In my last ten years as Commissioner, I have travelled a lot and I have met people from the four corners of Ontario. Yet, I never had the chance to go to Sarnia and, this weekend, I finally got that chance!
I had the opportunity to chat with a group of retirees and seniors from the South-West at the FARFO Information Fair and to speak to them about my priorities: health. I also brought up the reform of the Act, a subject that is getting a lot of coverage right now in the media, especially after the publication of the results of the AFO survey. But that’s not all. The Sarnia region is an area that is not yet designated, and I think that my recommendation to make the entire province a single large designated area resonates deeply for the community of Sarnia. They want more access to services, they have French-language secondary services that serve more than 220 students and, finally, there are very active organizations and a cultural centre that make a significant contribution to the Francophone vitality of this area.
I also had the opportunity to be the guest of honour of the AGA of the Réseau-Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l’Ontario [“Southwestern Ontario Women’s Network”]. This organization has offered services to women who are victims of violence (spousal, economic, isolation, etc.) in the communities of Windsor, London, and Sarnia, for more than 26 years. This is nothing short of incredible! The organization has faced some difficulties in recent years, but overcame them with power and panache. For each of these three areas, three people were available to respond to women’s needs, with more than a thousand hours per year for counseling, companionship, and follow-up services. I was impressed with the work that they do every day, and their accomplishments that, in my opinion, are not highlighted enough in the media or elsewhere in the province.
Here are a few projects for Francophone women from the South-West that are worthy of recognition:
- Portable Housing Project (Windsor) – pilot project: rather than place a woman on a waiting list for subsidized municipal or provincial housing, she is given a direct subsidy. That way, she can choose where she wants to live (she can choose private), and stay close to her social support. This is now a permanent project across the province.
- Establishment of the Centre juridique pour femmes francophones de l’Ontario [“Legal clinic for Francophone women of Ontario”] (CSJFFO): The goal of the CSJFFO is to increase access to justice for all French-Speaking women of Ontario. Women often face obstacles with their legal issues, such as having trouble finding a Francophone lawyer, the high costs of legal representation, the eligibility requirements for a legal aid certificate, the geographic isolation of rural regions and long distances to travel to obtain services. (From the 2016-2017 Annual Report of the Réseau-Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l’Ontario)
I would also like to congratulate RFSOO for establishing new strategic planning. You have a mission and a clear strategic direction and especially very specific objectives. Congratulations for your fine work. Francophone women living through difficult situations have resources and tools available to them and are certainly well taken care of by your people. I wish you great success in the coming years.
Despite that Sarnia is not a designated area under the French Language Services Act, it is important for me to highlight the relentless work done by Francophones in this area. I also took some time to stroll in the city, and have French fries on the bridge (recommended by a delegate of the Information Fair).
I will have fond memories of this trip, especially of the people I met and the discussions we had. I promise not to let another decade go by without a visit!