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Looking back on the 2017 congress of the Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO)

I’m taking advantage of a #ThrowbackThursday to reminisce about my weekend at the congress of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) on October 28, 29 and 30. Once again, it was a weekend full of reunions and discussions on topics that are important to Ontario’s Francophones and Francophiles.

During my stay in Ottawa, I participated as a panellist in the workshop on revision of the Act. Many people are already taking part in the debate. I presented once again the recommendations I made in my 2015-2016 annual report regarding a modernized French Language Services Act. Other groups are also demanding an amended Act, in some cases going even a bit further than what I recommended. That’s a good thing: the debate is well and truly joined.

In the evening, we were treated to a lovely reception plus a comedy show. Several good young comedians are clearly ready for the big time. And laughter was just what the doctor ordered for the delegates.

Saturday’s AFO awards ceremony was another great success. A wonderful evening in an enchanting setting surrounded by planes and helicopters of yesteryear. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the award recipients:

  • Linda Cardinal: Pillar of the Francophonie Award
  • Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne, Regroupement des étudiants franco-ontariens and Association des communautés francophones d’Ottawa (FESFO-RÉFO-ACFO Ottawa): Franco-Ontarian Horizon Award
  • Tréva Cousineau: Florent Lalonde Award

You’ve made a great contribution to the Francophonie over many years, and you’ve left your mark on it in a very special way in the past year. The ceremony was an excellent way of honouring the recipients and all those who were nominated.

I’d also like to express my gratitude and deepest appreciation to the AFO for the special ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Commissioner’s Office. I will remember the sage advice of AFO president Carol Jolin, who encouraged us to continue working with the community and to ensure the continuation and improvement of French-language services across the province.

The unveiling of the very beautiful drawing touched me deeply. It’s certainly a fine representation of the first 10 years of the Commissioner’s Office.

 

 

 

Appointment of Raymond Théberge: Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

TORONTO, November 30, 2017 – Commissioner François Boileau is delighted with the recent announcement by the Prime Minister of Canada, who has just nominated Raymond Théberge to be Commissioner of Official Languages. This appointment will be confirmed only once the House of Commons and the Senate have approved it in accordance with the Official Languages Act (OLA).

Mr. Boileau stated this: “In my work at the Office of French Language Services, I worked with Mr. Théberge in many files, in particular in the field of education. I am looking forward to working with him to continue to enrich the efficient and fruitful collaboration between our respective offices. At the same time, I would like to highlight Ms. Ghislaine Saikaley’s outstanding work over the last year”.

The Senate is studying the modernisation of the OLA, which will give many groups the opportunity to offer their thoughts on five subjects. The Office of French Language Services intends to participate in this discussion by submitting a brief to guide discussions at the federal level. Another objective of the brief is to assess the possible repercussions that the overhaul of the Official Languages Act will have on the French Language Services Act and, accordingly, on French-language services in Ontario.

 

Quick facts

• In 2012, a memorandum of understanding made it possible to formalize the collaboration between the two commissioners and to maximize the support that they offer to citizens and to communities, and well as to other parties who benefit from their services.

• In a study published in 2013, the Commissioner of Federal Languages of Canada, in partnership with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick and the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, made ten recommendations to Canada’s Justice Minister that would ensure that Canadians have access to justice in both official languages.

• In 2014, the Commissioner of Federal Languages of Canada, Graham Fraser, and the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, François Boileau, published a joint report that highlights how important it is that the federal and provincial governments offer a Francophone perspective in their immigration policies and programs.

• In 2014, the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee for the Pan American/Parapan American Games to ensure that the linguistic duality of Canada and Ontario was supported and represented before, during, and after, these greatly anticipated games.

• Mr. Raymond Théberge has been President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Moncton for almost five years. Before that, he held several positions in Ontario. He led Canada’s Council of Ministers of Education and then became Assistant Deputy Minister of the French Language, Aboriginal Learning and Research Division at Ontario’s Ministry of Education, and at Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner reports directly to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and its mandate is to ensure that the delivery of government services complies with the French Language Services Act.

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What’s new in immigration?

The issue of immigration has generated much debate in the last few weeks, and I don’t think I’ve provided you with an update on the subject in a while.

I was recently invited to give the closing remarks at the forum of the Central-Southwestern Francophone Immigration Support Network, and I believe that the message I delivered was clear. The province of Ontario cannot achieve its Francophone immigration target without the federal government’s leadership and commitment. In fact, the two levels of government have signed an agreement, and this is a step in the right direction. As part of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement, a specific Annex on Francophone immigration is under development with a goal of unveiling the annex next March and which, I hope I can believe, will clearly state that the 5% target for Francophone immigration to Ontario will be incorporated into all categories of federal and provincial immigration programs.

