Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Presenting the new members of the OFLSC team

The time has come to introduce the OFLSC team. I left you somewhat in suspense in my last posting, since I think it’s important to introduce the new members of our staff.

As some members of the community and many of our partners know, the Commissioner’s Office has doubled its workforce in the last year. We now have new spaces for this wonderful team, and I can assure you they are eagerly awaiting your inquiries and complaints!

Our existing team – myself, Executive Director Jean-Gilles Pelletier, and investigations staff Mohamed Ghaleb, Jocelyne Samson, Marta Dolecki and Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko, and also Anne Nguyen, Business Services Coordinator – has been expanded with the addition of an investigator, communications specialists, an analyst and a legal adviser.

The new investigator joining the other four members of the investigations team is Elisabeth Arcila. A native of Colombia, Elisabeth studied law and worked in labour law and arbitration in her country of origin. She immigrated to Canada a number of years ago and completed a B.A. in international studies at the Université de Montréal and a certificate in public administration. Her employment experience includes more than five years of labour relations work for the Government of Quebec, the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail and the Ministère de la Famille.

With a full complement of five investigators, we are ready to receive your complaints! You will undoubtedly have the opportunity to meet the team during our tours of the community and government bodies.

In communications, we have a whole new team! Two individuals who both have very relevant backgrounds. They will be here to field all the inquiries and questions you may have for us.

Our new Strategic Communications Lead is Touria Karim. Native of France, Touria studied business and administration at Laurentian University. She worked for many agencies in the Sudbury area (including the Centre Victoria pour Femmes and the Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury) and the London area (ACFO – London Sarnia). Subsequently, she worked in communications and marketing for more than 10 years and, more recently, as head of communications for Groupe Média TFO, a job in which she had productive relationships with institutions and Francophone community organizations. Her experience and interpersonal skills will be of great value to us.

To work with Touria, we have hired Mélina Leroux as our Communications and Community Relations Officer. She comes to us from the Ottawa area. After studying at the University of Ottawa and La Cité college, she worked for the Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne (FESFO) for nearly three years as a major events coordinator. She is quite familiar with the world of community organizations, and her passion for politics and current affairs is an asset for the entire team. She and Touria will often be expected to give presentations and travel around the province to make connections with the community and educate people about their right to receive services in French in accordance with the standards set out in the French Language Services Act.

Very recently, we welcomed Policy and Research Analyst Hermann Amon to the team. Hermann comes to us straight from the Toronto CCAC after working at Entité 4. He has a master’s degree in program evaluation from Quebec’s École nationale d’administration publique and a certificate in Lean Process Improvement from the Ontario Hospital Association. He is also an aficionado of classical studies. In his other life, he is doing research in Roman history in the University of Ottawa Classics and Religious Studies Department’s Ottawa Network for the Study of Late Antiquity, and he has a doctorate in Roman history from the Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV). His extensive experience with community organizations and his expertise in areas such as research, planning and databases will certainly come in very handy.

We also welcome to our team a new administrative assistant: Mary Jane Hee Fa Chung. Native from Mauritius, she is quadrilingual, and has been in Canada since 2003. Certified in administration and in Mandarin, Mary Jane continues her studies in Human ressources management. In Canade, she has briefly worked in the private sector, and has worked as an administrative assistant for over 10 years for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). Before she came to join us, she was the executive assistant to the General manager of the CMEC.

And last but not least, the newest member of our team is Legal Counsel Joseph Morin. Native of Cornwall, Joseph studied Canadian history and then law in the French common law program at the University of Ottawa. He also studied constitutional law at the master’s level. After articling with a national law firm, he worked as a lawyer for the Senate of Canada, for a public interest group and later for the Government of Nunavut.

Now that I’ve given you a brief introduction to the members of the team, I’d like you to come and meet them at our Open House this Friday. You are hereby cordially invited to visit the new offices and meet the new team of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario on Friday, September 23, between 1 and 3 p.m.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you to our new spaces and to meeting you on Friday afternoon!

