4] Alexia Ball, “Les juristes francophones demandent la nomination de 4 juges bilingues au Manitoba”, Radio Canada (31 May 2022) <;> [].

[5] Statistics Canada, Ethnicity, Language and Immigration Thematic Series, The French Language in Manitoba, 2001 to 2016: Facts and Figures, (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 10 December 2019) <> [].

[6] Christine Mazur, “Robson Hall to offer bilingual legal training”, UM Today (6 June 2019) <> [].

[7] Terry Davidson, “Ottawa gives funds to Manitoba for greater access to French court proceedings”, The Lawyers Daily (25 April 2022) <> [].

[8] Ball, supra note 4.

[9] Mazraani v. Industrial Alliance, Insurance and Financial Services Inc., 2018 SCC 50 at paras 1, 20.

The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are the views of their authors, and do not represent the views of the Faculty of Law, or the University of Manitoba. Academic Members of the University of Manitoba are entitled to academic freedom in the context of a respectful working and learning environment.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top