Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

A Look Back at 2014

What a busy year we’ve had in the Commissioner’s Office, beginning with the entry into effect of Bill 106, the French Language Services Amendment Act (French Language Services Commissioner), 2013, concerning the independence of the Commissioner’s Office. On  January 1, the Office became part of the Legislative Assembly, and as an officer of the Assembly, I gained 107 new bosses overnight!

Of course, most of the many changes that have taken place during this transition period are purely administrative. In the longer term, however, this important amendment to the FLSA gives Ontario’s Francophonie a permanent presence in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

I would like to point out that from the beginning of my first term, we have worked very hard to build relationships with the government, ensure the visibility of the Commissioner’s Office and serve our client group.Now, as the Commissioner’s Office makes a new start, the team has seized the opportunity, concentrating on our future priorities and setting new short‑, medium- and long-term goals.Guided by major strategic focuses, these goals will remain relevant for the organization, regardless of the circumstances.

Throughout this transition, the Office pursued its usual operations, and I went to every part of the province to continue the dialogue with the citizens of Ontario and with community groups. We also had our share of speeches and other appearances over the past year, in addition to maintaining, or even enhancing, our strong social media presence.

This has also been a productive year in the area of official contacts, with the signing of a number of agreements on complaint handling with organizations such as the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games and Elections Ontario. We pursued our cooperative contacts with our counterparts on the immigration issue, with a proposal to adopt four guiding principles aimed at increasing Francophone immigration outside Quebec, and the release of a joint report with my federal counterpart in which we examine the current situation and present a pan-Canadian analysis and a series of recommendations for the two levels of government.In addition, we launched two special investigations, one on health, specifically Penetanguishene General Hospital, and the other on governance in education as it relates to the Centre Jules-Léger. These reports are scheduled for publication in the first half of next year.

A number of issues remain outstanding with regard to the Office’s finances and securing the necessary resources to continue our excellent work, but that won’t stop me from meeting with my fellow officers frequently, pursuing the dialogue with cabinet ministers and continuing my conversation with MPPs, with whom I met three times this fall to present the recommendations in my 2013-2014 annual report.

We have a lot of work ahead of us in 2015, but first, it’s now time to recharge our batteries so that we’ll be ready to continue making progress on language rights. On that note, I wish you a wonderful holiday period filled with love and good memories in the company of the people you love. My next blog post will be in early January.

Follow-up on the Report: The Application of the Act on Third Parties

July 1 marked the coming into force of Regulation 284/11 on the provision of French-language services on behalf of government agencies. You will recall, in light of my previous recommendations, that I have long wanted a clear commitment from the government to ensure that ministries fulfil their linguistic obligations when they contract with third parties to provide services on their behalf.

The Office of Francophone Affairs did a great deal of work in developing and implementing this regulation, in conjunction with all of the ministries. It would appear that the majority of government agencies introduced mechanisms and processes to ensure the adoption of a systematic approach and compliance with accountability mechanisms.

However, a serious threat looms. We have learned that it had been determined that health service providers were not subject to the third-party regulation because of their particular relationship with the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs). The argument goes as follows: though funded by the government, health service providers have agreements with the LHINs. Since the LHINs have no responsibility for direct service delivery as such, they cannot “delegate” that responsibility to health service providers. Therefore, they do not provide services “on behalf of” the government in the meaning of the French Language Services Act, which means, in their view that the regulation does not apply.

In other words, if the LHINs did not exist, some service providers in the health field would be subject to the Act, on the basis of Regulation 284/11. In my view, this argument does not hold water. I cannot accept it. To me, it seems that these legal gymnastics, of which Franco-Ontarians are well accustomed to, are contrary to the lawmaker’ intent.

I have expressed my concerns to the most senior authorities in the government, who seemed receptive. The discussions are relatively promising, suggesting the possibility of regulatory action that would explicitly target certain health care providers and define their French-language service responsibilities in black and white. However, these piecemeal initiatives will take time, resources and effort and may ultimately fail.

This is not a recommendation, since we are talking about ongoing discussions, but if we do not address the issue, this stumbling block will jeopardize the successful implementation of Regulation 284/11 as a whole. 

Follow-up on the Report: Recommending a Detailed, Engaged and Relevant Annual Report on the Affairs of the OFA

This is a series of blog posts that the Commissioner is releasing to follow-up on the annual report and to individually highlight some parts of it that remain current. We will have the occasion during the fall to add more information on the interactive version of the report available here.

The Commissioner’s Office received a response to the recommendations in my last annual report. In my view, that response, is highly unsatisfactory.

For example, let’s go back to the first recommendation in my 2012-2013 Annual Report, which was that the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs develop an action plan to ensure that disadvantaged populations have genuine access to the French-language services they need.

