Commissioner’s Blog

 Official photo

This site will be a venue of exchange, interaction and discussion. Thus, we encourage the sharing of different viewpoints and arguments, without however a private exchange solely between two individuals. Please be aware of the conditions of use before participating in this blog.

François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Centre Jules-Léger: a governance structure that does not work

I can assure you, since my nomination in 2007, there is no shortage of issues. But few cases have had as great an impact on me as this investigation into the governance of the Centre Jules-Léger (in French). This centre specializes in Francophone students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low of vision, deaf-blind, or have severe learning disabilities. You could say that these students are members of a double minority. All of them wish to be heard and understood, to learn in a safe environment, and not to be stigmatized. All of them are also trying to develop a sense of belonging to a community.

I confess that I was deeply moved by all the meetings with students, parents, educators, administrators and members of non-profit organizations, many of whom are former students of the Centre Jules-Léger. I also realize that many people will probably be disappointed with the
investigation’s conclusions. Our job was not to please everyone, but to answer the question asked about the Centre Jules-Léger’s governance.

And this question is legitimate: Why Centre Jules-Léger is not governed in an autonomous way, by and for Francophones? Why does the actual governance model report to the Ministry of Education? Why is there no board that can lead the administration in an autonomous and independent manner, like most of the other Francophone institutions in Ontario?

I concluded that, following our investigation, the Centre Jules-Léger’s governance model violates section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and undermines the Centre Jules-Léger’s integrity and mission. The current governance structure does not work. This situation must be remedied and governance by and for Francophones should be instituted before the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

Therefore, I recommend that the government put the governance of the Centre Jules-Léger in the hands of Francophones. That the Centre be governed by one of the 12 French-language school boards on a trustee basis. To achieve this goal, I also recommended that a transition committee be established. The committee’s mandate will be, from September to December 2015, to make recommendations to the Minister of Education. The committee’s mandate will be to make recommendations to the Minister to ensure both a smooth transition for the students and the viability of the Centre Jules-Léger by September 2016. I also suggest referring to the CFORP (in French) as a model.

Since the goal is to get this new governance model in place by 2016, the government needs to act quickly, in the best interests of Francophone students served by the Centre Jules-Léger.

All want to see the Centre Jules-Léger revitalized, returned to its status as a benchmark, a model for others. I can only hope that the French-language school boards will be visionary, not just operationally effective. I hope, as indicated by the school board administrators, that there will be centralized decision-making, combined with decentralized services. I also hope that the renewed research mandate will be built around visionary, responsible management, which will make this institution into a true centre of excellence.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all those who met with us, gave us their time, and shared with us their ideas and their abiding passions. The ball is now in the government’s court…and there is no time to lose.

The Pan Am Games and the French language

First of all, it’s worth noting how successful the 2015 Pan Am Games appear to have been in every respect. And, of course, there is the exceptional performance of all our Canadian athletes, who are truly remarkable, inspiring models for us all. Citizens also took a definite interest in this wonderful public project, which will leave behind a fine legacy not only in terms of sports facilities but also in terms of memories and opportunities for the region. At the very beginning of this venture, we met with senior executives of TO2015 and the provincial government. We knew that the main theme of these games would be diversity, an undeniable attribute of the GTA. On this point, mission accomplished. But what about the presence of French at these games? With so much funding from federal and provincial government coffers, we clearly had to make sure that the organization fulfilled its linguistic obligations and that the funding providers were fully satisfied.

We will have an opportunity later to take a close look at the operations of these games in the area of official languages. The object of this blog post is not to provide a detailed analysis of the subject; it’s still a bit early, especially since we still have the Para Pan Am Games to come in August.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage the organizers to keep going, because they are clearly on the right track in fulfilling their linguistic obligations. Generally speaking, the signs and posters are perfectly bilingual. The official announcements at competitions were made in French, Spanish and English, without notable exception. Volunteers were able to direct us, most of the time, to other, bilingual volunteers to guide us concerning the various sites. In fact, we noticed that at every site we visited, there was at least one accredited volunteer at the information booth who was able to communicate in French and, if necessary, assist visitors with Security. Certainly, bilingual volunteers could have been encouraged to be more meticulous about wearing their “Bonjour” buttons and their caps indicating in French that they were volunteers, but that’s okay. There will always be small things to improve on, and we hope that for the next games, some adjustments will have been made.

