Stefan Cyr and Karine Millette discuss bijuralism and bilingualism at CMHC legal services
Hello/bonjour! In this closing installment of the series, we wanted to offer our perspective on an essential feature of the legal team at CMHC. Over the past five installments, different CMHC authors have explored factors and trends that are actively shaping our approach to the practice of law and client service delivery. But the series hasn’t yet touched on a key element of our CMHC team makeup: the capacity to add value in both official languages across both major legal traditions, the civil and common law. On the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, it seems a fitting note on which to end a series that has explored legal practice within a national organization.
This is a co-authored piece, because we both come to the subject — bilingualism and bijuralism — from slightly different angles and backgrounds. We both chose to complete our legal education in French, one focusing on the common law tradition (Stefan) and one electing for the civil law stream (Karine). When we plunged into the job market, there was always the sense that our exposure to the two systems and our ability to move between languages would be an important part of what we brought to the table. More importantly, we were both looking for a work experience that valued and leveraged our exposure to both languages and systems.
We found our way into a legal group that’s a bit of a microcosm of the broader legal reality in Canada. Our legal team at CMHC covers the spectrum, with a language and skills profile ranging from English-speaking civil law lawyers to French-speaking common law lawyers. Civilists comprise a quarter of our team, and we count among us multiple lawyers with degrees and bar admissions in both systems. In short, within our legal group, as in Canada, the common law and civil law coexist in both official languages. We’re very much a bijural group.
As lawyers at CMHC, we couldn’t ask for a better vantage point to observe — and live — the interplay between the two legal systems. With a ten-year $55-billion+ National Housing Strategy to deliver, we’re working closely with all 13 provinces and territories. Further, and as part of an “all hands on board” approach to solving the housing conundrum, we’re working with an ever-expanding array of actors within the housing continuum — governmental, non-governmental, private sector — right across the country. Whether it’s brainstorming a new form of partnership, ideating with our colleagues at CMHC on new programs or delivery models or collaborating in the drafting of policies and legislation, linguistic and legal duality comes into play daily.
For us, two systems and languages means a broader set of problem-solving tools. And so, we’ve set out to foster a team environment that nurtures this key feature, including through a matrix structure that facilitates quick team formation and cross-pollination between the civilists and common law lawyers. Within the legal team, there is no such thing as an exclusive French civil law file or English common law file, nor is French the exclusive linguistic vehicle to express civil law concepts. Further, bijuralism and linguistic duality, for us, involves more than the mere co-existence of two languages and legal regimes: It involves the sharing of values and traditions of each one with each other.
As part of this commitment, we’re also actively building out an internal continuing legal education program that underscores both legal traditions. Our knowledge outreach program — including “quick flips” to clients on developing legal matters — is as focused on civil as on common law developments. Finally, on the language front, we’re reaping the benefits of a corporate commitment to official languages, with extensive training and support for lawyers who are building their language profile.
In short, a key part of the value creation process, for us, has involved fostering a structure that allows both systems and languages to thrive. For two newer arrivals to the bar — and as the Official Languages Act turns 50 — this is a point well worth celebrating.
Interested in working at CMHC? Explore job opportunities at careers.cmhc-schl.gc.ca
Stefan Cyr is a graduate of the University of Ottawa’s French Common Law program and was called to the Ontario bar in 2012. He joined CMHC’s legal services in 2017.
After completing a licence in civil law and a bachelor’s degree at the University of Ottawa, Karine Millette was admitted to the Quebec bar in 2016. She joined the legal team at CMHC shortly after.