Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Linguistic (in)security, we have to talk about it…

Following the Education Summit (4-5-6th of May in 3 areas in Edmonton, Ottawa and Moncton), I allow myself to also talk about linguistic (in)security, since it was a hot topic presented by the youth representatives, and worthy of special attention.

 

Good French. Regional expressions. Franglais. Acadian. Chiac. Creole. Latin. Formal French. Colloquial French. Spoken French. Written French. Grammar. Number and gender agreement. Liaisons. Conjugations. Contextual language. Education. Correcting people. Feeling uncomfortable. Assimilation.

All these words have a common theme: linguistic (in)security. I have attended many meetings and assemblies and this seemed to be a recurring topic. How many people have we met who feel reluctant to speak French because they feel that their French isn’t good enough? Where does this happen? The answer: EVERYWHERE! It’s a social phenomenon that affects everyone in various ways: at home, at school, at college or university, in vocational training, at work, in regional and community activities, and so on. It’s this kind of thinking, or situations in which they feel ill at ease or uncomfortable, that drive Francophones to other languages, other causes, other institutions and services.

I’m sure that most Francophones in Ontario (or at least a majority of them) have had experiences where they’ve felt as if their French wasn’t good enough, or that their accent was “too pronounced.” Most of the time, they receive comments, mostly negative, from the people around them, which discourages them from communicating in French.

I put myself in the shoes of kids who, at school (including university and college) or at home, get told over and over: no, in French you pronounce it this way; or, no, that isn’t good French. They see it as a criticism.  We should let our kids express themselves freely as long as they do so in French. Take social media, for example, where contractions or icons are used. The message gets through; we understand what they mean! (Ok, it may take me sometime, since I often feel like I’m from the dinosaur era) Yes, as parents, we want our children to express themselves in good French. Let’s find the right time to say it, but with humour or discretion, and above all, let’s be creative. For example, send them a GIF!

This linguistic insecurity is experienced by another group as well: newcomers. Some of them come from countries where French is the common language, and some where French is the only mother-tongue of the citizens. As we all have accents, the newcomers to Canada and Ontario, do have different words to express themselves or get their message across, which can result in discomfort or miscommunication.

Regardless of where you come from, where you live, what level of language you use, or how well you know the language, we have to change our ways of thinking and especially of judging, and try to use creative tactics to encourage the people we know to speak French freely, even if there are errors in what they say. The language lives in various forms, dialects and accents, and it will continue to evolve in the future especially considering that French is the 5th most spoken language in the world, and it just keep growing. Let’s encourage our children, our co-workers and our friends to put aside their insecurity by making them feel good about speaking French as often as we can.

For the ministries and other government agencies, on the other hand, allow me to not be so tolerant… especially in writing!

Passing of Mr. Michel Dallaire

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Mr. Michel Dallaire. Mr. Dallaire passed away in Sudbury at the age of 60.

The Francophonie of Ontario has lost a great writer. Mr. Dallaire greatly contributed to the francophone culture of Ontario with his novels, his poems and in the music industry with texts like L’homme exponentiel interpreted by Steph Paquette.

Recipient of numerous awards, he left his mark with publications like Violoncelle pour une lune d’automne, winner of a Trillium award in 2015, and Le pays intime, winner of the best poetry album during the gala by the APCM in 2001.

On behalf of the team at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, we extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.

Forum on francophone immigration – Moncton

A ministerial forum on francophone immigration took place on Thursday and Friday in Moncton, New Brunswick. It was attended by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the Canadian francophonie and immigration. The key discussions focused on developing actions to extend the reach of government efforts and implementing common strategies to achieve their objectives in relation to francophone immigration.

The invitation to the three language commissioners (federal, New Brunswick and Ontario) to participate at this event gave us the opportunity to engage in dialogue and share our recommendations about immigration and settlement throughout Canada.

Each year, the federal government decides how many newcomers may be admitted to Canada. Recent projections indicate that newcomers will account for between 24.5% and 30.0% of the population of Canada in 2036, as compared to 20.7% in 2011 (Statistics Canada, January 27, 2017).

We are already seeing a significant rise of newcomers, given that we have admitted a little over 320,000 in the last two years. Ontario has benefited considerably from this increase, it being considered to be the province that attracts the most people who come to Canada from another country.

Today, we are having to address demographic and economic issues that take the form of a notable decline in birth rates and an increasingly aging population. There can be no doubt that if we are to be able to counter this reality, we need higher levels of francophone immigration, which will contribute to preserving, developing, and enhancing the vitality of francophone communities outside Quebec.

The announcement of Ontario’s membership as an observer in the Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF) is particularly timely, since it will certainly have a positive impact on notably the recruitment strategy.

In 2012, the government produced its very first immigration strategy, with the aim of attracting more skilled workers. The strategy set a target for francophone immigration of 5%, and a number of things have already been done to meet that target.

Very recently, I learned that changes are going to be made to Express Entry in June 2017. These new measures will enable francophone applicants to score more points if they have strong French language skills. This is an excellent initiative, and one that I think will lead to the arrival of more francophone newcomers who previously did not have the opportunity to settle in Canada because they did not have enough points.

