Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Toward a more coherent administration of the Provincial Offences Act?

In my previous blog post, I looked at the recommendation made in the Access to Justice in French report (“2012 report”) regarding possible harmonization of the French Language Services Act and the Courts of Justice Act. In this blog post, I will examine another law whose administration would benefit from being more closely allied with that of the French Language Services Act to properly address the needs of Francophone litigants.

The 2012 report identified huge challenges relating to access to French-language services in the handling of offences under the Provincial Offences Act, including parking infractions. These problems stem primarily from the fact that the rules in the legislative framework are somewhat contradictory. On one hand, the Provincial Offences Act is based on provincial legislation that extends a set of French-language rights to the entire province, and on the other hand, provincial offences cases are largely handled at the municipal level. Consequently, some municipalities provide services in French under the French Language Services Act, while others do not. Moreover, in the case of parking infractions, municipalities have special powers to decide (under Ontario Regulation 949) what language to use (usually English) up to the point where the Francophone litigant submits a request for trial.

The 2012 report contains a list of recommendations aimed at remedying the lack of French-language services in the handling of offences under the Provincial Offences Act. I encourage you to consult my review of the 2012 report’s conclusion on this matter and the resulting recommendations. My observations on the challenges posed by the Provincial Offences Act and its administration appear in a number of my annual reports: 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and particularly 2011-2012.

It is essential to provide French-language services to litigants across the province, consistently, from the beginning of the process to the end (including parking tickets and associated notices), even in non-designated areas. In Ontario, as in many other jurisdictions, there is a backlog in the processing of court cases. Uniform provision of French-language services throughout the process, no matter whether the area is designated to receive French-language services or not, will increase the number of cases resolved efficiently at an early stage. A reduction in the number of cases that go to trial would be beneficial for all Ontarians. Uniform French-language services will also help earn the respect of the Francophone community and end the expectation that Franco-Ontarian litigants should be fluent in English.

The 2015 report, the response to the 2012 report published last year, focuses on these problems and shows more or less that the actors may not be as committed as they should be. The necessary measures recommended in the 2012 report to address the weaknesses in the current French-language services regime have not been taken.  Implementation of the recommendations is a work-in-progress.  It seems that the province is exploring so-called innovative ways of contesting parking tickets and offences under the Provincial Offences Act. Unfortunately, the report provides few details regarding the methods being considered.

According to the 2015 report, the Law Commission of Ontario wants to remove parking infractions from the jurisdiction of the Ontario Court of Justice. Certainly, this recommendation may help reduce the backlog of court cases, but it would not necessarily eliminate the problems associated with the provision of French-language services or lack thereof. This transfer of responsibility may even be worrisome, since it could result in the complete absence of French-language services.

As recommended in the 2015 report, it is paramount that the policy group responsible for considering the recommendations made by the Law Commission of Ontario regarding modernization of the Provincial Offences Act and its administration address French-language services issues.

 

Harmonization of legislation

As the New Year gets under way, we are still making noble resolutions, setting new goals and undertaking new projects. And it is with that same motivation that, at the beginning of 2016, I am making good on my commitment to review the report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (“2015 report”) and present my assessment to the public.

From this perspective, I will today examine the complexity of the language rights legislative and regulatory framework in Ontario, which was the subject of the third conclusion of the 2012 report entitled Access to Justice in French (“2012 report”). The two provincial laws that establish language rights in Ontario’s court system are the French Language Services Act and the Courts of Justice Act. The areas currently designated under the Courts of Justice Act cover a larger geography than the areas designated under the French Language Services Act. As a result, French-language services are, unfortunately, non-existent at service counters when someone is filing a document in an area that is not designated under the French Language Services Act.

The third conclusion of the 2012 report noted the weaknesses and ambiguities in the current legislation that limit access to service in French at all points of contact during the course of a proceeding and continue to result in delays, additional costs and procedural difficulties. It was recommended in the 2012 report that the two provincial laws be harmonized so that their designated areas would be the same.

The 2015 report informs us that the Office of Francophone Affairs (OFA) has taken steps to explore harmonization methods. The report also recommends that the OFA establish a working group responsible for the specific development and implementation of the harmonization process. It is paramount that the OFA implement this recommendation to ensure that this complex but crucial objective is achieved.

