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Vanier – Andre Anne Martel was CEO of Association of Francophone Jurists of Ontario (AJEFO) within 10 years. This Francophone-Ontario, who was accepted into the Ontario Bar in 2012, has developed several tools intended for the Francophone community and professionals in the legal world. In particular, it was instrumental in providing justice resources and worked with the provincial and federal government to obtain these resources. As Executive Director of the Vanier Community Services Center, Maître Martel is always working towards greater progress and equality.
How did you enter the legal world?
I’ve always had a strong personality and character. I’ve always liked to give my opinion, to find the source of the reason, to pretend and like to talk (laughs). I think maybe it was obvious, because I love being in front of crowds and being around people. I have a lawyer aunt who has a legal position in Cornwall too so I had the opportunity to work with her while I was studying I studied public law in French at the University of Ottawa. All of this confirmed that this was what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer. Since I was actually young, I think I learned pretty early on what I wanted to do. I am very fortunate to have been able to choose this course and have the support of my family.
How did you start your career in law and in the legal field in French?
She initially worked with the Ontario Provincial Police Association, due to allegations of abuse by the Catholic Church. I did legal research for them and attended investigative sessions, it opened up to me different types of rights and how to exercise them. It was in 2008 as part of the Cornwall Public Inquiry, and it was a real privilege.
It lasted two or three years, that was before I got into law. Then I worked with experienced lawyers that I collaborate with now. It really is a small world, a legal world that speaks French and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. Then there were a lot of inspiring people in the language law, and that was very rewarding. Before the bar, I did an internship in the Federal Court as a legal assistant with Judge Michel Baudry, and that was a thing as well.
How did you become the CEO of a company Ajefo?
I made the bar and didn’t really know what to do with my life as a lawyer, and there I came across a project manager position at AJEFO. I actually did the internship there and knew the director very well, so I thought he was perfect for me. I’ve been working on some really cool ideas, like coaching or projects for seniors. I’ve touched on a lot of different projects, which have been very formative.
What did your eight years as CEO of AJEFO look like?
We are moving forward with people and together projects are moving forward. Without the partners and my AJEFO team, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
When I started there were only five of us. Later, we launched multi-year funding from the federal government, and thus from the Department of Justice, which enabled us to grow the team. When I left AJEFO, we were a team of 22-25 employees. I had the opportunity to build this organization that reflects professionalism and credibility. This institution is here to stay, and it is important and today has influence not only in Ontario, but throughout Canada. I have worked with inspiring people with true team spirit. I cannot explain how grateful I am.
You say you wouldn’t be where you are today without AJEFO. why is that ?
I started building my network thanks to AJEFO and many people have helped me. I was well taken care of today, my knowledge and managerial abilities were built thanks to these encounters and these mentors. I learned a lot of skills and loved partners.
What projects have you been involved in that have distinguished you at AJEFO? ?
There were many works, but let’s say that three big projects that I was involved in were very important.
First, there is the AJEFO Legal Information Center, which provides information in French. January 15, 2015, I will always remember that date. We had moved our offices closer to the courtroom and had an exceptional launch. We must not forget that this is the first information center outside of Quebec. It is a center for people who arrive and do not know where to go, because they need legal advice. The center is the penultimate stop for people who have a problem.
Then there was the podium Jurisource.ca. It started before me and when I arrived, I was one of the first project managers to do so. This platform became Canada-wide, while before that it only affected Ontario. It is basically a virtual library for lawyers, judges, law professors and students, 100% in French. It’s a resource that lawyers can use in French, but it also helps professionals work in the language and it’s free. We often talk about the lack of resources in French however, I have a feeling we are helping in that direction.
The third project started in 2012, and I arrived in 2014. I continued this project which is: clickjustice.ca. It is a legal information site in French for everyone. It started in Ontario and now it’s generally Canadian as well. This site simplifies the terminology well, it wants to be clear so that everyone understands their rights.
How important is access to justice in French in your opinion?
It’s close to my heart, whether you’re anglophone or francophone, you should get justice at the same time and for the same price. Fairness is understanding your rights in the language of your choice, in a clear way to be able to make informed decisions and decisions. You must be able to manage your situation in French, and understand and settle anything in French.
We repeat it often, but when you go to the doctor, you must have the right to receive services in French, and when you sign your employment contract, you have the right to receive it in French. It should be the same if you have a legal problem. If I have to testify, I want to be able to do it in French. In linguistics, the nuance can differ between English and French, so it is very important, especially when it comes to judging one’s guilt or innocence. This is really close to my heart as a French Ontarian, but also as a lawyer. The Right to Justice in French prompted me to be the Director of the Vanier Center for Community Services today.
For you, where is the status of justice in French today?
There has been a lot of progress in ten years, a lot of awareness on the part of organizations and many reports have been published. I have testified before the Ontario Legislative Assembly on this subject. The government must be made aware of the importance of services in the French language and the presence of the right people and structures. Language rights must be guaranteed.
We must provide the following information: You have the right to obtain services in French in the federal fields, in criminal law, in the case of divorce … You can divorce in French anywhere in Canada. And there remains a long way to go. We need more bilingual judges, and this is important because if we don’t have enough, it will delay the processing of cases. In all the reports, we can see that there is a terrible shortage of bilingual administrative staff.
In your opinion, what is the best way to bridge this gap?
There are many ideas in the reports, but teaching in French is a good way to anticipate the next generation. We must train police officers, liberal officers, probation officers, paralegals and stenographers in French.
So, you are now the CEO of the Vanier Community Service Center. What are the specializations of this center?
At the center we have, for example, the French-speaking legal clinic in Ottawa, which is also the only French-speaking legal clinic in the area. Here, we only serve vulnerable French speakers. There are four sectors, which are the employment sector, the legal clinic, the family sector, and the community development and extension sector.
And how does it continue?
I discover community work and I love it. For employment, we match Folks, we help newcomers. To see that on the pitch, I find it amazing. There is a real weakness and this community is very beautiful and diverse. We also have a Community Pediatric Centre, which is the first outside of Quebec. It is exceptional as a project. Our philosophy is child first.
It’s a place where children who come in are vulnerable. They come with their families or with the person in charge. The idea is a holistic approach. The child is the center of the intervention, he meets a health professional, such as a nurse, social worker, lawyer – without identifying himself as such – and they will work together to solve the child’s problems. It could be a mental health problem, a housing sanitation problem, problems in the event of a divorce, for example. We work around and with the child.
You already have a full career and you still have plenty of time. Do you have future desires?
I love to share, learn and develop. She sat on various boards, such as that of Hôpital Monfort, for 6 years. It allowed me to learn about the field of health. Today, he helps me a lot in my work. I know I started at a very young age, Mona Fortier was one of my mentors and recommended me to the board. For the future, I’d like to see the impact of my work, so we’ll see. Directly or indirectly, I will always work with the Francophonie.
Key dates for Andre Anne Martel:
1987: Born in Cornwall, Ontario
2012: Called to the Bar of Ontario
2014: Becomes executive director of the Association of Francophone Jurists of Ontario (AJEFO)
2015: AJEFO relocates and opens the first legal information center in Ontario
2018: shortlisted for the Bernard Grandmaître . Prize
2022: Becomes CEO of the Vanier Center for Community Services
Every weekend, ONFR+ meets with a player on Francophone or political issues in Ontario and Canada.