In response, the government dismissed the recommendation, stating that it did not consider the development of a separate action plan at this time to be the best way of ensuring that Francophones in vulnerable groups have access to French-language services. In other words, let’s keep the status quo; it seems to be working just fine. Evidently, I do not share the same view.

It is true that only a very small number of official complaints involve members of disadvantaged populations. However, a combination of unofficial reports and internal observations suggests that not all programs and services intended for those populations are delivered in full compliance with the letter and the spirit of the French Language Services Act by the government and those acting on its behalf. Moreover, it is an undisputable fact that members of disadvantages groups will less likely complain when dealing with authorities, let alone know their own language rights.

That said, as Commissioner, I am not responsible for implementing the Act, nor for ensuring that there is a dialogue between the government and the public. That is the job of the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. In my view, it is desirable for her to do more to discuss with members of the public the government’s action plans and vision for the delivery of French-language services. For this reason, I am recommending that the Minister submit to the Legislative Assembly a detailed, engaged and relevant annual report on the affairs of the Office of Francophone Affairs. This annual report would provide an update on actions undertaken with respect to each duty assigned to the Minister and the Office of Francophone Affairs under the Act, and it would be submitted to Parliament as specified in the Act. This is not only a question of transparency to the public but also one of accountability. What gets measured gets done.

That was surely the intent of the lawmakers back in 1986. The FLSA was not drafted with the sole purpose of making sure all documents would be translated. Its purpose is about developing policy, programs and services adapted to the need of full development of Francophones.

Taking Action to Eliminate Violence Against Women

December 6, 1989. A date that has unfortunately gone down in history. Our history. Including mine. Hard to believe that 25 years ago, I was a law student at the University of Ottawa, and it was the day before an exam in public international law (obviously, I don’t remember the date or subject of any of my other exams). It wasn’t until I listened to the news on Radio-Canada the next morning that I learned of the horror. I must tell you that for the previous four years, I had been a student at the Université de Montréal and, more importantly, I was living in residence there. I had dinner very regularly at the École polytechnique cafeteria, because the food there was surprisingly good, varied and, above all, inexpensive. Over those years, I also got to know some of the Polytechnique’s regular students pretty well. Hearing that such a massacre had occurred was beyond comprehension. But hearing that it was in Montréal, in a location that I knew so well, I was absolutely stunned. But that was nothing compared with the shock of finding out that no matter what the murderer was called, he spinelessly killed a number of women, young women studying in a field heavily dominated by men.

Needless to say, the halls outside the exam room were filled with a combination of tears and angry words. We wondered if we should ask for the exam to postponed, because no one was able to concentrate. The only thing that seemed important was to console our female colleagues and reassure them as best we could.

Many things changed following that shattering event. First, the incident cruelly made it clear that the much sought-after equality of the sexes had not been achieved. Because that person had targeted women. Just women. He made victims of a whole society. But the fact remains that he deliberately and knowingly targeted women. For a young man who grew up believing, wrongly, that the quest for equality between men and women was more or less on the right track, well, let’s just say it was not so much a cold shower as an icy one. I think it was then that I realized I had an obligation not only to be more sympathetic to the more than legitimate aspirations of more than half the world’s population but also to ensure that my actions were consistent with the fact that I had become a feminist. In fact, I still find it hard to believe that people refuse to consider themselves feminists, especially in 2014, here in Canada.

Some years ago, I met the mother of a girl who is now our daughter’s best friend at school. The woman is a civil engineer by profession. Considering her age, late thirties, I cannot help thinking that she must be a member of the cohorts of young women who went into engineering in the years following the tragedy. And it feels good to think that.

Quite recently, I had the privilege of giving the opening address at the “États Généraux 2014*”, organized by Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes* (AOcVF), on the theme of the current status of sexual assault, spousal violence and the development of French-language services in Ontario. The goals of the conference were to foster coordination, prepare the next generation, inform the ministries of the sector’s needs and the Franco-Ontarian community’s recommendations, and establish a work plan for the next few years. We should acknowledge that their timing, even though the event requires extraordinary preparations, is outstanding, as the event coincided with the national discussion that recently resumed in a hurry (with a capital H).

It is often said that the best legal arguments are the ones you make afterwards, and the same is true for some speeches: after you sit down and listen to others, you feel as if you’ve missed a great opportunity. I think that my speech focused too much on my day-to-day work and failed to emphasize the special opportunity for participants, mostly women but also a few men, to make concrete, practical suggestions on the directions that governments and community organizations should take over the next 10 years to further curb the afflictions of sexual assault and violence against women.

