Commissioner’s Blog

 Official photo

This site will be a venue of exchange, interaction and discussion. Thus, we encourage the sharing of different viewpoints and arguments, without however a private exchange solely between two individuals. Please be aware of the conditions of use before participating in this blog.

François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Follow-up on the Report: Helping the Most Vulnerable When They Need Help the Most

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.

In my 2011-2012 Annual Report Straight Forward I broached the subject of the plight of Francophones living with HIV/Aids, followed by a blog post commemorating World Day Against Aids in 2012, and an update on the subject in my 2012-2013 Annual Report A New Approach, which spoke of some positive signs taking place in this highly specialised and very important area of health care.

People living with HIV or Aids are literally fighting for their lives, and they have to both share and understand complex and sensitive information, all while not feeling well. They have to be able to describe physical and mental conditions, symptoms and side effects in precise terms. They have to receive and understand critical advice regarding lifestyle, the legal and health consequences of certain practices, how to obtain long-term and emergency assistance, and how to take medication. This is no easy feat to accomplish even in one’s mother tongue, but the intellectual gymnastics required by Francophones living with HIV/Aids makes their unenviable position even more challenging.

Francophones dealing with the life-limiting illness that is HIV/AIDS are often faced with choosing between a facility that specializes in HIV/AIDS (in English), and a facility that caters to the Francophone public at large, thereby losing all the cultural sensitivities that accompany this disease.

The Commissioner’s Office continues to receive complaints from this vulnerable community, who are a minority within a minority. Because this is an area that is so sensitive and touches on several vulnerable populations (LGBT, immigrants, women, youth, the elderly, those living with mental health issues and drug addictions), the Commissioner’s Office will be looking at picking up where the 2011–2012 Annual Report ended, looking for a strategy from the Ministry that will fully integrate French-language services for all those living with HIV/AIDS throughout their medical journey.

To get an in-depth view of the current situation of Francophones living with HIV/AIDS, I will look into launching a thorough province-wide investigation with a view to making carefully crafted, well-researched recommendations to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that will impr ove the quality lif e for Francophone HIV/AIDS patients from all walks of life.

I invite you to view these infographics that illustrate which populations are mostly affected by HIV across the country, and how the situation differs in every region, particularly in Ontario.

Bernard Grandmaître Awarded the Order of Canada

My sincere congratulations to Bernard Grandmaître on receiving the Order of Canada last week, an honour that recognizes exceptional accomplishments. Mr. Grandmaître has dedicated his life to public administration, notably as Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, earning himself the title of “father of the French Language Services Act.”It is thanks to this Act, whose application I oversee through my power to conduct investigations, that Francophones in Ontario have the right to receive government services in their mother tongue.

The passage of the Act in 1986 was the result of years of struggle by Ontario’s French-speaking community for recognition of their rights. This historic advance helped to ensure the survival of the Francophone population’s cultural heritage, safeguard it for future generations and promote the vitality of this minority community in Ontario. I have the honour of continuing this mission so that the population receives high-quality French-language services from the Ontario government.

The Challenge of Immigrating to Minority Communities

This week, I have talked a lot about Francophone immigration. First with the release of a joint report highlighting the need for the federal and provincial governments to include a Francophone perspective in their immigration policies and programs. Immigration is an area of shared jurisdiction between the federal government and the provinces, which means that the various levels of government must work together to facilitate progress.

This joint report titled Time to Act for the Future of Francophone Communities: Redressing the Immigration Imbalance, paints a picture of immigration to Francophone communities, examines the current situation and presents a pan-Canadian analysis. The report also provides a series of recommendations for both levels of government.

The road to successful integration for these men and women with a variety of life stories and backgrounds is often encumbered with challenges. Prior to their arrival, many prospective French‐speaking immigrants know little about the linguistic situation in Canada, incorrectly believing that the country is completely bilingual.

When they arrive, newcomers are sometimes referred to English or bilingual settlement services that know little or nothing about Francophone communities and institutions. We cannot expect them to be aware of services available in French or the presence of Francophone communities and institutions in their new region.

It is important to ensure that before their arrival and upon their arrival, those immigrants are made aware that they can not only obtain service in French from the federal and provincial governments, but also live in French, educate their children in French and obtain community assistance in French.

This is why we recommend that before French‐speaking newcomers leave their home countries and upon their arrival in Canada, they are made aware of the existence of Francophone communities, the potential that these communities represent for welcoming and integrating them as well as the settlement programs and services available to them in French.

In this report, we have elaborated eight recommendations, primarily to the federal government, but also to the government of Ontario. These recommendations deal with: support for the French-speaking immigrants through Francophone institutions and organizations; information and resources for French-speaking newcomers; cooperation with the provinces; incentives for employers to recruit and select Francophone and bilingual workers and; accountability.

The following day, I spoke on a panel organised by the Language Rights Support Programwith my counterparts from New-Brunswick and Ottawa which provided an overview of immigration issues in minority official-language communities. At this conference, I explained the importance of immigration to Francophone communities. In fact, because of lower birth rates and an aging populationCanada has seen its population decline for some time now.