A busy back to school and work

For many people, September means back to school and back to work. We have been hearing a lot of back-to-school talk for a few days now, as elementary and high school students return to the classroom. At the same time, parents are getting back into the swing of things at work after a few weeks’ vacation or just a nice long Labour Day weekend.

I would like to take the opportunity the new school year offers to note a few important news items about things that have happened since the end of the school year last June. First, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner published a follow-up on the June 2011 report on education. In that follow-up report, we cited the importance of collaboration between French-language and English-language boards in order to expand the facilities available for French-language schools in need of space. Admissions will continue to grow, and in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto the need has become pressing. Secondary schools that are already offering a lot to the growing population of Toronto are doing an excellent job, but they are starting to experience space shortages at an alarming rate. In addition to the space shortage, there is the question of distance, since many students are spending hours getting to school and then back home, just to have access to an education in French. Let’s hope this follow-up will get some positive responses so that access to education in French improves in the eastern part of Greater Toronto.

On August 8, after several months of waiting and uncertainty about the future of the Centre Jules-Léger, the Government announced that it was keeping the Centre open – very good news for the students who are deaf or hard of hearing, are blind or have learning difficulties who attend or will attend this centre of excellence in special education. There were many happy and relieved messages sent on the day the announcement was made. In addition to confirming that the Centre would be continuing to operate (along with all the demonstration schools and the provincial schools), the Government will be pursuing “legislative changes to transfer the governance structure of Centre Jules-Léger to the 12 French-language school boards to better support French-language students”. I am also very pleased with this news, since this was a recommendation made in my investigation report on the Centre Jules-Léger. I must also recognize the hard work done by a number of parents and members of the community who travelled to the consultations and voiced the importance of keeping the school open and keeping it under Francophone governance.

A lot of things are happening on the postsecondary side as well. A few days ago, several funding announcements were made for new projects that will help postsecondary institutions make their mark in their communities and in other institutions at the national and international levels.

 

Parliament has also got back to work. After a Throne speech that was, on the surface at least, disappointing for Francophones, I take the opportunity to remind my latest annual report: FLSC 2.0, the most important report published by the Office of the Commissioner since it was established. The report shows that our French Language Services Act is outdated and needs to be redesigned, specifically to include passages about our technological era and revisions to the various positions created by the Act. The world in 1986 and the world today are completely different places, and for that reason I believe that our politicians really need to rethink the Act to update it and make it clearer and more complete. That means embarking on an enormous project, but it has to be done, and it needs to be done well! This is particularly important since on November 18 of this year we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the French Language Services Act – 30 years already, and Francophones have seen tremendous benefits when it comes to government service, but there is still more it could do.

 

Along the same line, we have to think about the question of active offer. That was another of my most popular reports, and is very closely connected with the FLSC 2.0 Annual Report. We have to offer Francophones services in French, but it has to be clear that those services are offered. The way that people are going to understand that service in French is actually offered is by seeing, hearing and recognizing it being done. If those markers are not there, people may be too embarrassed to request services, or may not know they are able to do so. That amounts to pointing people toward a language other than their own, and it can cause misunderstandings and complications in processing their requests. We have to work hard to make sure that people get more than just “Hello, Bonjour”, and receive service in French once they get through triage or reception at the location that provides a service.

An example I often use is a person in their own job, particularly in customer service jobs (or other positions where there is direct contact with the public). When that individual offers a service, do they do it in French and English, or only in English? If they offer it in both languages, out of respect for the other person, then why not respect that person when the person requests a service as well? These questions prompt some thought, because while the intent to offer services in French is there, the services are of lower quality than they are in the majority language. Under the Act, services should be offered equally and equitably.

 

 

On another note, I am very pleased to be back myself. Our team has grown and they are motivated! I am eager to introduce them to you in an upcoming post. You will also have a chance to meet them at one of the various events all around the province where the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner will be present. This fall is a very busy time for us, since we are working on a plan that will give the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner greater visibility and make us even more accessible to people, and enable us to continue to inform the public about their rights and the services they are entitled to.

