Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Submission of a special report on active offer

Yesterday, I submitted to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the Honourable Dave Levac, a report on which the Commissioner’s Office has been working for a long time and which deals with a subject of particular importance to me: active offer. In the report, entitled Active Offer of Services in French: The Cornerstone for Achieving the Objectives of Ontario’s French Language Services Act, I state that more regulation of the obligation to “actively” offer services in French is needed, and I call on the government to propose an amendment to the French Language Services Act to include active offer in the delivery of services by government ministries and agencies.

I point out that since I took office, active offer has been one of my key goals. In my 2012-2013 annual report, I made the following recommendation:

The French Language Services Commissioner recommends to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that an explicit directive regarding the active offer of French-language services be issued by the Management Board in the 2013-2014 fiscal year and that said directive apply to all ministries, government agencies and entities that provide French-language services on behalf of the government.[1]

At that time, the government’s response to the recommendation was as follows:

The government agrees with the Commissioner that the active offer of French language services is key to ensuring that ministries respect the letter and the spirit of the French Language Services Act.

In fact, the inclusion of an active offer provision in the regulation on the delivery of French-language services by third parties on behalf of government agencies clearly reflects the legal obligation of ministries to ensure that the services they provide directly, and those that are provided by third parties on their behalf, are delivered in French in a proactive manner. This goes beyond what a directive could accomplish.[2]

The regulation to which the government refers, Regulation 284/11, is a step in the right direction for active offer. However, this provision only requires active offer by third parties that provide French-language services on the government’s behalf, not by government organizations as such.

Many stakeholders and decision-makers agree with the Commissioner’s Office that the active offer of French-language services should be a requirement. Unfortunately, the Act has no provisions referring to any active offer obligation. In my opinion, it is time to change this, and to go much further. By failing to actively offer services in French, service providers, particularly in the justice and health care systems, place the responsibility for understanding the information communicated on the shoulders of the users of the services and their caregivers. This is completely unacceptable. Moreover, Francophone Ontarians in vulnerable situations are hardest hit by the absence or poor quality of French-language services.

To address these shortcomings, I made three recommendations in the special report: the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs should take the necessary steps to ensure that (1) the Act is amended to include a provision relating to active offer, and that the amendment comes into force no later than May 2018. In addition, the changes to the Act should (2) be based on an action plan setting forth clear directives and best practices to guide executives and managers responsible for implementing active offer. (3) I also recommended the development of a provincial strategy to promote the implementation of the active offer of services in French by government agencies and institutions subject to the Act. Furthermore, the strategy should be developed in cooperation with community partners that can offer useful expertise and invaluable help in achieving the objectives.

I sincerely hope that the government will respond to these recommendations sooner rather than later. I want Franco-Ontarians to be able to obtain services in French that are equivalent in quality to those provided to all Ontarians, as guaranteed by the concept of active offer.

Making active offer a legal obligation would have a positive impact on the lives of Ontario’s 612,000 Francophones. You may rest assured that, as I have done for the last nine years, I fully intend to keep a close eye on developments in this area.

 

[1] Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, A New Approach, Annual Report 2012-2013, Toronto, 2013, p. 29.

[2] Excerpt from the government’s response to the Commissioner’s 6th annual report, dated January 14, 2014.

 

* To see the full text of the special report, click here.

 

Article by Radio-Canada (in French)

Article by TFO (#ONfr) (in French)

Good news: The Office of the Commissioner is moving!

You have probably noticed the posts on this blog becoming less frequent since the beginning of the year. It’s not that I have had nothing to write about. Au contraire! Things are happening here at the Office of the Commissioner.

First of all, we have been working on special reports and investigations, and we will be publishing at least two reports before the end of June. For the past few months, the whole team has been contributing to the annual report, which will also be coming out in the next few weeks. You can expect to see more on the content of all these reports in upcoming blogs.

We have also been very busy with the hiring process. Once finished, we will have nearly doubled the OFLSC’s human resources. We have received a number of excellent applications. I will soon be able to introduce you to the full team. Believe me, I am looking forward to having everyone in place.

Finally, I have some big news. I am very happy to announce that we are almost ready to move into new premises, thanks to the increase in our operating budget. As of June 1, we will have a more modern space, with room for an expanded team that will be too large for our current location. The layout is designed to foster a more collaborative and organic work environment. We will be staying in downtown Toronto but moving closer to Queen’s Park. So much planning and so many steps to move one block over! But the result is magnificent.

Here is our new mailing address:

800 Bay Street
Suite 402
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3A9

General inquiries:

Toll free: 1 866 246-5262
Toronto area: 416 847-1515
Fax: 416 847-1520
TTY (teletyprewriter): 416-640-0093
Email: flsc-csf@flscontario.ca

Please note that our new telephone numbers and email addresses will not be in effect until June 1.

That’s all for now. I have to get back to packing!

