Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

A happy ending: Welcoming services for Francophone immigrants at Pearson Airport

Following a request for proposals issued by the federal government on June 18, 2018, to select a new Francophone agency to provide French-language services to immigrants arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, the long-awaited official announcement has just been made: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has given the Centre Francophone de Toronto the contract, starting in March 2019, to provide guidance to immigrants on where to get assistance in finding their first job or a school for their children, and to address the special needs of Francophone newcomers.

After about 10 years during which these needs have been neglected, we can expect a substantive improvement in the settlement and integration processes for Francophone immigrants, with the provision of support and guidance in their first hours on Ontarian soil after getting off the plane at Pearson.

Some 2,500 Francophone newcomers arrive at Pearson International Airport every year, which is significant. This is a big responsibility for the future of the Francophonie, particularly in Ontario, as I noted in my latest annual report, in view of the demographic issues facing Francophones over the next 10 years.  It is expected that newcomers will receive all the information they need to make their move a success, whether they are settling in Toronto, Sudbury, Windsor, elsewhere in Ontario, or in another part of Canada.

The announcement made by IRCC was just one of several positive developments for National Francophone Immigration Week.

La Cité, one of Ontario’s two public French-language colleges, will be the primary point of contact for Francophone newcomers starting in January 2019, and four regional partners will provide province-specific settlement services under an $11 million five-year collaborative partnership between French-language settlement service providers in keeping with a genuine Francophone Integration Pathway. We are told that in the coming weeks, as many as 14 communities across Canada will be selected as part of the Welcoming Francophone Communities initiative to create a space where French-speaking newcomers will feel welcome. We hope that three of these welcoming communities will be selected in Ontario, but we will see what the federal government  ultimately decides. It is important, now more than ever, that our governments align their efforts to benefit from a pooling of strategies, means of action and resources.

Last but not least was the announcement of the addition of a second French-language testing agency for economic immigrants, which is a very positive step because it will make testing more accessible in terms of locations and dates. It may even encourage bilingual people to take their test in French. We can also hope that a bit of competition between service providers will allow for  the costs of the tests to be lowered. People have been requesting this for a number of years. In addition, this month will see the launch of an expression-of-interest process to obtain proposals from organizations interested in delivering language training for Francophone immigrants and allophone newcomers who have declared French as their official language of preference, in Francophone minority communities.

Providing Francophone newcomers with better welcoming process, guidance, support and information services so that they can in turn contribute to the vigour and vitality of Ontario’s Francophone communities is something to look forward to!

 

Official Languages: A Modernized Regulation that Meets Expectations

There was some great news yesterday afternoon: after months of consultations, Ministers Mélanie Joly and Scott Brison unveiled their plans to amend the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations.

The Regulations are an important official languages document: they specify where and how the federal government provides services to the public. They spell out what “significant demand” means – in other words, who can request services in the minority language.

The last revision of the Regulations dates back to 1991, and Canada has changed a lot in nearly three decades. This modernization is certainly welcome. In fact, it seems as if legislatures have been swept up in a wave of renewal: Alberta has adopted a French Policy; Prince Edward Island has modified its French Language Services Act; and modernization of the federal Official Languages Act and Ontario’s French Language Services Act (FLSA) is on the horizon. I’ll come back to this point later…

The new method of calculating significant demand in the Regulations is more inclusive and allows more Canadians to receive services; previously, a large portion of the population was excluded. Significant demand will grow, and so too will the number of government offices that will have to serve people in the language of their choice.

In my first annual report, I put forward an important principle that should be part of all new and revised laws concerning languages: the Inclusive Definition. In my second annual report, after the Ontario government adopted the new definition, I wrote that I hoped the new definition would spread to other provinces and to the federal government. My wish has been granted.

I’m delighted that the definition is now entrenched in the new Regulations, and that Ontario was able to play a leading role, however minor, in this change.

However, this exercise is more than a mathematical calculation: the vitality of the official language minority communities (OLMCs) must be taken into account when the government studies where services are to be provided in both official languages. In my annual report on the revision of the FLSA, I made precisely that point: any new method of calculating significant demand absolutely must include an assessment of the communities’ vitality. I highlighted that the number of minority-language schools is an important indicator of that vitality.

So I’m happy to see that under the new Regulations, OLMCs’ vitality will also be considered in the planning of services. Elementary and secondary schools will be important vitality indicators and will have an impact on the calculation of demand.

It’s also noteworthy that the Regulations now include the obligation to consult. Since my appointment as Commissioner, I’ve emphasized the importance for the government to consult the public each time they implemented a new policy or program. The decisions made by government bodies affect the public first and foremost, and members of the public should certainly have the right to voice their opinions on those decisions, especially when they deal with fundamental rights like language.

At the beginning of this blog post, I listed all the jurisdictions that have taken a step forward on official languages. Language rights fall within the purview of both the provincial legislatures and the federal Parliament, and all levels of government have a duty to advance them in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

In the case of Canada and Ontario, however, that step has only been announced, not taken.