So take advantage of the fact that the Office of the Commissioner has more resources to serve you, and send us your complaints and information requests.

The warrior’s rest

It would not surprise me to hear that the good Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier himself greeted Mauril Bélanger last night with the kind of remark we might expect from him: “I wasn’t expecting you so soon, but good work, old friend.” Good work indeed. Replacing Jean-Robert Gauthier as MP was not going to be a simple task. But before long, through sheer hard work, but most importantly through the force of his own open, straightforward and endearing personality, Mauril’s riding became his own. After his 21 years as the federal member for the riding of Ottawa-Vanier, it had to happen!

And now Mauril Bélanger has left us. Not just as an MP, but as a hero. When he learned of the terrible illness he had, he could very well have left it all behind and simply tried to enjoy the time left to him. No one, absolutely no one, would have had a word to say against him had he done that; everyone would have understood. But because he had been a fighter all his life, he never gave in. He chose to continue in his important role as an MP, and even to travel to Africa, in spite of his illness, because he had made commitments as a parliamentarian and a representative of the Association des parlementaires de la Francophonie.

That kind of dedication, and with such class to boot, is not something we will see again soon.

Mauril was always available and his wise counsel helped me a great deal. He always recommended not wavering from the course and always being open with people. Mauril Bélanger is the real deal. The real Francophone deal, and they don’t make many like him. It is not unusual for politicians to be eulogized when they die. But our own Mauril has left us, and that hurts. There will be others who will stand up and wage the political battles in future. There will be others whose integrity shines uncommon bright. There will be other MPs who are quite simply top-notch. But the thing is, Mauril is all that and much more.

Mauril’s work has been extraordinary, and some projects can still have a follow thru and great impact. It would be great to see our national anthem (English version) become fully inclusive, and also have our nation’s capital become officially bilingual by the celebration of the 150th anniversary of our country’s Confederation.

Our sincerest condolences to his wife Catherine and their children and grandchildren, from all of us at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.

Thank you, Mauril; you will be with us always.

Vacation time!

On this national mourning day in France, I would like to start this blog entry by expressing my sadness to all my French friends. I am profoundly moved by this great tragedy from last night in Nice. Especially happening on July 14th. I am without words. I can only express my sincerest solidarity with the French citizens.

On a less personal note, I’m sure you’ve noticed that in the last few months, we’ve been very visible in the media, and especially on all of our Web platforms. First, in a special report on active offer and services to the Francophone community, I recommended that the French Language Services Act be revised to include that essential concept. If the only reason for amending the Act were to incorporate the concept of active offer, it would be worth the trouble. I should also mention, that my federal colleague quite recently addressed the issue of active offer. I would like to take advantage of this blog post to commend the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages on its innovative approach in its investigation. The study involved six focus groups with front-line employees, four focus groups with supervisors and 12 interviews with executives from 11 different federal institutions.

In early June, we tabled in the Legislature the annual report of the Commissioner’s Office, FLSA 2.0, whose recommendations include undertaking the major project of a comprehensive revision of the French Language Services Act so that it will better meet the needs of Ontario’s Francophone citizens. I have said this publicly before, and I will say it again here: it is the most important annual report in my entire career. First, because it is based on nearly nine years of observations about French-language services in Ontario.  Second, because I am aware that the reform I am proposing is ambitious. At the same time, though, I believe that the recommended solutions are eminently pragmatic, concrete and, I hope, helpful, not only for the well-being of the province’s Francophones, particularly the most vulnerable groups, but also for the development of the Franco-Ontarian community.

We were also busy packing boxes in June. Yes, boxes, because we have finally moved. Our offices are beautiful, modern and, best of all, well equipped to accommodate our new team. And rest assured, you will certainly have an opportunity to see them during an event – an open house – in late September. Add it to your calendar … an event not to be missed.

Before I forget, I wanted to revisit my last blog post on Bill 5, The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act. I wanted to salute the amazing work done by Manitoba’s Francophone community and Minister of Francophone Affairs, as the bill was passed on June 30. Bravo!