But for now, let’s celebrate! Because TO2015 seems not only to have met its linguistic obligations (the two Commissioner’s offices have received a very small number of complaints so far) but also to have seized the opportunity to make these games a compelling demonstration of the vitality of the Franco-Ontarian community and the linguistic duality. I have never seen or heard so many shows in French in the GTA. Definitely the summer of French in the big city. In the case of Franco-Fête, which unquestionably benefited from the festivities for the 400th anniversary of the French presence in Ontario and the 2015 Pan Am Games, the quantity, diversity and quality of the shows in Dundas Square was nothing less than phenomenal. And considering all the connections with Panamania and all those artists performing on other popular stages as well, including Nathan Philips Square, I must congratulate the organizers.

My federal counterpart, Graham Fraser, and I often say that good practices always begin with leadership. No one forced TO2015 to sign a memorandum of understanding with our two organizations. Yet that’s what they did, and it set the tone. Saäd Rafi, CEO of the TO2015 Organizing Committee for the Pan American and Parapan American Games, set the tone by putting his own signature on that very public agreement. It showed a commitment starting at the highest level. The two Senior Managers, Official Languages, have done an amazing job. Pamela Coles kindly and tirelessly hammered the importance of French and Spanish among her colleagues. Louise Gauvreau and her team were outstanding. They relied, correctly, on an advisory committee, the Forum francophone, and I think that the bold gamble of holding both the Games and Francophone cultural activities was a resounding success. Bravo!

Speaking of resounding successes, I’ve kept the best for last. Both the opening and closing ceremonies were impeccable. Watching Franco-Ontarian Véronic Dicaire sing the national anthem, knowing that the director of the Cirque du Soleil’s aerial acrobatics is also a Franco-Ontarian, and hearing all the announcements in the three official languages of the Games were highlights of the opening ceremonies. Watching Swing’s performance at the beginning of the closing ceremonies as well was wonderful. I will also add that in my humble opinion – no chauvinism here – they gave the most exuberant performances to get the crowd dancing. And then there was Saad Rafi, whose delivery was flawless and exemplary in both ceremonies! I can assure you that it’s one thing to have appropriate, inspiring speaker’s notes, and quite another to deliver a good speech. I’ve been there! In short, congratulations to the organizers and all the volunteers who helped make these Pan Am Games an unforgettable event!

The Honourable Albert Roy

At its recent congress (in French) in Lafayette, Louisiana, the Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario (AJEFO) awarded the Ordre du mérite [order of merit] to two exceptional candidates. One of them was Laurie Joe, of West End Legal Services of Ottawa. After hearing all the comments about her and following her career to some extent, I have no doubt that she is most deserving of this award. However, my focus in this blog post will be on the Honourable Albert Roy, who also received the Ordre du mérite.

A retired judge, the Honourable Albert Roy was a lawyer in Ottawa and later represented the riding of Ottawa East in the Ontario Legislature from 1971 to 1984, winning in no less than four consecutive provincial elections. Now that’s really something! Justice Roy was introduced by Ronald Caza at the awards ceremony. Mr. Caza described the recipient as practical, persistent and friendly. Practical because the Honourable Albert Roy, as a judge and previously as a lawyer, always put the interests of the case and his clients ahead of his ego, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is not so common. Persistent because for a pioneer like Albert Roy the lawyer, having been accepted as a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1965, there was obviously a lot of work to do regarding language rights. As he said himself, you could have a case with Francophone clients, Francophone Crown attorneys and a Francophone judge, in Ottawa, but the proceedings were entirely in English. Indeed, you had to be persistent because what we take a bit too much for granted today simply didn’t exist at that time. And Mr. Caza said he was friendly, which, on the basis of a single evening, I can readily attest to. And much more!