Pending this harmonization of the legislation, the 2015 report notes that the Court Services Division has recruited volunteers to provide counter services remotely and by telephone to Francophones who do not live in areas designated under the French Language Services Act. In my view, this initiative does not address the 2012 report’s recommendation encouraging the Attorney General to use technology to enable qualified staff to meet the needs of litigants who live outside the designated areas. Volunteer assistance does not satisfy the “qualified staff” criterion and does not provide equitable service. I believe that the volunteer assistance put in place runs counter to the very concepts of service and active offer. With this Band-Aid fix, the problems will persist until a definitive solution is found.

In my estimation, the solution would be to set up a toll-free line operated by qualified, well-trained staff who would be responsible for providing Francophone litigants with information and answers to their questions. Better still, the real solution would be to designate additional areas, especially the city of Oshawa. It is interesting to note that the 2015 report suggests that the Office of Francophone Affairs already supports the selection of Oshawa as the 27th area designated under the French Language Services Act. We are still awaiting that designation.

A new year full of exciting challenges

As we move into 2016, I would like to wish all of you a wonderful New Year, one that will live up to your expectations.

In the Commissioner’s Office, the year is starting off particularly well. We have great news: we have been joined by our first director general, Jean-Gilles Pelletier. He is a top-notch manager, and I am confident that he will provide constructive guidance to our organization. His in-depth knowledge of Ontario’s Francophone community is a major asset for the Commissioner’s Office. I can tell you that I’ve been looking forward for a long time to having the support of a director general.

The creation of this position was made necessary by the increase in the office’s human and financial resources. As I announced last summer, the budget envelope of the Commissioner’s Office has been increased – another piece of excellent news! – which makes it possible to expand our team.  In fact, one of Jean-Gilles Pelletier’s first duties will be to hire new staff. If working with us is something that interests you, please keep an eye out for job postings over the next few months.

The current team is very busy conducting investigations and making sure that French-language services are being provided in designated areas and organizations. Some reports will probably be published by the end of March. I’m sure I’ll be posting blogs about them. The team is also working on the annual report. Yes, it’s that time already! Preparing for this key project takes several months.

I am often asked early in the year what the priorities are for the Commissioner’s Office. My answer: They haven’t changed. Health. Justice, especially administrative tribunals. Vulnerable groups. Securing more designations. More active offer of French-language services.

Our mission in the Commissioner’s Office is still the same. But we want to do more, be more proactive, so that we can serve the Francophone population even more effectively. I am confident that with the addition of a new director general and new staff members, we will achieve this goal.

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner appoints a new director general

Press Release (PDF)

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario announces the appointment of Mr. Jean-Gilles Pelletier as director general. Mr. Pelletier is the first person to hold this newly created position in the Commissioner’s Office. Reporting directly to Commissioner François Boileau, he took office on January 5, 2016. The creation of this position was made necessary by the increase in the human and financial resources of the Commissioner’s Office.

During his career, which spans more than 20 years, Mr. Pelletier has acquired extensive experience in the public sector, holding a number of executive positions. Until very recently, he was Vice-President, Community Investments, with the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

From 2008 to 2014, Mr. Pelletier was Director, Administration and Official Languages, for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. Before that, he was executive director of the Centre francophone de Toronto (CFT), a multidisciplinary service centre, from 1997 to 2008. Under his leadership, the CFT merged with the Centre médico-social communautaire de Toronto.

As a member of many provincial advisory committees, Mr. Pelletier played a key role in the establishment of the French-language health planning entities. In 2007, he was the first chair of Health Minister George Smitherman’s French-language services advisory committee. Previously, he worked for the Ontario government for about 10 years in the Ministry of Finance and the Office of Francophone Affairs.

Mr. Pelletier studied sociology and political science at Laval University, Simon Fraser University and the University of Toronto.

In the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, Mr. Pelletier has a range of duties. As operations manager, he is responsible for human, financial and administrative resources and oversees day-to-day operations. His role also extends to setting strategic objectives and developing programs and policies. Mr. Pelletier’s initial assignments will be to hire staff and move the Commissioner’s Office to new spaces.

