News: General Interest News

A year marked by a significant anniversary

Another year is already coming to a close. For the Commissioner’s Office, it was a very busy 12 months. We had our share of challenges, but overall the team is more than satisfied with the work it accomplished.

For Ontario’s Francophonie, it was definitely the year of the 400th anniversary of the French presence in the province. I dedicated a series of blog posts to the subject in February. Throughout the year, Samuel de Champlain’s visit to Huronia was celebrated with ceremonies, shows and events. In addition to helping us relive a pivotal chapter in Franco-Ontarian history, these often colourful activities brought the whole community together.

One of the year’s highlights for the Francophonie in Ontario is unquestionably the addition of Markham as a designated area on June 30. This means that, 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. The designation of an area is not an everyday occurrence, and getting there can be a long, hard road. Markham is only the 26th area on the list. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I hope the City of Oshawa will be next.

The Francophonie was recognized at the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games held in Toronto this past summer. Official announcements and signs were bilingual (trilingual, even, with Spanish!); there were French-speaking volunteers at the sites and in the booths. In general, linguistic obligations were met, which I found deeply satisfying. Just as I am delighted that Franco-Ontarian artists Véronic DiCaire and Swing played a prominent role in the opening and closing ceremonies. I also tip my hat to the organizers of the festivals, “franco-fêtes” and other activities that entertained both tourists and residents in many municipalities throughout the year.

Few announcements make me as happy as those concerning the opening of new French-language schools. There were several this year. The growing number of schools for young Francophones is a sign of vitality. At the postsecondary level, it is worth noting the addition of French-language programs at Glendon and French-language engineering programs at Laurentian University.

In the health sector, we had to wait until the last minute, but the mandate of the province’s six French Language Health Planning Entities was renewed for five years by Minister Eric Hoskins. This is excellent news for all of the province’s Francophones, since the Entities are responsible for advising the regional health authorities (LHINs) on French-language services.

In the justice sector, the pilot project on access to French-language services at the Ottawa courthouse is well under way. The reviews so far appear to be generally positive. It’s still too early to declare it a success, but any process intended to improve the active offer of service in French is a step forward.

Despite all this progress, much remains to be done to ensure that Franco-Ontarians receive services in their language from the government and its agencies in critical sectors. In many cases, the government appears to be open to making adjustments. Yet, year after year, many complaints filed with the Commissioner’s Office show what a significant impact infringements of the French Language Services Act can have on Francophones, particularly those who are in vulnerable situations. Let’s be collectively sensitive to that reality.

In closing, my colleagues in the Commissioner’s Office join me in wishing you a wonderful holiday period, full of joy, generosity and companionship.

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.”