One of the objectives listed in Annex A to the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement is that the governments want “To increase the number of French-Speaking Immigrants to Ontario.” This annex is specific to the Provincial Nominee Program, which gives the province an important role in selecting its immigrants on the basis of its labour market needs.

The Provincial Nominee Program lets the provinces create sub-classes based on their needs. This is what Ontario did when it created its Express Entry French-Speaking Skilled Worker Stream, which is for French-speaking skilled workers who are proficient in English and want to live and work permanently in Ontario. This stream enables the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program to nominate individuals who have the required education, skilled work experience, language ability, and other characteristics to help them settle successfully in Ontario and integrate into the province’s labour market and communities. Applicants must, of course, be eligible for the federal Express Entry pool.

The agreement between the two levels of government provides for a number of evaluation and accountability measures. This is an excellent opportunity for the Commissioner’s Office to monitor the efforts and initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration of Ontario (MCI) to achieve its target, and to ask the Ministry questions about it.

 

What’s happening at MCI?

We are continuing to work with the Ministry. A hot topic is the U.S. government’s recent announcement that it was terminating the Temporary Protected Status granted to many immigrants, including Haitians, in the United States. Many Francophone community leaders have stated that the new flow of immigrants would be an opportunity for Ontario to pursue its Francophone immigration target. I certainly plan to pay close attention to this issue over the next few months. That said, it’s important to remember that the rules regarding refugee claimants continue to apply and that many of them do not satisfy all the refugee criteria.

So while we understand that the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration is ready to support an influx of Haitian refugee claimants should one materialize in Ontario, the ministry emphasizes that entry into the country is clearly defined by federal legislation and criteria; and that prospective refugee claimants need to be mindful of the legal means for entering the country.

There will be many important discussions in 2018. Of particular interest to me is the establishment of a pilot project called Destination Ontario francophone in Algeria and Morocco. It’s a promising step. In March 2018, Ontario will host the second Ministerial Forum on Francophone Immigration  to follow up on the one held recently in Moncton.

A member of the investigations team, Élisabeth Arcila, travelled to Timmins to attend the provincial forum of the Francophone Immigration Support Networks. Francophone organizations made a number of observations. They complained that Anglophone organizations were not referring newcomers to Francophone networks. It would also appear that we are missing opportunities to provide proper orientation for French-speaking newcomers when they arrive at Canadian airports.

There is good news from the Mobilité francophone program. Some 955 applications for residence have been approved. In the Express Entry pool, about 3.9% of those invited to apply for permanent residence are French-speaking. In addition, MCI has a new team responsible for Francophone immigration, internal coordination and coordination of the federal-provincial relationship for the purposes of developing and implementing the announced measures.

There are a lot of new developments concerning immigration, but much follow-up will have to be done over the next few months and we look forward to continuing to follow these developments closely.

Forum on French-language health services

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the forum on French-language health services organized by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC). Those present included not only the Minister, though he was there only to kick off the discussions, but also senior managers of the MOHLTC and the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), the French Language Health Planning Entities, and the members of the French Language Health Services Advisory Council. It was only the second time such a forum has been held (the last one was in 2014). One of the good things to come out of the meeting was certainly Minister Hoskins’s commitment to make the forum an annual event.

At the meeting, everyone was brought up to date on the latest regulatory changes (Regulation 515/09), and an effort was made to renew the relationship between the LHINs and Planning Entities and focus on the common goal of improving access to French-language health services. It is important to work together to assist Francophones who do not have equitable access to French-language health services in their area and are unable to find out which health service providers or professionals might help them and where they are located. In my brief talk, I attempted to address these particular issues. It is important to bear in mind that the LHINs have been around for just 11 years, and the Entities 7 years. That is not very long, but it is well past time to stop ignoring the mistakes that have been made for so many years. The key word is “collaboration.” The intent of the amendments made in the Regulation is clearly to ensure that the Entities are seen as the LHINs’ partners, and not as mere subordinates.

What’s more, the MOHLTC has published a new guide on French-language health services requirements and obligations. The guide is extremely well designed, and I am very hopeful that it will help all those who were not present at this important meeting to better understand the roles and responsibilities of all parties in the health system and the need to truly focus on integration and collaboration as they go about their work. I have been told the Guide will be available on the MOHTLC website soon.

 

 

Bill 177 Carried to First Reading

Yesterday, there were several announcements included in the 2017 Fall Economic Statement. During his presentation of the Statement, Minister of Finance Charles Sousa introduced Bill 177, Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017. It is an omnibus bill (a bill that amends several existing laws or introduces several new laws).

