Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

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.

Coordination of French language services in the justice system

A number of public and private justice system partners have combined and coordinated their efforts to improve the delivery of French language services in Ontario since the publication of the report entitled Access to Justice in French (the “2012 Report”). That report emphasized the importance of having effective coordination between all justice system partners from the outset of every proceeding.

The report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (the “2015 Report”) illustrates the progress made in this area since the 2012 Report. The most remarkable accomplishment is the formation of the French Language Services Regional Committees. These regional representatives from the judiciary and various branches of the Ministry of the Attorney General serve as resource persons responsible for French language service issues affecting the judiciary. Their mandate is to identify and implement best practices in the delivery of French-language services. These regional committees will, we hope, be a valuable tool as soon as they are up and running. As a result of the Dorcin case, my office is attempting to determine how we can join forces with the regional committees to achieve the best possible outcomes.

The other distinct improvement that we have to mention is the e-filing of Small Claims Court documents (including claims). It is now possible to file electronic documents in both official languages. Accordingly, it is important to encourage the Francophone community to use this service in French, as the report indicates. You can access this service by clicking this link: https://www.ontario.ca/fr/page/depot-electronique-dune-demande-la-cour-des-petites-creances.

The following is a list of other notable initiatives mentioned in the 2015 Report that I have not yet discussed in my blog posts:

  • The “Informing Accused of Language Rights” subgroup, composed of members of the Court Services Division, the Criminal Law Division, the Ontario Provincial Police, the AJEFO and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, is now responsible for finding a uniform approach to informing accused persons of their rights at the earliest opportunity.
  • The Ministry of the Attorney General appointed a French language services coordinator in the Court Services Division in September 2012, a month after the release of the first report. Her role is to ensure that the division meets its FLS obligations and to provide FLS tools and support.
  • Legal Aid Ontario established a hotline for accused persons and people looking for family law legal advisers capable of dealing with French-speaking lawyers. Anyone accused of a crime can access this service on a 24/7 basis.
  • The AJEFO launched its Ottawa Legal Information Centre, which provides free legal information and referral services in French.
  • Since the Court Services Division figured prominently in the 2012 Report, it created its own action committee to review and implement the 2012 Report’s recommendations.

The 2015 Report shows that much progress has been made, but acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done. Perseverance and determination are the keys to success, and good outcomes reflect unstinting hard work.

French Immersion: C’est what?

The advantages of bilingualism have been demonstrated in countless studies, several of them indicating that exposure to more than one language can have positive social and cognitive effects on children. In Ontario and throughout Canada, enrolment in French immersion classes keeps growing in popularity. In 2016, the French immersion program celebrates its 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, I have “borrowed” an op-ed article written by Mary Cruden, president of Canadian Parents for French (Ontario), which in my view demystifies what is French immersion exactly and the benefits it provides. Ms. Cruden has kindly accepted to be our guest blogger and to let us reproduce her text. For that, I wish to thank her sincerely.

 

French Immersion: C’est what?

Imagine a school program so popular that parents are willing to line up overnight just to secure a spot for their child. A program whose appeal cuts across income groups, mother tongues and just about every other demographic measurement. A program as emblematic of our country as our flag or our vaunted universal health care system.

Now imagine that the response to this growing demand is:  “Hey! This program is too popular – we better cut it back!”

Bizarre as that response seems, that’s exactly the threat to French immersion programs in a number of communities in Ontario.  Even worse, advocates of these cutbacks use spurious arguments and the omission of vital information – as we saw in the Globe and Mail a few days ago – to try to dampen parent support for immersion.

“French immersion is an ‘elite program’ that appeals only to the wealthiest families?”  In fact, data from the Toronto District School Board – the country’s largest – shows that uptake in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods is growing just as it is elsewhere in the city.

“French immersion is too hard, and kids need to focus on the subjects that ‘really matter’?”  Well, the province’s standardized testing shows that by grade 6, French immersion students aren’t just becoming proficient in French – they’re actually at par or surpassing their peers in math and – get this – reading and writing in English!

“Immigrant kids in our schools should focus on learning English – adding French is too tough?”  Actually, the language skills these kids already have give them a leg up with French.  What’s more, there’s something particularly paternalistic about this one; as if these kids should be relegated to a second class and not given the opportunities that native-born Canadians have. People who believe this should meet the Sri Lanka-born father I did who spoke passionately in halting English of how he wanted his child to learn French, so that he might grow up one day to become Prime Minister of Canada.

Finally, there’s the perennial “Why bother learning French at all – kids should be learning Mandarin or Spanish, or some other language that will have commercial value?”  Put aside for a moment what that says about the questioner’s sense of his or her own country.  Or the fact that Mandarin and Spanish immersion are not offered in Ontario schools.  Or that French immersion doesn’t compete with or interfere with after-school language programs. All you need to know is that French immersion is an excellent gateway for young people to learn other languages

We like to think that as a country and province we’ve come a long way.  And in many ways we have. But, to paraphrase our flawlessly bilingual prime minister, a trained French immersion teacher himself, “It’s 2016”.  And in the very year that our province’s premier apologized to Franco- Ontarians for the notorious Regulation 17 which severely curtailed French education a century ago, we really should be wondering why accessing quality French as a second language education for English kids is still a fight and not a right. Parents often respond with shock when they learn that the French immersion program is capped or that transportation is not provided or that this key educational decision is going to be made by lottery. They immediately say ‘But, Canada is a bilingual country. Don’t my children have a right to fully participate by becoming fluent in French?’

Well, so much depends on where you live. According to the Ontario Education Act, English school boards have the discretion to establish French programs for their students and that discretion is exercised differently across the province. It is very dependent on political will rather than sound, research-based pedagogy and equity. If you live in Ottawa and your child is starting Junior Kindergarten this fall, he or she, along with all of their age group will be going into French immersion. If you live in Peel and your child is starting grade 1, you will be in the lottery and could be turned away like 400 others in the last two years. If you live in Halton, there is great uncertainty as the board is exploring getting rid of early French immersion altogether and instituting a cap, like Peel. In Upper Grand, the board is considering watering down the immersion program and instituting a cap, also like Peel. Meanwhile, if you live in Sudbury or Toronto, you have a great immersion program – all French in the early years, no limits on who attends and a strong commitment to supporting all learners in the program.

Imagine if your child’s ability to learn Science depended on which school district you lived in. Imagine if your schoolboard said “We’re going to limit access to Math classes because the parents aren’t choosing it for the right reasons.”  Imagine if they said “We don’t need to teach kids subjects that let them get to know their country, like Canadian History or Geography.”

Every child should get a great education. If a parent wants that education to include a top-notch, full- on French immersion program, it should be provided. If a parent wants a basic French program, then that child should get a great education too. Education should never be reduced to a zero sum game where parents compete for resources or school real estate. The growing demand for a program that produces graduates who are comfortable and confident in both of Canada’s Official Languages is a wonderful, positive step forward not something to curtail.

Our schools are building the citizens – and the Canada – of the future. Parents know this – that’s why they’re choosing French immersion in ever increasing numbers.  Instead of the current patchwork of opportunity for kids to become bilingual in Ontario, let’s get our school boards, the province and the feds working together to embrace this challenge, to make French immersion accessible to all and to have the best possible achievement in French for all of our children.

 

Mary Cruden
President, Canadian Parents for French Ontario
2015 Recipient Ontario Prix de la Francophonie