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.

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