With the legislative calendar being so busy, I fully understand the government’s desire to include three bills for which the province’s Francophones and Francophile have been waiting for a long time.

Here is a brief overview of each of the three bills/amendments.

First, we have Schedule 5 of Bill 177: City of Ottawa Act, 1999. After a few years of letters, demonstrations and complaints from Ottawans favouring official bilingualism for the City of Ottawa, the government has picked up the defunct Private Bill introduced by MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers. It confirms the status quo, of course, but with a few tweaks that will, we hope, enable the City of Ottawa to serve all of its residents better.

The second schedule of interest in Bill 177 is Schedule 12, which would amend the Education Act by establishing the Centre Jules-Léger Consortium. This amendment is more than just a name change: it is also a change in governance. The Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’Ontario (ACÉPO) and the Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC) will each appoint three of the Consortium’s six members. The schedule also contains a number of other details, but I won’t bore you with administrivia. The good news in all of this is that the Centre Jules-Léger will finally be managed by and for Francophones!

Third, Schedule 43 introduces the Université de l’Ontario français Act, 2017. This bill details the constitution of the new university and gives it a name: Université de l’Ontario français. Its special mission will be “to offer a range of university degrees and education in French to promote the linguistic, cultural, economic and social well-being of its students and of Ontario’s French-speaking community.” While I haven’t done a comprehensive analysis, it appears that this mission will give the university a prominent place in the universe of postsecondary institutions. The bill covers the composition of the university’s board of governors and senate, the selection of a chancellor and a president, and the rules for the university’s administration.

Not surprisingly, these announcements made headlines a few minutes after they were made. They deal with issues that matter to the Francophone and Francophile community. The debate will now move to the parliamentary arena, and I can only hope the deliberations will be positive.

The new Action Plan to enhance the bilingual capacity of the judiciary in the superior courts

With the words of the Franco-Ontarian anthem Notre place ringing out across Ontario, Franco-Ontarian Day was marked by the pride and unity expressed by participants. Celebrations flying the green and white demonstrated the strength of this Francophone community and its rich and diverse culture and language.

The celebrations also provided the ideal opportunity for the Minister of Francophone Affairs to announce some good news: Marie-France Lalonde has launched a new community fund that will provide $3 million over three years to support Ontario’s Francophonie. This is excellent news for Francophone organizations. On the federal side, the Minister of Justice of Canada also wanted to take part in these festivities and made an announcement that will benefit Francophones and Anglophones in minority communities. Of course, I am talking about the federal government’s action plan to enhance the bilingual capacity of the judiciary in the superior courts.

I welcome this new action plan with hope and enthusiasm. We had been impatiently awaiting these new measures for several years. Nonetheless, this is an important step forward for access to justice for all Canadians. The plan is in response to the recommendations made in 2013 by my counterparts at the federal level (Graham Fraser, at the time) and in New Brunswick (Katherine d’Entremont) and myself.

The Action Plan provides that the evaluation of candidates for the judiciary will be improved in two ways:

  • two additional questions will be included in the questionnaire used for evaluating candidates for the judiciary; and
  • the advisory committees will be asked to check the language proficiency of candidates who self-identify as bilingual.

The Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs is also now authorized and encouraged to do spot checks of candidates’ language proficiency.

In addition to a more in-depth assessment of language proficiency, the Action Plan provides that the advisory committees and members of the judiciary will have access to a wider range of information and training concerning language rights.

I am also very happy to see that the federal Minister of Justice will be able to consult the provinces and territories in order to learn the interests and priorities of the Canadian public in relation to access to the superior courts in both official languages. The Department will also be working with them to assess the existing bilingual capacity of the superior courts.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the first two recommendations in our 2013 report: that the Department of Justice Canada take measures, in conjunction with its provincial and territorial counterparts, to ensure appropriate bilingual capacity at all times and also to establish a memorandum of understanding with the attorneys general and the chief justices of superior courts of each province and territory. Those recommendations were not included in the Action Plan, but they are nonetheless important. I am committed to raising this question again with the Attorney General of Ontario and encouraging him to discuss it with his colleagues across the country.

I congratulate everyone who has contributed to these achievements, in whatever way, since the result will be to encourage better language skills development for judges and candidates for the judiciary.

Access to justice in French in Ontario is a priority for our office: there is still a shortage of French language services in a number of courts, and people regularly bring this to our attention. This new Action Plan could prove to be an excellent tool for ensuring better management of how language skills are assessed and providing training about language rights for members of the judiciary. As we said in our 2013 report, it is important to “ensure that all Canadians can fully and freely exercise their language rights in their dealings with Canada’s superior courts, in particular the right to be heard in the minority official language.”

This action plan is definitely a BIG step in the right direction.