Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

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?

Moment of reflection for Québec

It is with great sadness that we learned of the attack on the mosque in Québec yesterday evening. In these circumstances, it is difficult to find the words to reflect or describe what every one of us across Canada feels.

We are deeply troubled by this sad news, and it is important to remember that we have to gather our strength and speak out together against such violence through discussion, openness and inclusion. On behalf of the entire team in the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, we extend our deepest condolences to the families affected by this tragedy.

Our hearts go out to you.

 

Illustration credits : Marc Keelan-Bishop

nous-sommes-quebec

 

Revisiting the #LSF30 celebrations (part 3)

Today, last Friday of January 2017, I talk about the third (and last) important theme of my annual report entitled FLSA 2.0:

 

Integrated, almost organic vision of the French Language Services Act

First of all, a number of good things are already in place. We mustn’t ignore the FLSA’s successes of the past 30 years. On the other hand, major adjustments are now needed. For example, the FLSA does not mention the Advisory Committee on Francophone Affairs. I suggest that it should be made an advisory council and given a very specific mandate, which would include determining which government ministries and agencies should have French-language service plans and reviewing those plans. Because, in my opinion, not all ministries need to consult the Francophone community in developing all of their policies.

The role of the French-language services coordinators needs to be revised to ensure that they are included in the policy development process from the very beginning, and to give them an expanded role with regard to knowledge of the Francophone community’s specific needs. The Minister’s role should also be revised to include the promotion of the French language and Francophone culture in Ontario.

To ensure that all this continues to move forward, we need to offer the government some possible solutions. Not just complain, but offer concrete suggestions, for example, with regard to the delivery of services to the public.

For example, the Centre francophone de Toronto is a multiservice centre where we can obtain health care services, employability services, mental health services and so on. It was a solution to provide French-language services in the Toronto area in order to reduce travel and facilitate access to French-language services for Francophones, all under the same roof. One simply has to keep an open mind to provide and obtain French-language services differently.

 

Conclusion 

In my annual report entitled FLSA 2.0, I request that the FLSA be rewritten. While it will conceivably be a slow process, it is important to remind the government that I am not asking for cosmetic changes in the Act, but real, more extensive changes. I also requested that the revision process commence right away, because the community has been waiting for the changes for a long time and we need to see positive progress toward a modern Act.

At the #LSF30 symposium last Monday, a bill was presented by lawyers from the community and debated by various panels. I really enjoyed it, as it was one more step toward modernization of our FLSA. We have to be careful not to exclude groups, especially in the title. I had the opportunity to make a few comments with regard to the excellent work that was done, so I won’t repeat myself here.

In conclusion, the French Language Services Act was very innovative in 1986, as it was the first legislation of its kind in Canada. Since then, a few provinces have followed suit and passed laws that were also very innovative. In the wake of the symposium, I believe that a worthwhile dialogue between the community and the government has just begun.

And I am absolutely thrilled with the statements made by the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs on the morning of the #LSF30 symposium, announcing the government’s commitment to revising the FLSA. It represents a good start for the discussions, and I look forward to hearing what next steps will eventually be announced by the government.

A big thank-you to everyone who joined us for the various events surrounding the celebrations of the French Language Services Act’s 30th anniversary. The Club canadien de Toronto, the #LSF30 symposium, the various conferences across the province, the many news stories featured by the Radio-Canada and Groupe Média TFO (ONfr), analyses of the current act, and meetings with people who helped get the Act passed have all helped explain the Act’s impact and the importance of revising it!

Revisiting the #LSF30 celebrations (part 2)

Today, I talk about the second important theme of my annual report entitled FLSA 2.0:

Active offer

In May 2016, we presented the Legislative Assembly with a special report explaining the importance of adding active offer to the French Language Services Act. Francophones should not have to ask themselves, Should I request my services in French today? Because as soon as we feel obliged to ask ourselves that question, we often think automatically, It’s not worth the trouble to fight for that now; I just want to be served.

And when we find ourselves in a vulnerable situation, the active offer of service in French becomes even more pertinent. Whether it’s health care, community and social services, children’s aid societies, access to justice, immigration, the elderly or women victims of spousal abuse, we all – at one time or another – need a helping hand from the Ontario government. That is when that assistance, provided in French, will have a much greater impact.

In order to provide Francophones with services of equal or equivalent quality, it is important to include active offer in the request to revise the Act. It is already present in the federal Official Languages Act and in other laws of the same sort elsewhere in Canada, so why not in Ontario as well?

It is important to recall what active offer entails:

  1. that measures are taken to inform the public of the availability of the services;
  2. that the offer of service is made in both languages, starting with the initial contact;
  3. that the language of service is chosen by the person being served;
  4. that the service is culturally appropriate;
  5. that the person feels comfortable with how the services are provided;
  6. that the service is of equal or equivalent quality to the service provided in English.

Revisiting the #LSF30 celebrations (part 1)

As part of the celebrations of the French Language Services Act’s 30th anniversary, I decided to do a very special blog post. So I’m taking the time to look back on last November’s celebrations and especially the symposium held at the University of Ottawa on November 18th 2016.

It is clear to me that the government must go ahead and revise the Act and then update it to reflect today’s reality. In my annual report entitled FLSA 2.0, I made about 20 recommendations to guide the government in this necessary reform. Within those recommendations, I focus on three important themes: Ontario as a designated area, active offer, and the integrated, almost organic vision of the French Language Services Act.

 

Today, I talk about the first important theme:

Designated areas versus a single area 

The designation process is very burdensome for the community, and very slow. The designation criterion (5,000 Francophone residents or 10% Francophone population) is very old, dating back to the Laurendeau-Dunton commission (Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism) – so almost 50 years. Francophone communities have changed a great deal since then, and many areas have schools, daycare centres and in some cases religious centres to support the Francophone community’s vitality. People expect the government to be able to actively offer them services in their language. In principle, there is only 20% of the Francophone population left to serve (i.e., not in a designated area). Those people are not second-class citizens.

The designated area issue is a phony debate, and I’ll tell you why. In a given designated area, not all government service outlets offer service in French. The government has looked more closely at the distribution of Francophones in each area and determined which service outlets are in districts with higher concentrations of Francophones. If the entire province is a designated area, it is easy to repeat the exercise, in particular based on vitality indicators such as schools, Francophone or truly bilingual community health centres, seniors’ residences and so on. An added benefit is that highway signage would improve. When driving on the 401, we can tell whether we’re in a designated area or not! First the signs are bilingual; then, all of sudden, they are unilingual; and a short time later, they are bilingual again. This doesn’t make any sense.

On the other hand, I see a pitfall. We have to be careful in analyzing the service outlets, because we certainly don’t want to lose any services, especially in a tight budget situation. We mustn’t give the ministries an excuse to cut back on the service outlets needed to reach the Francophone population.

The time and energy spent by Francophone volunteers on getting their area designated are time and energy that they could be spending elsewhere, on important causes such as better access to health care. Situations like Oshawa must not happen again. Nine years of work by members of the community and still no designation because local politicians don’t approve – that’s just unacceptable!