Did you know that our conference room at the Commissioner’s Office is named for Albert Roy? When I was appointed Commissioner and set up my office, I wanted to recognize in some small way this visionary man to whom we owe so much. If Dr. Bernard Grandmaître is considered the father of Bill 8 (the French Language Services Act), then the Honourable Albert Roy is certainly its grandfather.

In 1978, Albert Roy, then an MPP, introduced a private member’s bill on French-language services. The bill was voted down on Third Reading (in French) in the Legislature. Typical of the time, Premier Bill Davis explained his decision by stating that the interests of Franco-Ontarians would be better served by a policy of gradual service expansion, rather than a symbolic declaration of bilingualism, which would only result in bitterness. Ah, the good old “baby steps” policy for French Ontario!

In any case, the Honourable Albert Roy, who is still active serving as a mediator, has helped the entire Ontarian Francophonie take giant steps forward. I am very proud that he was awarded the AJEFO’s Ordre du mérite.

Markham designated. Next stop: Oshawa?

A new addition to the list is an event that should not go unsung. On June 30, Markham became the 26th area designated under Ontario’s French Language Services Act. With the announcement by the Office of Francophone Affairs, this major step forward, reflecting the wishes of an entire community, finally became a reality. What does this mean, in concrete terms, for Francophones in this municipality northeast of Toronto?

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. High-quality services available in a city of more than 300,000 people. This is not a minor victory. Implicitly, official designation breaks the isolation and creates a network, a circle in the form of a link, demonstrating that other Francophones in this same area also wanted to receive their services in French. As a result, people feel less alone.

Good things come to those who wait. And, in the interim, to those who work hard. We should take this opportunity to commend citizens and Francophone organizations in the area for the years of work they have put into this project. Since the early 2010s, the Association des francophones de la région de York (AFRY) (in French) has held many talks, meetings and consultations to ensure that the desire for French-language services in the area is fulfilled and realized through designation. With a vision for the future, the AFRY, from its head office in Aurora, was able to mobilize Francophones in the York region. This is exactly the kind of approach recommended in the 2011-2012 annual report of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, entitled Straight Forward. In the report, support is viewed as a new criterion for the approval of designations. That support, that commitment, can take different, varied forms. People send letters and meet with elected representatives and, eventually, they get service in French, in their native language. It’s not just a nice story.

Next stop: Oshawa
Now we turn to the profile of another municipality, this one located east of Toronto. You can get there on Highway 401, or on the Go train, rocked by the gentle swaying of the rails and, through the window, the waves of Lake Ontario. Next stop: Oshawa.

In this city of more than 140,000, the members of the Francophone community are working hard to get designated-area status. ACFO-Durham-Peterborough’s designation committee is redoubling its efforts, holding talks and meetings with the various levels of governments to advance its case. The committee has given up on official designation for the Durham region to focus its efforts on Oshawa. Just like Markham, Oshawa has a growing Francophone population.

Following the completion on May 25 of public consultations on the designation of Oshawa, the matter is now in the hands of the Office of Francophone Affairs. So the burning question is, When will Oshawa’s designation happen? Franco-Ontarian Day, September 25, would be a splendid occasion for the government to announce Oshawa’s designation and the perfect opportunity to pave the way for a list consisting of 27 designated areas. Two municipalities: Markham and Oshawa. Two similar challenges, one similar destiny? Both cities have a highly multicultural population, which ensures vitality, a population composed of Francophone newcomers, at a time when the face of Ontario is changing and becoming more diverse. This is also the sense of a plural Francophonie, and an opportunity for the government to show that it is listening to its constituents, regardless of the municipality of origin.

In conclusion, the Government has missed a great opportunity. Hoping that the next will be the good one.

2015 AJEFO Congress

The Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario (AJEFO) held its 36th annual congress last week – in an unaccustomed location: Lafayette, Louisiana. The congress’s theme was “Du Canada à la Louisiane : une justice multiple, un français vivant!” [from Canada to Louisiana: many justice systems, one living French language!]. Oh yes, French is indeed alive and well in Louisiana. In fact, it’s one of the first things you notice, as announcements in the Lafayette airport are made in French as well as English. Why Louisiana? As president François Baril wrote in his opening remarks, this year the AJEFO is joined by its colleagues from Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and, of course, Louisiana: a unifying, motivating event built around high-calibre presentations.