That is great news and a step in the right direction. We must still analyse the entire point system to make sure that those not conversing in the language of Shakespeare, but whom are comfortable in the language of Molière are not losing any points. In other words, to make sure that applications to come to Ontario are adequately scrutinized.

Also very recently, a group of experts on francophone immigration released a report proposing solutions to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for meeting the target by 2020.

In fact, I published a press release on this point, informing the Ministry that it was essential to put those recommendations into concrete form in an action plan with a timetable. We have only three years to do this and I would admit to being a little anxious about these concrete measures being put into action. We certainly see a net increase in the percentage of immigrants represented by francophones in Ontario between 2015, at 2%, and 2016, at 2.2%. However, those results also show the urgency of implementing an integrated interministerial strategy. Unless a concrete action plan is put in place to attract, recruit, admit, integrate, train, and retain francophone immigrants, both provincially and federally, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for us to meet that target.

It is also important that these government bodies communicate with the institutions that provide direct services to newcomers. Working with those organizations enables us to offer personalized services that are tailored to newcomers’ specific needs. That is the objective of my message. We can have the best complicities between the two levels of government, the fact remains that they are not the ones on the ground, delivering the programs and services. That being said, we must not only be strategic, but also efficient. Let’s be at Pearson Airport to have a tangible example. It is time that we think about the next level, beyond strategy, and focus on actions that will be effective, but will also, most importantly, be based on the lived experiences of francophone newcomers as they settle and integrate.

I would also hope, in light of my recommendations and the discussions that took place at the Forum, that we will be able to secure commitments from both levels of government, but also, to implement concrete, pragmatic actions to remedy the imbalance when it comes to francophone immigration.

We say goodbye to a great voice of the francophone media of Ontario

It is with deep sorrow that we have just learned of the passing of Adrien Cantin, one of French Ontario’s greatest journalists.

He first entered the media industry in the 1970s, with the weekly newspapers La Gazette de Maniwaki and Le Nord, in Hearst, his home town. Only 10 years later, he joined the ranks of the daily Le Droit and then moved on to radio and television, with Radio-Canada in Toronto and TFO on the public affairs program Panorama.

Adrien also worked at Collège La Cité, where he taught courses in journalism. After that, he became executive director of the Association de la presse francophone, a Canadian network of Francophone minority newspapers.

It is difficult to find the words to describe my profound sadness at this devastating loss. I have known Adrien for many years, and he was one of the first people to interview me as Commissioner almost 10 years ago. Never smug, always helpful, his stories were very fair and critical, but never simplistic. Visibly passionate about both his calling and his community, Adrien was able to make subjects more interesting and always looked at things from a deeply human perspective.

We have just lost a great spirit and a wonderful man. On behalf of the team at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, we extend our most sincere condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.

Counting the number of rights-holders

Following the release of the first statistics from the 2016 Census, many experts have talked about the issues they raise and particularly about the data relating to Francophone communities.

So it’s my turn to weigh in on the subject, focusing on the issues associated with counting the number of rights-holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What follows is a summary of the brief that I presented this morning to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages.

To get to the crux of the matter, I’d like to recap the key elements of section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Section 23 gives education rights to Francophone minority parents with Canadian citizenship who fall into one of the three rights-holder categories:

  1. parents whose first language learned and still understood is French;
  2. parents who received their elementary education in French in a minority setting; and
  3. parents with a child who was educated or is being educated in French in a minority setting.”

Everything in this statement is clear. What is problematic is that the Census does not ask questions about the last two categories of rights-holders. As a result, only parents in the first category are counted, and census data do not reflect reality for the provinces and territories. The problem goes much deeper. The education ministries and departments are using census data to determine their requirements for allocating material and financial resources. Since the figures do not cover all of the section 23 categories, the resource allocations to minority language schools do not match the actual needs of Francophone minority rights-holders. In addition, the provinces and territories could potentially use the lowest number of rights-holders, resulting in a larger cutback in necessary resources for French-language school boards.

Accordingly, I took advantage of my presentation to put forward two proposals. The first is to add two questions to the education section of the 2021 Census long form to produce a complete, representative enumeration of rights-holders. The second suggestion is to make this change in time to allow for the inclusion of these questions in the next census.

I hope that in light of the suggestions made in my brief, the Committee will consider the important issues facing minority Francophones. This is a concern that bears very close attention in the coming months.

A census of the articles and reports from the 30th anniversary of the FLSA

To go back to the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the French Language Services Act, I thought it would be good to bring back all the articles and reports and other coverages available online. It will allow you to relive the important moments highlighted in these celebrations (as much as the history, as the conference itself). All the coverage listed below is in French.

 

Historical reports:

 

Radio excerpts:

 

Interviews with M. Bernard Grandmaître:

 

Interviews with commissioner Boileau:

 

The FLSA compared with other provinces:

 

The events of the celebration of the 30th anniversary (luncheon of the Club Canadien and the #LSF30 conference):

 

Designated areas:

 

And today?