The New-Brunswick Aboriginal Duty Counsel Project

8. LANGUAGE

One surprising observation is the number of duty counsel clients who speak English poorly. The clients were asked how well they were able to speak English, French, and the traditional language of the First Nations people in this region - Mi' Kmaq. A very large percentage of the sample report being able to speak the native language well. A very important observation is that 23.7 % of the population claim to speak English poorly and 8.5 % report that they do not speak English at all. The use of French in this officially bilingual province does not make up for not speaking English. Only one person claimed to speak French well.

Table 8.1: Language Facility
  Mi' Kmaq English French
Well 88.1 % (104) 67.8 % (80) 0.0 % (0)
Poorly 1.7 % (2) 23.7 % (28) 0.0 % (0)
Not at all 10.2 % (12) 8.5 % (10) 100.0 % (117)
TOTAL 100.0 % (118) 100.0 % (118) 100.0 % (117)

These data confirm the perceptions of Legal Aid New Brunswick about the number of Aboriginal people not understanding English or French well enough to communicate effectively with the duty counsel lawyer. These data suggest that a serious problem existed for service delivery. Because of linguistic barriers, about 32 % of the population would have difficulty understanding the justice process in courts that operate on the two official languages, English or French. Obviously, justice services in the Mi' Kmaq language are necessary in order to assure that these First Nations people can understand the court process and thus receive fair and informed treatment in the criminal justice process. It is well to keep in mind that this project is limited to duty counsel services. What happens to these people in the subsequent stages of the justice process is an important question.

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