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