The two governments recently promised to begin modernizing their respective legislation. So this is the perfect time to be innovative and work toward harmonizing the federal Official Languages Act and the FLSA. In areas such as the inclusive enumeration of potential users of services, intergovernmental co-operation on service delivery, and even the framing of transfer agreements, the governments can make sure that the two laws are consistent and complementary, for the sake of Ontarians.

Ultimately, harmonization of these laws could help to avoid interjurisdictional disputes and reduce the flaws in the public system.

The new Regulations echo a number of the points I have raised over the course of my term as Commissioner. Their adoption confirms the relevance and validity of my recommendations, one of which was the pressing need to modernize the FLSA, sooner rather than later.

So I congratulate Ministers Joly and Brison on producing modernized Regulations that reflect official language minority communities current realities, but also that support the crystallization of their legitimate aspirations.

Linguistic Variable for patients: the OHIP card could become smart!

The OHIP card as a tool for identifying Francophone patients, I’ve dreamt of it, we have all dreamt about it for several years, and the Ontario Legislative Assembly and its members have put it on the agenda!

Taking into account the linguistic variable has long been recognized as a critical issue in the patient and family experience. In their 2013 Joint Position Statement on the Linguistic Variable and in their report, Ontario’s French Language Health Planning Entities emphasized that the lack of evidence-based data “significantly limits the ability to analyse the health needs of francophone individuals and communities and hinders sound planning of health services that meet the needs of the population”.  They clearly outlined that establishing “Linguistic Identity” is critical in addressing this issue and filling the gaps.

That is why the motion tabled on October 4 by MPP Amanda Simard, who is also Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, asking the government to add linguistic identity to the data contained in the OHIP card, is in my eyes a capital gesture. Especially since it was adopted unanimously! This represents a milestone in the prolonged effort that has involved a number of stakeholders, including the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, and resulted in the selection of the Registered Person Database (RPDB) as a tool for collecting linguistic identity data, maximizing gains through the use of digital systems.

In my last 2017-2018 Annual Report, I underline that the use of big data for public service planning requires the creation of this linguistic identifier to meet the challenges of our time (growth and aging of the population, costs of health) and to provide appropriate health services. Of course, it will be essential to take into account the Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF) when choosing the questions to determine linguistic identity. We will be on the lookout not only for the questions that will be asked, but by whom, when and in what context, when the time comes. The game is not yet won and will require everyone’s cooperation, starting with public servants, but also with the French-speaking public who will have to be informed about the need to identify themselves as francophone. It will be necessary to convince this public that to identify themselves as francophone will not mean longer wait-times for services!

The benefit of this identification will remain individual. For example, a senior’s vulnerability reduces their confidence and ability to seek care in French. This new enhanced OHIP card would speak for them.

Beyond this immense benefit for the patients themselves, the inclusion and collection of linguistic variables will enable the government to measure, take into account and respond to the needs of Francophones to be served in their language: planning, anticipating, and allocating services more efficiently. Obviously, with this approach, we can only hope for a concrete implementation of the capital concept of active offer.

 

 

A major figure from the Franco-Ontarian community has left us

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Jacques de Courville Nicol. He passed away at the age of 79 after a long illness.

Mr. de Courville Nicol adopted Franco-Ontarian identity at an early age. He quickly became a pillar and luminary in many movements affecting Ontario’s Francophonie over the last 50 years. He was certainly a leader in the Francophone business world across the province.

His last great battle was to have the City of Ottawa recognized as an officially bilingual city. He was national coordinator of the Movement for an Officially Bilingual Capital of Canada (MOCOB). But was there ever a campaign that he wasn’t involved in? He fought for the recognition of French at Laurentian University in Sudbury, the establishment of the collège La Cité in Ottawa, the retention of the Montfort Hospital and École secondaire publique De La Salle’s centre of excellence, and even the adoption of the French Language Services Act! The record of his activities reads like a chronology of French Ontario in a period of turmoil, struggle and creativity and in circumstances that were notably less “easy” than the situation we have today. And if it is easier today, it is precisely because of his involvement in establishing key institutions, such as the management of our schools, institutions where we can grow.

His involvement and dedication were recognized by the community on a number of occasions and with many great honours.

A businessman, staunch defender of Ontario’s Francophone community, and proud family man, Mr. de Courville Nicol’s passing is an inestimable loss for the entire Franco-Ontarian community. If you open the dictionary to the word “builder,” you will find his name there in capital letters. He gave the gift of self-confidence to a generation of Franco-Ontarians, in particular by founding the Regroupement des gens d’affaires de la région d’Ottawa. He was definitely not born to be a bit player. For him, being in business was a question of autonomy and independence so that he could better support his family, his community and his country. He always advocated early instruction in financial literacy at school, even in elementary school for the principles of saving, and in high school regarding investing. Not a bad idea, by the way.

On behalf of the team at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, we extend our sincere condolences to his family, especially his daughter Isabelle and son-in-law François, and to his friends and loved ones. We are very grateful to the family for sharing this great man with an entire community for such a long time!

