No duty to provide presentence reports in English: Quebec

Despite Ontario judge’s complaints, Quebec officials have no duty to provide Ontario courts with presentence reports in English, the Quebec Public Security Ministry says.

According to ministry spokesman Clément Falardeau, Quebec government employees are to use French with professionals such as judges and lawyers as per provincial policy. “Therefore, there’s no obligation to provide a translation in English,” said Falardeau in response to questions stemming from a recent Law Times story detailing Ontario judges’ complaints about presentence reports from Quebec.

Nevertheless, Falardeau noted Quebec officials do their best to have reports translated upon request for one in English.

In the meantime, Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Service says it’s reviewing Ontario Superior Court Justice Deena Baltman’s recent decision ordering it to fix problems she found with a recent presentence report coming from Quebec. “The Ministry is reviewing the direction from Justice Baltman and is in discussions with our counterparts in Quebec,” said ministry spokesman Brent Ross, who directed questions about Quebec’s practices to officials in the neighbouring province.

The responses shed light on some of the bureaucratic buck-passing that can lead to situations that frustrate Ontario judges who, besides complaining about the language used, receive presentence reports that arrive late and lack the required information from Quebec. In R. v. McPherson, Baltman expressed outrage about a “useless” presentence report that “made disparaging remarks about the offender’s behaviour” instead of addressing factors such as the offender’s age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude, and willingness to make amends as required by the Criminal Code. The report, which involved an offender from Montreal, arrived so late that Baltman said she would have reduced the sentence if there was further delay.

As a result, Baltman blasted Quebec authorities for flouting requirements she noted all jurisdictions are subject to under the Criminal Code. She went on to note the Ontario government also has to ensure reports meet the requirements of the law and ordered it to address any deficiencies. But as the two ministries’ responses indicate, neither is indicating any concrete action. For Quebec’s part, Falardeau noted the government does its best to respect the timelines imposed by the courts but said delays in producing presentence reports can vary according to the complexity of the file and the number of requests made.

As for concerns expressed by Ontario Superior Court Justice Casey Hill about Quebec’s inability to produce a Gladue report for an offender in R. v. Knockwood, Falardeau said the correctional service can tap an external provider to prepare one. That, however, didn’t seem to apply to Kathleen Knockwood. Quebec officials, according to Hill, reported they didn’t do Gladue reports and wouldn’t be preparing one for Knockwood. When Knockwood moved to get one on her own in Montreal, she learned she’d have to pay for it herself, Hill noted. After significant delay, however, the Ontario ministry helped her get one through Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto.

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