Congratulations to the recipients of the Ordre de la Pléiade for 2016

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Ordre de la Pléiade investiture ceremony, during which the Ontario chapter of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF) presented the Ordre to six exceptionally deserving personalities. The latter are all noteworthy for their remarkable engagement in the province’s Francophone community. I know some of them personally, and others by reputation. Here is the list of recipients:

 

– Mr. Alain Beaudoin (Newmarket), president of the Association des francophones de la région de York since 2011

– Ms. Diane Dubois (St. Thomas), responsible for the establishment of the Centre communautaire régional de London

– Mr. Pierre Foucher (Ottawa), a teacher and language rights pioneer in Ontario and Canada

– Ms. Lorraine Hamilton (Burlington), a manager of Francophone employment centres and a consultant to Francophone organizations

– Mr. Louis V. Patry (Orléans), a founding member and vice-president of the Société franco-ontarienne du patrimoine et de l’histoire d’Orléans

– Ms. Carmen Portelance (Dowling), a member of the board of directors of the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario of Greater Sudbury.

 

I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to these women and men, who contribute each day, through their work or their community participation, to the vitality of the French language in Ontario.

TesDroits.ca – a portal designed especially for young people

Last September, I met with the interns at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to talk to them about my role as Commissioner. The interns expressed interest and were quite curious, and asked me a lot of questions. I love it when that happens! In fact, I will be doing the same thing again a few weeks from now, this time with the interns at the National Assembly of Quebec.

I believe it is very important for young people to know their rights—rights in relation to services in French, certainly, but also in other areas. It is always useful to know how to go about defending yourself when you believe you have been a victim of wrongdoing, from a legal standpoint, regardless of age.

I am therefore delighted to see the new legal information portal for kids in Ontario, TesDroits.ca, The goal is to have a single location where legal resources in French that are easy for teenagers to understand are compiled. Having browsed the site, I can say: “Mission accomplished!” TesDroits.ca clearly explains young people’s rights and responsibilities in the justice system. Some of the topics it addresses are school attendance, bullying, drugs and alcohol, consent to sexual activity, housing, and employment. There is even a segment on family law.

One section is dedicated to careers in the justice system. We sometimes forget that our judicial system requires an army of people if it is to function effectively. There is a very complete page of information about each occupation shown. Young people will see much more than just a job description, and can learn about the challenges the work entails and the skills it requires, for example.

TesDroits.ca contains resources from three key partners (Cliquezjustice.ca, Justice for Children and Youth and the Centre francophone de Toronto), and has received financial support from Legal Aid Ontario. Congratulations to all of the parties involved in creating the site; it is well worth a visit!

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner launches a new investigation

The Francophone media, including newspapers, television, radio and the Internet, contribute to the vitality and continued growth of the Franco-Ontarian community. Through these media, Francophone members of the public have access to information that is relevant to them in their own language.

In the spring of 2011, I released A Study of Ontario’s French-Language Community Radio Stations: Key Components of the Vitality of Francophone Communities. One of the things I described in that study was the lack of government support in this area since 1995. That year, the only provincial government program to assist community radio stations in the province was cancelled, and it has not been replaced since then.

In 2010, the government adopted a new Communications in French Directive with mandatory requirements for ministries and government agencies, together with guidelines that are also mandatory and that deal with such topics as advertising campaigns.

The Office of the Commissioner has received complaints recently concerning Government of Ontario advertising placements in the Francophone media (both traditional and digital) in the province. My office has therefore decided to initiate an investigation into the issue, essentially to determine whether the Communications in French Directive is sufficiently explicit concerning the requirements relating to advertising and, if so, whether they are being followed by government agencies.

In conducting this investigation, the Office will do an analysis of policies and processes to ensure that ministries and government agencies are complying with the statutory requirements and agreements in place, in developing, disseminating and distributing government advertisements. We hope that this will enable us to determine whether the specific needs of the Francophone community are being taken into account in the preparation of advertising, and that ministries and government agencies are developing targeted approaches that are effective in reaching Francophone populations, as set out in the Communications in French Directive.

We hope to be able to complete this investigation by the end of this year. Stay tuned.

Access to justice in French: A promising future

This blog post completes the analysis of the report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (the “2015 Report”) that I started a few months ago. In conclusion, this report reaffirms the existing rights mentioned in the Access to Justice in French report (the “2012 Report”) and lists methods that might be used to enhance those rights within available resources.

The 2015 Report indicates that new procedures and policies have been put in place since 2012 and that those efforts have resulted in documented improvements in the entire system. I consider these results to be very positive.

The many improvements mentioned in my blog posts are the result of efforts made after the 2012 Report was published. All these developments have helped increase awareness of Francophones’ language rights, of the services available in the justice system, and of the services that have been improved in general in the justice system.

Despite all these improvements, the 2015 Report recommends that a number of other measures be taken to build on the progress made to date. One of the key elements is the creation of a long-term mechanism (a French-language services oversight committee) to monitor and measure ongoing progress on French-language services and ensure the implementation of the recommendations from the 2015 Report, the Pilot Project (which I have not discussed in my blog posts on the 2015 Report, but which was the subject of several previous posts) and the French Language Services Regional Committees.

As a professional and a member of the community working to promote French-language services, I’m as optimistic as the report is concerning the progress made in delivering services in the justice system. But I also agree with the recommendations in the report that indicate we have to do more. The 2015 Report provides constructive guidelines for improving those services, and my office will do whatever it can to help implement all of the report’s recommendations.

Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the obstacles that prevent people from accessing the justice system in French. In view of the progress made, the efforts put forth so far, and the initiatives recommended in the 2015 Report, the next report may very well conclude that access to justice in French in Ontario is not more costly, more difficult or more time-consuming than access to justice in English.