Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

“Bonjour, vous avez joint la boîte vocale de …” [Hello, you’ve reached the voice mail of …]

This fall, the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario published a report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (“2015 report”). The 2015 report is the response to the findings and recommendations presented in the 2012 report entitled Access to Justice in French (“2012 report”). The 2015 report examines the progress made since the publication of the 2012 report and suggests various other measures to continue improving access to justice in French. Since this is an extremely important subject, I plan to study it in detail and publish a series of blog posts over the next few months. 


This blog post deals with the measures taken by the Attorney General of Ontario to implement the recommendations arising from the 2012 report’s first conclusion. Here is that first conclusion:

“Without an active offer of French-language services in the courts of Ontario, and a clear service objective, French speakers may not be able to access equal French language services and feel truly comfortable in a system designed for English speakers.”

As a result, the 2012 report recommended that the Attorney General of Ontario (1) adopt a clear and coherent service objective for the delivery of French-language services in Ontario’s legal system, and (2) renew its commitment to delivering French-language services based on the concept of active offer.

In short, the service objective must ensure that French-language services are equivalent in quality to English-language services, and that access to those services does not involve delays or additional costs. Similarly, French-language services and the choice to proceed in French must be offered actively from the outset and for the duration of every proceeding. In general, the term “active offer” means that when a person approaches a court’s service counter (or any other part of the court system) to inquire about the procedures for initiating legal action or to submit a document or simply to request information, the clerk greets him or her as follows: “Bonjour, puis-je vous aider?” [Hello, can I help you?]. In addition, the employee must actually be able to assist the person in French; in other words, he or she must be sufficiently fluent in French. “Active offer” includes the obligation to put up posters, signs, notices and so on indicating that French-language services are available and encouraging people to use them.

According to the 2015 report, the Attorney General of Ontario has taken some measures to address the two recommendations of the 2012 report described above.

The 2015 report indicates that the Ministry of the Attorney General has prepared a draft document on the establishment of clear and coherent service standards for the delivery of French-language services. According to the report, those standards promote active offer and contain a clear description of the services to be provided and a pledge concerning the quality of service to be expected. In addition, the standards indicate that the results will be measured each year in terms of performance objectives, and they contain clearly defined complaint and redress mechanisms. The Attorney General must now finalize, approve, adopt and promote the standards to ensure that they produce the desired results. I endorse this initiative, which, as noted in the 2015 report, addresses the 2012 report’s recommendation. I also support the recommendation in the 2015 report suggesting that the performance objectives in the standards of the Ministry of the Attorney General should not be fixed and permanent, but should be able to be adjusted to address the needs of Franco-Ontarians, which would make it possible to effect the necessary improvements in the court system as required and on a timely basis.

I am nevertheless concerned about the initiatives regarding the active offer objective. Of course, I have no objections to the measures taken by the Attorney General and the Ontario government, as described in the 2015 report, to raise awareness in the public service and promote the concept of active offer. I applaud the development of online modules designed to educate public service employees about French-language services. I am also pleased that there are plans to introduce active offer training programs with funding from the Canada-Ontario Agreement. Moreover, as mentioned in the 2015 report, Regulation 284/11 introduced the concept of active offer into Ontario’s regulatory framework, requiring third parties that provide services on behalf of the Ontario government to implement the concept of active offer.

Despite this legal obligation and the measures taken to this point, there remain some weaknesses in the delivery of French-language services. Active offer of service in French is not taken into account in everyday situations such as voice-mail announcements. For example, the announcement on the voice-mail system of the Toronto Estates Office is currently in English only.

While I applaud the standards proposed by the Ministry of the Attorney General and I support their being finalized, approved, adopted and promoted as soon as possible, I still maintain, as noted in my last annual report, that voluntary standards may not produce the same results as a compulsory directive. The service standards proposed by the Attorney General, combined with a specific compulsory directive on active offer, could help achieve the objectives for improving access to justice in French. With this twofold approach, we would finally hear the following message in French after the tone: “Bonjour, vous avez joint la boîte vocale de ….”

Another milestone on the road to improving access to justice in French!

The Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario recently published a report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (“2015 report”). The 2015 report represents the work of the French Language Services Bench and Bar Response Steering Committee.

The 2015 report is the response to the findings and recommendations presented in the 2012 report entitled Access to Justice in French (“2012 report”).

The 2012 report contains nine conclusions identifying major problems in accessing the court system in French. One of those conclusions is that it is more difficult and more costly to obtain services in French. The 2012 report includes 17 recommendations on how to use existing resources to improve access to justice for French-speaking Ontarians. In a series of 16 blog posts published in 2012 and 2013, I reviewed each of the report’s conclusions and recommendations. All of those blog posts can be found online:

In its five main sections, the 2015 report examines the progress made since the 2012 report and suggests a number of additional courses of action and 10 specific measures for continuing to improve access to justice in French.