The first panel discussion, held in the magnificent Federal Courthouse, was about access to justice in French. To quote Mr. Gauthier, from Lafayette, “I can be a lawyer, but not an interpreter at the same time,” in reference to the challenges of being able to argue cases in French in Louisiana – because, yes, it is possible to do so. Mr. Doucet, from New Brunswick, noted that with regard to bilingual decisions, it is the publisher who decides on the translation of court decisions in the public interest, rather than the judge or a panel of judges, with mixed results, of course. Judge Marianne Rivoalen, from Manitoba, explained that for her, one of the problems in having so few judges who speak and understand French is that lawyers know that if they ask for a trial in French, they will automatically find themselves in her court, because she is the only family law judge and the lawyers feel they know in advance how she’ll rule! Another challenge is that, in many cases, interpretation will be provided for the lawyers, even though everyone, including the judge, understands French. So interpretation makes hearings longer and more costly.

The Honourable Paul Rouleau, of the Ontario Court of Appeal, was the optimist in the group. And he’s right. The Ontario government takes very seriously the recommendations made in Access to Justice in French, the report of the committee he co-chaired. He also talked about the manifest good will of all stakeholders, including the various divisions in the Ministry of the Attorney General, court offices at all levels, judges at all levels, legal and community workers, the Law Society of Upper Canada, the provincial police and the law schools. For Mr. Rouleau, the important thing was to create the service and offer it actively so as to convince citizens that they are right to ask for service in French. Lastly, Ms. Tremblay, from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, summarized the key findings of the joint study conducted by the Commissioner and two provincial counterparts, the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick and me, on access to justice in both official languages. There is no objective assessment of what a court needs in terms of capacity to serve the public in both languages. Nor is there an objective assessment of the language skills of candidates for federal appointments to the judiciary. In her view, access to justice in French needs to become a priority for official language minority communities in the same way health and immigration have been in recent years. A truly interesting and promising idea.

The next panel discussion was on codes of ethics for practitioners and the difficulties associated with interactions between lawyers and unilingual citizens. Professor Rigaud, from Quebec, stated that the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) had introduced a rule, similar to the one in Ontario, on citizens’ language rights and lawyers’ obligation to inform clients of those rights. So it’s no longer just a question of ethics but one of professional conduct, because it has to do with the lawyer’s competence, if he or she is unable to provide legal advice to Francophone clients. Aside from Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan now have such provisions in their codes of professional conduct. That is something.

Charles Larroque, executive director of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), Louisiana’s equivalent of our Office of Francophone Affairs, gave a touching, compelling, riveting, inspiring speech. “Liberty, okay. Equality, sort of. But fraternity, that we have!” he contended, referring to his state. He noted that, despite its poverty, it is Louisiana that gives the rest of the United States its soul, not just through language but also through the quiet resilience of its peoples and their indefatigable will to continue existing. I had the good fortune to spend an entire evening in his company. What a remarkable man! Full of wisdom, hope and wilfully fierce determination. He reminds me a great deal of the characters in songs by his compatriot Zacharie Richard. We promised to keep in touch, since there are many conversations to be had, on subjects as varied as telecommunications and networking of organizations representing youth or parents of French-immersion students.

In a panel discussion on education and language rights in Canada and the status of French in Louisiana schools, Mr. Mercantel, from the same state, began by pointing out that for many years in Louisiana, teaching French was not prohibited, but teaching in French was. Many citizens didn’t even know that you could read Cajun French, since they only spoke it. Now there are immersion schools where instruction is entirely in French. In fact, Louisiana has 26 immersion schools, with 166 teachers for nearly 5,000 students since 1983. And there is rapid, continuous growth. The interest is there and growing. Under a law passed in 2014, if there are 25 students willing to register from kindergarten on, the local school board has to provide a school. Understandably, some school boards are not happy with this new law, and Louisiana lawyers will not be surprised if it is eventually challenged. The law is revolutionary for the United States, since it gives parents the right to choose to educate their children in a language other than English.