On that happy note, I wish you an enjoyable, restful vacation, filled with new adventures with your family and friends. Be sure to take in the wonderful festivals and other activities taking place in your area and across Ontario. In Toronto, there is the famous Franco-Fête from July 15 to 17; stop in and see what it’s all about. The program is incredible this year.

So I’m going to take my own advice and put my blog on hold while I enjoy the summer. See you back here in September, and have a great vacation :) !

Manitoba is breaking new ground!

If the Ontario government requires a major incentive to propose a revision of the French Language Services Act, it needn’t look any further than the province next door. Manitoba’s newly minted government has just introduced what can only be described as an exceptional bill. Bill 5, The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act, was tabled in Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly last Tuesday. It is essentially the same bill introduced by the previous government before the Assembly was dissolved for the general elections.

This was unquestionably a very fine gesture by the new government. Since the two opposition parties have also endorsed the bill, the table is set for it to pass quickly. But even if that were not the case, the adoption of this law in Manitoba will help heal the still open wounds of the 1980s language crisis. As you may remember, at the time of that constitutional and linguistic crisis, the president of the Société franco-manitobaine (SFM) received death threats; the SFM’s building burned down; and the Pawley government was brought down by acerbic and vitriolic comments. May I suggest that you read journalist Frances Russell’s excellent book on the crisis, The Canadian Crucible.

So the problem started a long way back. And it is important to understand where things started before one begins criticizing. By introducing this bill so early in the new session of Parliament, the government is making it clear that the Manitoban Francophonie is no longer a partisan issue but rather a matter of equity and respect for a community that has made such a great contribution to building the province. As a Franco-Manitoban by adoption, I am very proud of the level of maturity shown by the politicians of our neighbouring province. After holding talks with the various political parties in Ontario, I am confident that we too have attained that level of maturity.

The bill confirms not only the importance of the Franco-Manitoban community, but especially the government’s desire to foster the advancement of the Francophonie in Manitoba through a sectoral approach applicable to all pertinent bodies (this is in the preamble, and I will explain later). But first, it is important to note the very broad definition given to the expression “Manitoba’s Francophone community”: “those persons in Manitoba whose mother tongue is French and those persons in Manitoba whose mother tongue is not French but who have a special affinity for the French language and who use it on a regular basis in their daily life.” At first glance, this may seem nightmarish for statisticians, but when we look at the definition more closely, we see that it is quite similar to Ontario’s Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF), which, I remind you, is still not enshrined in the French Language Services Act.  For how, I ask you, can we define people who have a special affinity for the French language and use it on a regular basis in their daily lives except by statistically measuring how many people whose mother tongue is not French not only speak and understand French but also speak it at home (in other words, the IDF!).

The bill also contains a statement of purpose, which is missing from Ontario’s law. That statement reads as follows: “The purpose of this Act is to provide a framework for enhancing the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community and supporting and assisting its development through the work of the secretariat and the advisory council and the use of French-language services plans.” Very interesting, but it’s important to look at what follows.

The concept of active offer is spelled out in the bill, another major deficiency in Ontario’s FLSA. The bill states that active offer is the cornerstone for the provision of French-language services. “These services are to be made evident, readily available and easily accessible to the public and are to be of comparable quality to English language services.” Quite comprehensive, I’d say, at first glance.

The functions of the minister responsible for Francophone Affairs are clearly stated and are so interesting that it is worth reproducing them here:

“The minister responsible for Francophone Affairs is responsible for taking measures to enhance the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community, including measures to

(a) support the ongoing implementation of the French-language services policy;

(b) advocate that the policies, programs and services of relevant bodies take into account the needs of Manitoba’s Francophone community and that those needs are resourced equitably;

(c) encourage representation of Manitoba’s Francophone community on the boards of government agencies and on administrative tribunals; and

(d) encourage the efforts of public bodies in supporting and assisting the development of Manitoba’s Francophone community.”