 

2017-2018 Annual Report: An extraordinary response

Just over a week has passed since I submitted my 2017-2018 Annual Report. This year, the report looks ahead at French-language services and the Francophonie over the next 10 years. I described the situation as alarming, and that message drew a response from many people. That was the aim.

Reactions on social media to the report’s observations and recommendations came fast and furious. There was a great deal of support for the concern I expressed about the situation being alarming (see the editorial in Le Droit) and requiring immediate action.

The timing of the report’s submission was carefully thought out. We all have a role to play: public decision-makers, service providers, both community and government agencies, and individual Ontarians.

I am optimistic that the new government will act on my recommendations. Already, the Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs is showing a willingness to work with key leaders and with my office to improve French-language services and to develop immigration strategies and an interministerial plan to attract more Francophones to Ontario.

Following the report’s submission, we have had, and continue to have, an excellent media coverage. The interviews have really helped open up the discussion and highlight the issues raised in my report.

To continue the discussion, I will be going out and meeting with you during the fall. You are also invited to attend our symposium in Toronto on November 26. Our experts and other prominent speakers will be there to look for new ideas to help address the issues.

The future of Ontario’s Francophonie rests in our hands. I look forward to discussing it with you in November!

** Please note that for environmental reasons, we have decided to stop distributing large numbers of copies of the annual report. In fact, the new practice will apply to all of our publications. The electronic version is accessible and downloadable. However, if you would like a printed copy, please email us at communications.flsccsf@csfontario.ca

The University of Ottawa’s new Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights

A native of Sturgeon Falls, François Larocque is a full professor in the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law – Common Law Section and the new holder of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights.

He is interested in the philosophy of law, Canadian legal history, civil liability, human rights and international law. His research is conducted mainly in the following two fields:

  1. Civil liability for serious violations of international human rights
  2. The language rights of Canada’s French-speaking minority communities

Professor Larocque accepted my invitation to be a guest blogger and provide a description of the new research chair.

 

I am very grateful to the University of Ottawa for appointing me to the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights, whose objectives are to advance critical thinking on the legal frameworks that protect Canada’s official language minority communities and make a tangible contribution to the development of the legal norms that govern those linguistic arrangements. Though generally concerned with the legal protection of official languages, the research chair will focus primarily on the language rights of Francophone minority communities outside Quebec and the protection of indigenous languages.

The research chair has set itself a research-based mission and an action-based mission. The research chair’s first mission will be to document, analyze and comment on current legal developments in the field of language rights by studying the relevant decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada and other Canadian courts, the reports of the various language commissioners, draft legislation and parliamentary studies. This research chair will also look at the secondary literature dealing with official language minority communities in a variety of disciplines, including public law, political science, history and sociology. In particular, the research chair will endeavour to build collaborative relationships with the University of Ottawa’s other Canadian Francophonie research chairs and with other Canadian research centres working in this field, such as the International Observatory on Language Rights (University of Moncton) and the National Observatory on Language Rights (University of Montréal).

The research chair’s second mission will be to operationalize its research by taking an active role in developing the constitutional, legislative and jurisprudential norms governing language rights. For example, the research chair will prepare reports on current major language issues and submit them to the Senate and House of Commons committees on official languages. In addition, the research chair will intervene, on a pro bono basis, as an amicus curiae in language rights cases to present courts of justice with innovative legal arguments supported by rigorous interdisciplinary research. These strategic interventions may lead to changes in existing legal frameworks or the creation of new legislative and jurisprudential norms, which will later feed into the research chair’s research under its first mission.

As holder of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights at the University of Ottawa’s – a university that has obligations under the French Language Services Act – I will naturally take an interest in the situation of Ontario’s Francophone minority communities, the changing composition of those communities, and constitutional requirement in Canadian law to provide those communities with the means to thrive in a multicultural Canada.

I will also study the more recent movement demanding legal status for indigenous languages and the conceptual contributions of Indigenous law to enhancing Canadian understanding of language rights. While the research chair will inevitably turn its gaze on the world and the linguistic systems of certain countries, it will distinguish itself as a forum for research and expertise on language law development in Ontario and Canada. Through an innovative methodological approach that combines legal praxis and research, the research chair will contribute to the advancement of knowledge about the language rights of the official language minority communities, their scope and the instrumentalization of law in building and maintaining identity.

The creation of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights clearly illustrates the University of Ottawa’s unwavering commitment to its legislative mission of “further[ing] bilingualism and biculturalism and […] preserv[ing] and develop[ing] French culture in Ontario.” I am proud of my university’s leadership in French Ontario, and I am proud to be able to lead the research chair’s research program as a full professor in the Faculty of Law’s French-language common law program, which, over the past 40 years, has established itself as an incubator of ideas, instruction and research on language rights in Canada.

 

François Larocque

Full Professor

Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights

Faculty of Law – Common Law Section

University of Ottawa