Access to justice in French is a key issue for my office, which continues to receive many complaints on the subject. Consequently, I will be publishing a detailed review of the 2015 report in the form of a number of blog posts over the next few months. In the meantime, the following bullets provide a quick overview of some of the improvements made in Ontario’s justice system, as described in the 2015 report, as well as some of the resulting suggestions:

  • Since the 2012 report was published, the Ontario government has taken a number of steps to ensure that its employees actively offer services in French so that rights holders do not have to ask for them or go looking for them. For example, the Office of Francophone Affairs developed guidelines on the active offer of service in French. At the same time, the Ministry of the Attorney General prepared draft standards for service in French that must be adopted, finalized and promoted.
  • To boost public confidence in French-language services, it is also necessary to ensure that there is suitable proficiency in French and adequate knowledge of language rights at all levels of the justice sector. To that end, various training and awareness programs and the development of glossaries and bilingual hiring and retention strategies are under way in justice sector ministries. A number of training and mentorship programs, tools and other initiatives are also being considered or introduced to educate the legal community regarding language rights and address the shortage of bilingual judges and lawyers.
  • To ensure uniform, timely delivery of French-language services as recommended in the 2012 report, new French-language services regional committees are being formed. These committees are composed of judicial and Ministry representatives who serve as resource persons responsible for French-language service issues and complaints in their region. The committees will organize a discussion forum for French-language service issues, which will help identify the best ways of delivering and promoting French-language services in each region according to its needs. Aside from the establishment of regional committees, the 2015 report recommends the introduction of a permanent mechanism, such as a French-language services oversight committee, to measure progress in this area and ensure implementation of the recommendations in Ontario. I strongly support this recommendation, which is consistent with what I advocated in my 2013-2014 annual report.
  • Three pilot projects based on the 2012 report’s recommendations have been launched: (1) the Seamless Access to Justice in French Pilot Project, at the Ottawa courthouse (high-quality French-language services will be offered actively to the public during the initial contact with counter service staff and throughout a court proceeding, including bail hearings); (2) the Toronto South Detention Centre Pilot Project (bail hearings in French by video will be provided); and (3) the Small Claims Court E-Filing Project (it will be possible to file claims electronically in both official languages). These pilot projects should help in the review of barriers to enhancing access to justice in French. Now we can only hope that these projects will be extended to the entire province.

Pending my series of blog posts, I will conclude here by pointing out that the 2015 report reflects the good will and hard work of everyone involved to improve access to justice in French. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way – or at least we hope so!

Francophones and Francophiles cities Network in America

This blog post is brought to you by our guest blogger Mohamed Ghaleb, who is one of my three Project Managers as well as responsible for research and monitoring. This is his summary of the conference which took place in Québec City last week.

From 29 to 31 October, Quebec City hosted its inaugural event of the Francophones and Francophiles cities Network in America to welcome representatives from various cities and organizations across Canada, the United States and the Caribbean countries. One of the objectives of this first meeting was to highlight best practices by emphasising not only on the history of Francophones, their heritage and landmarks, but to develop a tourist circuit for 33 million French speakers in America as well.

At the initiative of Quebec City, Moncton and Lafayette, in collaboration with the Centre de la francophonie des Amériques, the meeting gathered keynote speakers such as the essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul and the anthropologist Serge Bouchard. In his opening remarks, the latter passionately talked about the little-known story of Franco-Americans and the role played by a number of French explorers and founders who traveled the United States from Louisiana to California via Wisconsin and Missouri. These journeys have left indelible traces in today’s toponymy of landmarks in the United States such cities as Beaumont, Louisville and St. Louis, as well as Antoine and Boeuf rivers or the Lake Champlain.

As for Stephen J. Ortego, elected to the House of Representatives of Louisiana, he referred to the political will to reappropriate French language in Louisiana, to which he is no stranger, thanks in part to the success of immersion schools since the adoption of a law that requires school boards to create an immersion program when at least 25 parents signed a petition. Bilingual signs are also a workhorse though he acknowledged the many challenges it represents.

Finally, Ontario was the show stopper of the event which highlighted 400 years of Francophone presence in the province. Artists such as Stef Paquette, Céleste Levis and the group Swing showcased its proud Francophone heritage. The progress made by Franco-Ontarians on language rights has earned the admiration of participants from Canada, the United States, Cuba and Martinique. In short, this first network meeting was a mega-success and it promises many more to come. Congratulations to the organizers!