Because these evils still exist and are definitely with us. The organizers commissioned researchers Marie-Luce Garceau and Ghislaine Sirois to produce a report entitled “Éliminer la violence faite aux femmes en Ontario français : une tâche ardue*” [eliminating violence against women in French Ontario: an arduous task]. This first part of this superb study, for anyone who is the least bit interested in the subject, contains a review of the 2004 estates general. The second part of the study provides a comprehensive picture of the areas of intervention and the improvement and evolution of French-language services in every region and describes the means introduced to improve the quality of those services. The third part provides a clear explanation, supported by statistics, of sexual assault and its barriers, the entire question of spousal violence and its barriers, and a range of common issues. The study ends with recommendations for further discussion and some possible solutions.

We are now in the midst of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which runs from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to December 10, International Human Rights Day. To quote Julie Béchard, president of AOcVF, “We have to think about the actions that we can take individually and collectively to eliminate violence against women.”

Today I am the father of a young girl. Naturally, like every parent in the world, I want her to be happy and healthy and, especially, to be free in her choices. All of her choices. To be able to choose how she in turn will make a difference for the people she loves, for her community, for her region and for her country. But to be free to make her choices in complete safety, she must be on an equal footing with the male gender within our society.

I understand today that I have to do much more than just say I’m a feminist. Words have to be followed by actions, every day and collectively, as Ms. Béchard pointed out. I have to be an engaged feminist, as a man, as a father and as an individual living in society.

I would like to congratulate all those women who work day after day, often with very few resources, yet find a way to help the many women who are victims of spousal violence and sexual assault. Thank you for making such a crucial difference in the lives of all those women and their children. On another note, I know – or at least I hope – that all fathers of young girls think as I do now. So I would also like to encourage all fathers of young boys to ask themselves how they can make sure that their children are sufficiently aware of the importance that must be attached to the issues associated with gender equality. Perhaps someday, together, we will succeed in curbing all that spousal violence and sexual assault.

*Website in French only

Quebec and Ontario Sign an Agreement in Support of Francophone Minorities

I am delighted that the governments of Ontario and Quebec signed a declaration on La Francophonie last week at their annual joint cabinet meeting in Toronto. The two provinces agreed to work together toward the promotion, protection, longevity and vitality of Francophone culture and heritage. I view this as an excellent step forward for the two provinces, recognizing Francophones’ key role in the constitution of Canada and within Canadian society.

I agree with the points made in the declaration, which are closely aligned with the priorities of the Commissioner’s Office, particularly on the subjects of education and immigration.

Through this declaration, Quebec and Ontario will promote exchanges between young Ontario Francophones, those attending French immersion classes and young Québécois. There are many challenges for French-as-a-second-language (FSL) education in Ontario.In fact, in recognition of this situation, I signed a memorandum of understanding with Canadian Parents for French (Ontario) making clear our desire and will to develop closer ties in order to promote the value of the French language and Franco-Ontarian culture and the benefits of knowing both official languages.Intercultural exchanges are a promising way to pursue these advances.

Ontario and Quebec also call on the federal government to act quickly on Francophone immigration.This is a point that my fellow commissioners and I made recently when we urged the federal government to adopt four guiding principles for increasing Francophone immigration outside Quebec.While recognizing government efforts in the area of Francophone immigration to Canada, we feel that those efforts have not yet produced results.Moreover, on the same issue, I very recently released a joint report with the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada that emphasizes how important it is for the federal and provincial governments to include a Francophone perspective in their immigration policies and programs.

The two provinces also call on the federal government to provide support to Radio-Canada so that it can carry out its mandate.This issue is particularly important for Francophones in Ontario, since for many minority communities in the province, Radio-Canada is often the only French-language media outlet that broadcasts local content in French.

Lastly, the two provinces mention the celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the Francophone presence in Ontario.On the eve of this important milestone, I am proud to see that the Francophone presence is still so dynamic in every corner of the province.This reflects an amazing cultural, social and economic contribution to the province that deserves to be officially celebrated.

When all is said and done, this official declaration by Canada’s two most populous provinces is not just a statement of good intentions; it is an excellent example of real commitment to Francophone minority communities.

Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean Elected Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF)

I would like to congratulate Michaëlle Jean, former governor general of Canada, on her election to the post of Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF). The first woman and the first non-African personality to hold this post, she succeeds Abdou Diouf, who served three terms as head of the organization. When she takes office, she plans to undertake an ambitious plan following a campaign that focused on Africa, women and youth and on a greater economic role for the organization. The selection of the Haitian-born Canadian to head the organization will provide a prominent international showcase for Canada to demonstrate that linguistic duality and cultural diversity are important values and symbols for our society. The Franco-Ontarian community have all the right reasons to be very proud, I wish her every success in this important endeavour!