Ms. Hammat, from Louisiana, told us that immersion schools are now competing with each other for excellence. This is not surprising since they can now be certified in immersion on the basis of points earned for the quality of their teachers, the number of hours taught in French, and so on. The vast majority of the teachers are still from France and Belgium, but it appears that a new generation of teachers from Louisiana’s immersion schools is ready to carry the torch. Naturally, as is the case here, studies show that immersion students do better in school, especially in mathematics!

Mr. Rouleau, from Ontario, who successfully argued the Rose-des-vents case in the Supreme Court of Canada very recently, summarized the facts concerning the school’s poverty. It’s like something out of a Victor Hugo novel. Students are not allowed to play ball in the schoolyard because it’s so small that students are likely to run into one another. The secondary school was actually built in that schoolyard outside the elementary school. The children regularly get lice because there isn’t even room to hang up their winter coats and hats. As a result, parents are pulling their children out of the school. To the disapproval of the Supreme Court.

Another panel discussion was about the history and future of the French fact in Louisiana. Participants were treated to a surprise appearance by a VIP guest, Stephen Ortego, a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and a proud Cajun. He was so passionate about the French language in his state! Professor Barry Jean Ancelet, of the University of Louisiana, reminded us that “To have a future, you have to leave some traces behind.” For him, the question is not whether there is a future for French in Louisiana, but rather by what miracle French still exists in Louisiana, with the great obstacles it has faced. The shame in speaking French, the prohibition against teaching French and the fear of speaking a language seen as from another level socially and economically speaking. In fact, according to Professor Ancelet, if French survived into the 20th century, it was by neglect. “We want to be ourselves, in French.” He added, “In Louisiana, to write and speak French is to bet on the future.”

In closing, we should point out that Ontario was very well represented by the Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General of Ontario and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, who urged all Francophone lawyers to persuade their Francophone clients to request services in French in Ontario’s courts. The assistant deputy minister of the Office of Francophone Affairs, Kelly Burke, provided a detailed description of the pilot project on access to justice in French in the Ottawa region.

An exceptional congress. I would also like to take the opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and congratulations to all members of the organizing committee, of course, but also to the members of the small but no less energetic AJEFO team, for a congress that went like clockwork, with seasoned, relevant guest speakers and unforgettable activities. In a word, thank you.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

20th Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie

The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, hosted the 20th Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie in Toronto this week. My colleague Graham Fraser and I were invited to meet with the provincial and territorial ministers and senior officials responsible for Francophone affairs as well as a representative of the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Although the discussions were held behind closed doors, readers will not be surprised to learn that the issues raised by my colleague and me included immigration, the shortage of French-language postsecondary education programs, how difficult it is for Francophones in vulnerable situations to request service in French and, of course, the importance of active offer. We also talked about government services and how they need to be redesigned not only to serve the individual in his or her preferred language, but also to serve the entire linguistic community. In addition, we discussed the economic value of having a skilled workforce in both of the country’s official languages and the enormous potential for economic growth that we have with the influx of all the newcomers who are now part of the diaspora of the Canadian Francophonie.

As always, these meetings are intended to be as productive as possible, and the discussions are strictly limited, since the organizers want to maximize the time available for other activities. Nevertheless, they are an exceptional networking opportunity. As I heard Benoît Pelletier, currently a professor of law and formerly Quebec’s minister of Canadian intergovernmental affairs, say on Radio-Canada (in French), try to imagine a situation in which these discussions did not exist, in which there was no opportunity to take a common approach on subjects of interest, and in which we could not learn from what is going on elsewhere. It would be inconceivable.

I would also like to thank Minister Meilleur and the entire team from the Office of Francophone Affairs for launching the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the French presence in Ontario with thoroughly successful event at the Royal Ontario Museum. Guests were treated to a short version of the colourful show L’Écho d’un peuple (in French) and an engaging performance by the entertaining and highly popular Franco-Ontarian singer Damien Robitaille (in French).

Speaking of the ROM, if you happen to be in Toronto, be sure to take in Friday Night Live: FrancoSonic, a musical event in an incomparable atmosphere.