Message to the Media



2012-2013 Annual Report 


François Boileau

French Language Services
Commissioner of Ontario

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

1:30 p.m.

Media Studio

Queen’s Park Legislative Building

Toronto, Ontario

Icône PDF — PetitMessage to the Media 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to be here today to present my sixth annual report as French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario.

This annual report is entitled A New Approach.

This report is special in that it not only covers the activities of the Commissioner’s Office during the 2012-2013 fiscal year but also provides a review of the last six years of the Office’s history.

I should also point out that this report marks the beginning of my third and last term, which will extend over five years this time.

In the last six years, I have made no less than 46 recommendations to the Ontario government. And I can tell you that the dialogue that I have sought with the government and the public from the outset is indeed under way.

In 2012-2013, the Commissioner’s Office worked very hard to enhance and take advantage of that dialogue, which sometimes include collaboration, for example, by signing letters of agreement with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, and obtaining a specific commitment from the Ministry of the Attorney General to take action on the issue of access to justice in French in Ontario, with the publication of a joint news release.

The Commissioner’s Office also met with a number of Francophile organizations, such as Canadian Parents for French (Ontario). Francophiles face a twofold challenge: being recognized as partners of Francophone communities and, finding their rightful place within the majority society. In today’s world, where the prevalence of multiple identities should no longer be something to fear, Francophones and Francophiles have to work together to ensure the survival of the French language in Ontario.

Statistically speaking, the Commissioner’s Office received a total of 349 complaints in 2012-2013, which shows that citizens are also continuing to take part in the dialogue.

I hope, of course, that this dialogue will keep going over the next few years.

From that perspective, I present in this annual report an outline of the organizational history of the Commissioner’s Office and document the key factors that have influenced its evolution since 2007, including the growth of Ontario’s Francophone population and the limited human and financial resources.

In Chapter 1, I explain in detail how these elements are now bringing me to adopt a new approach to guide our actions and our interactions with complainants, ministries and other government organizations.

With close to one complaint per day and only three investigators, the time has come for the Commissioner’s Office to adopt a new way of handling complaints, a new approach.

This new approach has five components:

  1. A paradigm shift in the processing of complaints;
  1. More focused, systemic interventions;
  1. Production of extensive investigation reports on subjects of importance to the development of Ontario’s Francophone population, such as the one we published last June on the state of French-language postsecondary education in Central-Southwestern Ontario entitled No access, no future, which has given rise to other reports.
  1. Development of strategic partnerships; and
  1. Greater support for citizens caught in situations where they could be seriously affected by deficiencies in French-language services.

Under this new approach, complaints received become important signals. They are certainly just as important as before, but they will now be stored and analyzed with a view to the systemic resolution of non-compliance with the Act.

Yet this new approach requires ministries and other government organizations to make an important adjustment in the way they deal with complaints. It is a two-way street.

Overall, 95% of the admissible complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office since it was established have been founded. In addition, the object will no longer be to determine what happened at a particular location at 1:18 p.m. on July 28, 2012, but to acknowledge that there are serious weaknesses in French-language services and that the government agencies need to find permanent solutions to the problem.

Under this new approach, I will focus on two or three fundamental issues in each sector and present them to the executives of the ministry in question, whether complaints have been received on these issues or not.

As part of the new approach by the Commissioner’s Office, I also want to concentrate on the groups that are least likely to file a complaint with the Commissioner’s Office but most vulnerable to the risks posed by any deficiency in French-language services. Those groups are, as I call them in my report, disadvantaged populations.

Seniors, children, people with mental health problems, newcomers and a plethora of other Francophone citizens are among those more fragile populations, and the government must take greater responsibility for them.

We have seen, over the years, a small number of complaints against ministries and government agencies that work closely with disadvantaged populations.

Yet it would be naïve to think that the low number of complaints means that all of those ministries’ programs and services are fully delivered in compliance with the French Language Services Act. Because of their conditions, disadvantaged populations are simply less inclined to complain, which is why the number of complaints against those ministries tends to be small.

Consequently, the first recommendation in this report is that the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, in conjunction with her Cabinet colleagues, develop an action plan to ensure that disadvantaged populations have genuine access to French-language services, in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the French Language Services Act.

In my view, this is the report’s core recommendation, as it identifies a key, wide-ranging systemic problem within a number of ministries and government agencies and suggests the kind of responsibility that, under our new approach, I expect the government to take.

Naturally, we cannot expect a citizen who is a member of a disadvantaged population to demand service in French every time it is not actively offered to him.

So I am going back to the first recommendation in my 2009-2010 Annual Report, which was that the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs ensure that a directive on the active offer of French-language services is put in place.

In response to that recommendation, the government produced an active offer guide and developed a set of guidelines. But in the government, the difference between guidelines and a directive is the same as the difference between a piece of advice and an order. And advising ministries and other institutions to implement active offer of French-language services to children in need, young mothers dealing with dependency issues or people with mental health problems, for example, is far from sufficient. For their sake, that active offer must be made mandatory.

In my second recommendation, therefore, I revisit the issue, recommending to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that an explicit directive regarding the active offer of French-language services be issued by the Management Board in the 2013-2014 fiscal year and that said directive apply to all ministries, government agencies and entities that provide French-language services on behalf of the government.

Human resources planning also plays a pivotal role in the active offer of French-language services, to ensure that active offer is available on a continuous basis.

It is not acceptable for a citizen to be told in English to contact a service centre at a different time because the person in the designated position comes in to work later, for example.

And it is just as inexcusable that a citizen should be unable to communicate directly with an officer of a specialized board and be forced to do so through an intermediary because the person who is really qualified to manage his case is not bilingual.

In this context, the service provided in French is far from equivalent to the service provided in English, and the consequences of such practices can be very serious.

As a result, in my third recommendation, I recommend to the Ministry of Government Services that a directive on the development and implementation of a human resources plan for French-language services be issued by the Management Board in the 2013-2014 fiscal year and that said directive apply to all ministries, government agencies and entities that provide French-language services on behalf of the government. The plan should include concrete measures for the designation, appointment, training and retention of staff.

I conclude this report with my wish that the member municipalities of the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario (AFMO) will adopt a municipal by-law or regulation formalizing the use of French in the delivery of their programs and services.

This is not a recommendation since it is not addressed to the government, but the issue is no less important to the development and future of Ontario’s Francophone communities.

Lastly, as usual, I devote an entire chapter to our statistics on complaints received and another chapter to exemplary practices.

As you know, last week I made public the government’s responses to the six recommendations in my previous annual report, along with my comments and analysis.

I have always advocated transparency, and today, as part of our new approach, I want to make it easier for citizens and government ministries and agencies to access the array of tools and communications that the Commissioner’s Office has made available to them since I took office.

Consequently, the Commissioner’s Office is launching a brand-new website today, which is accessible on all devices and contains, for the first time, an interactive version of my annual report.

I invite all citizens of Ontario and all our partners to visit our new website and take advantage of these resources, now organized by service sector in the “News” section.

Ontario’s Francophonie is growing rapidly. At the same time, every organization must adapt to its environment and revitalize itself periodically to keep achieving its goals.

I am proud of the fact that my office is taking a new approach that will enable it, in collaboration with the government and the complainants, to serve the needs of Ontario’s Francophone citizens even more effectively.

I am grateful to the citizens who each day request service in French from ministries and agencies that provide public services on the government’s behalf. And I also thank our complainants, who have taken the trouble to contact the Commissioner’s Office and demand compliance with the letter and the spirit of the French Language Services Act.

I will now take questions from reporters.