Francophone communities are not only experiencing significantly lower birth rates and higher rates of population aging, but they are also being affected by intergenerational linguistic shifts to English, weakening their demographic vitality over time.

I also explained our need for immigration to ensure the continuity of French-language services. For example, we will need more nurses to take care of our aging population, and more early childhood educators, and teachers of French and many other subjects.

That is why the issue of immigration to Francophone minority communities is so important.  As I wrote in my last annual report, immigration is a priority issue on which my Office intends to keep getting involved and play an active role.

The French Language Worldwide 2014: Report from the OIF

The Observatoire de la langue française of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF) just published a new study titled: The French Language worldwide 2014*.  This new report aims to provide researchers, language specialists and the general public with reliable data on the situation of the French-language in several areas.  It draws a picture of Francophones and Francophiles in the world and of French as the language of international communication and business.

According to this study, we will be 767 millions of francophones in 2060. Other interesting facts highlighted include:

  • French is now the 5th most spoken language in the world with 274 million speakers
  • French is the 2nd language learned as a foreign language after English
  • French is the 3rd language of business worldwide
  • French is the 4th language used on the Internet
  • There are 125 million learners of French-language.

I invite you to read this important work of reference or its summary that traces the overall picture of our growing language. Good reading!

*website available in French only

AFO Presents Its White Paper in Health: A Promising Document

This blog post is brought to you by our guest blogger Alison Stewart, who is one of my three Project Managers as well as responsible for community liaison. This is her summary of the conference which took place in Sudbury last week of October.

For anyone questioning the importance of bilingual signage as being an integral part to the active offer, arriving in Sudbury is a successful showpiece for such a concept. In 2001, the City of Greater Sudbury adopted a French Language Services policy, giving the citizens of Sudbury the choice of communicating with their municipality in French or English. With almost 30% of the population made up of Francophones, it makes good sense for businesses to promote themselves in both languages. All that to say that it was a constant visual reminder that one can begin a conversation with “Bonjour/Hello” and that you will likely be responded to with “Comment est-ce que je peux vous aider?” or “I’m afraid I don’t speak French, but how can I help?”

The Annual AFO* conference kicked off with a debate asking the panel if there is still a need for community media addressing Ontario’s Francophone population. After a word from minister Meilleur, Commissioner Boileau kicked off the debate with a discourse about the importance of media in the construction of identity of individuals and the Francophone community. It was an interesting debate, despite the fact that all five panelists were in complete agreement with each other; and consequently, not a debate at all, but rather a lively conversation among leaders in French media in Ontario. It served as a good reminder to the participants of why we were all there, committed to spending two and a half sunny days in Sudbury: to discuss, among Francophone friends and colleagues, the challenges, needs and successes of the Francophone community.

Aside from the social networking, interactive workshops, the Gala on Friday night, and the AGA on Saturday morning, the most important event at the conference was the launch of the Assemblée’s White Paper* in Health, which outlines the pillars of delivering quality  French healthcare in Ontario. This document does an excellent job of summarizing the key issues that affect Francophones in healthcare , and includes recommendations that the Commissioner’s Office is all too familiar with:

  1. The need for linguistic identity to be attributed to health cards for better planning and identification
  2. To collaborate with Francophone stakeholders throughout the planning stage, especially at the beginning (and the need to outline roles,  responsibilities and obligations of the service providers)
  3. The need to protect existing Francophone institutions, beginning with the renewal of the six planning Entities’ mandate
  4. Take advantage of the changing landscape of health care delivery by improving the delivery of primary and community care to Francophones
  5. The need for a comprehensive plan in human resources that would promote the importance and need  for bilingual healthcare workers, without which the active offer of service in French will not exist

Despite the challenges of living in a linguistic minority, the AFO has set its sights on delivering a culturally diverse and engaging calendar of events for 2015, commemorating the 400th year of Ontario’s Francophone community.  There is a lot to celebrate!

*available in French only

Access to Justice in French Pilot Project

I am delighted with the Attorney General’s recent announcement that the Ontario government is introducing a pilot project to provide seamless French-language services at the Ottawa courthouse.

This announcement constitutes the partial implementation of one of the recommendations in my latest annual report, entitled Rooting for Francophones.Essentially, I recommended that the Attorney General establish a pilot project to improve access to justice in French based on the recommendations and intent of the report Access to Justice in French.

I am hopeful that this project will give a real shot in the arm to French-language services in the justice sector.The Minister herself stated that she was surprised when she personally went to the clerk’s office in the Ottawa courthouse and noticed the lack of services in French.

But to ensure the project’s success, the government will have to combine it with a promotional campaign to make people aware of it.In other words, the project will need the leadership, resources and time required to guarantee its success.The project is an opportunity for people to see for themselves what an equitable justice system for Francophones in a minority setting looks like, and, in particular, to obtain a roadmap for making it a reality.

There is one flaw, however. I would like to have seen the project apply to a region that encompassed both areas designated under the French Language Services Act and non-designated areas, and both urban centres and rural areas.By confining the project to the city of Ottawa, I have some doubts that the results will reflect the diversity of access to justice in French across the province.Nevertheless, the Commissioner’s Office is looking forward to this pilot project, since we continue to receive complaints about the lack of access to justice in French.

Stay tuned.