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!

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