Hence, the bill contains ideas about espousing programs that are designed to meet the Francophone community’s needs, representing the community on boards, and supporting efforts to develop the community. Powerful and positive. As for the Francophone Affairs Secretariat, the equivalent of our Office of Francophone Affairs, the bill assigns it very clear responsibilities for promoting and increasing public awareness of the laws relating to Manitoba’s Francophone community, for cooperating with other levels of government, and for establishing partnerships at the local, provincial, national and international levels.

The bill also establishes a Francophone Affairs Advisory Council (which I recommend as well in a revised FLSA). The council’s membership consists of the Clerk of the Executive Council (no less!), at least five deputy ministers, five members of the community, and the president and CEO of the SFM. The council’s role is primarily to review plans for French-language services. Every public body is required to prepare and submit a proposed multi-year strategic plan relating to the provision of French-language services. Those plans must describe the priorities of Manitoba’s Francophone community, the French-language services that the public body intends to provide, even if they are delivered by third parties, and other measures needed to enhance the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community and to support and assist its development.  Very strong. Not absolutely perfect, but very strong nevertheless. What’s more, the advisory council may provide advice and make recommendations concerning those service plans (which I also recommend in a revised FLSA).

So everything will depend on how one defines “services”. That said, the language used by Manitoba’s lawmakers, if the bill passes without amendment, is quite clear, with statements on service plans, the roles of the minister, the secretariat and the advisory council, and especially the measures to be taken to enhance the vitality of Manitoba’s Francophone community and to support and assist its development. Music to my ears. Of course, the future of the Franco-Manitoban community will always hinge on its own members, including family first and foremost, as well as schools and community institutions. The government has a complementary role that remains extremely important. Public recognition of French and its use in the public domain are important factors in persuading Francophones to make the daily choice to remain Francophones.

In short, while the bill contains other provisions that would be of interest to jurists, such as the matter of regulatory powers, I won’t go into further detail here, as I’ve been verbose enough. But, as I’m sure you understand, I’m very excited to see this bill. And most of all, the timing could not be better, with the discussions I hope to begin soon with the new Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, the Honourable Marie-France Lalonde.

Stay tuned!

A new Cabinet for Ontario

Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced major changes to the Ontario Cabinet. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the ministers who have been appointed.

The announcement that the Hon. Madeleine Meilleur was leaving met with a wide response from the Francophone community, including myself. Her dedication and tenacity led to success on key issues such as the independence of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner in 2014. I can never thank her enough for everything she has accomplished on behalf of Franco-Ontarians. I would also invite you to read the letter I sent to her at the time.

I welcome the speedy appointment of the Hon. Marie-France Lalonde as Minister of Government Services and Consumer Services and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. Given her dual responsibilities, she will obviously be sensitive to the importance of the Government of Ontario providing high-quality, innovative services for Francophones.

Her appointment comes at a pivotal time in the development of French language services in Ontario. With 2016 marking the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the French Language Services Act, I recommended in my 2015-2016 annual report that the government undertake the task of completely overhauling the Act so that it will better meet the needs of the Francophone citizens of Ontario. I am certain that her expertise and her thorough familiarity with issues relating to Francophone affairs will stand Ontario Francophones in good stead.

I foresee that her dual ministerial responsibilities will be an excellent fit, precisely because the entire question of active offer and services offered to the Francophone community needs to be reviewed, specifically with a view to modernizing the French Language Services Act.

In the course of my duties, I have had the pleasure of meeting members of Cabinet on several occasions and I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue this relationship. I foresee excellent prospects for continuity with the new Attorney General of Ontario, the Hon. Yasir Naqvi, on all of the important issues relating to access to justice in French. I also anticipate a productive dialogue with the new Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development concerning issues relating to the creation of new post-secondary programs in French, particularly in central and southwestern Ontario. There are also other appointments to note: the Hon. Mitzie Hunter to Education, the Hon. Laura Albanese to Citizenship and Immigration, and the Hon. Michael Coteau to Children and Youth Services. I offer them my full collaboration.