Quotes

“We are fortunate to be able to count on the expertise of a person of Jean-Gilles Pelletier’s calibre to support us in the all of the major changes on the horizon. He is a seasoned manager with a well-established reputation. He has outstanding qualities, both as a human being and as an administrator. His experience in the health, education and community affairs sectors and the negotiating skills he has demonstrated at the provincial and federal levels are major assets. I am certain that he will provide the Commissioner’s Office with the kind of guidance that will benefit all of the province’s Francophone residents.”

— Mr. François Boileau, French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario

“It is an honour for me to join the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner. The Commissioner’s Office is entering a pivotal period of its history, which includes the expansion of its team and its impending 10th anniversary, as well as the 30th anniversary of the French Language Services Act in 2016. I hope to help make the Commissioner’s Office even more proactive in its mission of ensuring the integrated delivery of French-language services in support of the development of the Francophone community and Ontarian society.”

— Mr. Jean-Gilles Pelletier, Director General, Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner reports directly to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Its principal mandate is to ensure compliance with the French Language Services Act in the delivery of government services.

For inquiries or interview requests:

Sorinna Chim
Communications and Public Relations Officer
Office of the French Language Services Commissioner
Telephone: 416-314-8247 or 1-888-305-8247 (toll free)
Email: sorinna.chim@ontario.ca

A year marked by a significant anniversary

Another year is already coming to a close. For the Commissioner’s Office, it was a very busy 12 months. We had our share of challenges, but overall the team is more than satisfied with the work it accomplished.

For Ontario’s Francophonie, it was definitely the year of the 400th anniversary of the French presence in the province. I dedicated a series of blog posts to the subject in February. Throughout the year, Samuel de Champlain’s visit to Huronia was celebrated with ceremonies, shows and events. In addition to helping us relive a pivotal chapter in Franco-Ontarian history, these often colourful activities brought the whole community together.

One of the year’s highlights for the Francophonie in Ontario is unquestionably the addition of Markham as a designated area on June 30. This means that, effective July 1, 2018, all government ministries and agencies will be required to provide, in Markham, services in French that are equivalent to the services provided in English. The designation of an area is not an everyday occurrence, and getting there can be a long, hard road. Markham is only the 26th area on the list. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I hope the City of Oshawa will be next.

The Francophonie was recognized at the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games held in Toronto this past summer. Official announcements and signs were bilingual (trilingual, even, with Spanish!); there were French-speaking volunteers at the sites and in the booths. In general, linguistic obligations were met, which I found deeply satisfying. Just as I am delighted that Franco-Ontarian artists Véronic DiCaire and Swing played a prominent role in the opening and closing ceremonies. I also tip my hat to the organizers of the festivals, “franco-fêtes” and other activities that entertained both tourists and residents in many municipalities throughout the year.

Few announcements make me as happy as those concerning the opening of new French-language schools. There were several this year. The growing number of schools for young Francophones is a sign of vitality. At the postsecondary level, it is worth noting the addition of French-language programs at Glendon and French-language engineering programs at Laurentian University.

In the health sector, we had to wait until the last minute, but the mandate of the province’s six French Language Health Planning Entities was renewed for five years by Minister Eric Hoskins. This is excellent news for all of the province’s Francophones, since the Entities are responsible for advising the regional health authorities (LHINs) on French-language services.

In the justice sector, the pilot project on access to French-language services at the Ottawa courthouse is well under way. The reviews so far appear to be generally positive. It’s still too early to declare it a success, but any process intended to improve the active offer of service in French is a step forward.

Despite all this progress, much remains to be done to ensure that Franco-Ontarians receive services in their language from the government and its agencies in critical sectors. In many cases, the government appears to be open to making adjustments. Yet, year after year, many complaints filed with the Commissioner’s Office show what a significant impact infringements of the French Language Services Act can have on Francophones, particularly those who are in vulnerable situations. Let’s be collectively sensitive to that reality.

In closing, my colleagues in the Commissioner’s Office join me in wishing you a wonderful holiday period, full of joy, generosity and companionship.