Update on Ontario open government: Open Data Catalogue

In my 2013-2014 Annual Report I praised the government’s ambitious project Open Data Catalogue for being produced simultaneously in both French and English. Since then, a draft of the Open Data Directive was submitted online, along with updates on the consultation process which ended in July.

This Directive, which will apply to all Ontario government ministries and provincial agencies, is subject to all applicable legislation such as the Archives and Record Keeping Act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the French Language Services Act.

The draft Directive, which was published on the Open Data site during the consultation process states that “Open data is to be published in Ontario’s Open Data Catalogue in the language it was collected”. This statement caught my attention as it seems to absolve the government of the need to provide relevant information in French. That said the Directive goes on to outline that “the dataset title, description, and all accompanying information must be available simultaneously in both English and French.” The Open Data Catalogue website is available in both English and French; however; after just five minutes navigating the Open Data Catalogue, out of my own curiosity, the first document I came upon: OPS Common Service Standards 2013-2014 was available uniquely in English. The second document I came across was a simple table titled College Enrolment by Institutions 1996-97 to 2011-2012. None of the three columns in this table: Fiscal Year, College Name and Head Count were translated, nor was the tab or document title.

The Francophone community is currently focused on the need for better access to post-secondary education in French, and this data could be of interest to students, researchers and educators, all of whom should have equitable access to innovative technologies, such as this data catalogue, in French.

Recognising that the Open Data Catalogue is still a work in progress, it is my hope that, as the government reviews and assesses the feedback received during the consultation process, they develop a policy and process that will ensure compliance with the Directive, and the French Language Services Act, which will improve the public’s access to the government of Ontario’s initiative to proactively release data, making it a more transparent and open government.

Dad, it’s my flag


It has been too long since I’ve written anything on my Blog. With the volume of work, paired with the loss of my Communications and Public Relations Officer, let’s just say that the publication schedule of my Blog has accumulated a backlog. That being said, it’s time to reactivate the blog, and what better way than with a touching and inspiring story from my colleague Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko reflecting on September 25th. His words.:

On the morning of September 25th, my small family and I are in a rush. Daddy needs to get to work; mom is exhausted from sleepless nights inflicted by the little one of only 9 weeks; but on this particular morning we have a medical appointment for the little one. The eldest is particularly excited because he has both mom and dad at home with him.

Out the door and «enroute» to downtown Toronto via the 401 and the DVP we go. I won’t go into the details of my mental state at the time, caused by the Toronto traffic… (the days may seem to pass unchanged, but there are no two mornings that are alike…) *note, this is a reference to the radio show on Radio-Canada Y a pas deux matins pareils, the French alternative to CBC’s Metro Morning.

After fighting with truck drivers, navigating among drivers who drive so closely to one’s bumper that one would think they are trying to read your shirt label; we finally make it to our appointment and find ourselves greeted by a nurse bearing big smiles and repeatedly complimenting us on what wonderful and calm children we have (if only she had seen the little one at 2h28 am).

When the Doctor arrives, all grey hair (although at the risk of offending those among the grey set, I should say salt and pepper), but with the spritely gait of a 21st century triathlete who regularly runs marathons for good causes. He greets us with a resounding “Hello, bonjour! Mais qu’est-ce qui se passe avec le petit aujourd’hui ?”, spoken in perfect French.

Hello, bonjour! It sounds like my colleague Alison Stewart actively using the active offer. How on earth does this Doctor know that we are Francophones?! Is it because of our ‘swarthy’ skin tone that our linguistic identity has been unveiled? It is likely because of my pronunciation of the word ‘the’. Having been raised in France, I, like most French, tend to murder the word ‘the’, in the same way that many Anglophones tend to massacre the ‘r’ when they’re speaking French.   As it turns out, Dr. Martry simply recognised the lapel pin of the Franco-Ontarian flag that I was sporting on my jacket.

This may seem like a trivial tale, but for me it signifies a great victory. During the Pan Am games this summer, while tending our famous kiosk, I discovered that very few recognise the Franco-Ontarian flag. People were mystified by the trillium and the fleur de lys and often thought that this strange flag represents the friendship between Québec and Ontario, or some union they had never heard of.

It was thus, standing in front of Dr. Martry  that my 3 year old son illustrated the sentiment that this flag signifies. As this doctor/athlete/Francophile and I, Francophone/proud father discussed our business this little guy interrupted our conversation:

“Dad, dad…that’s my flag. We sing that at school.”

He is right. It is his flag; it is the cultural identity of this little Franco-Ontarian, and it has nothing to do with the original roots of his parents. It is this flag that holds the aspirations of today’s generation and those that follow.

I leave you with this lovely quote by Paul Claudel: “There are only two things to do with a flag: either brandish it at arm’s length or hold it with passion against one’s heart.”

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.