Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

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.

Language rights education for the judiciary

Judges have a duty to honour language rights and ensure that they are respected. A lack of awareness of language rights on the part of judges can seriously infringe on a person’s fundamental human rights or even violate a person’s right to access justice in the language of his or her choice. In fact, the lack of awareness of language rights led to the allegations associated with a complaint recently received by my office, namely the Dorcin case. This new complaint submitted by a Francophone woman from Toronto sums up the bad experience she had in Toronto Small Claims Court. The complainant in this case alleges not only that active offer of service in French is virtually, if not completely, non-existent, but also that a deputy judge of the Small Claims Court ignored her language rights. She maintains that the deputy judge denied her the right to a hearing in French because she spoke English.

It was because of this lack of awareness of language rights that the 2012 report noted the need for an education campaign for the judiciary to ensure the delivery of services in French equivalent to those provided in English. In this connection, the 2012 report had three recommendations for the judiciary: (1) language rights should be included in the training provided to the judiciary; (2) resources concerning language rights should be made available to the judiciary; and (3) a mentoring program should be established to ensure that newly appointed judges receive advice from qualified bilingual judges. My analysis of this conclusion and the associated recommendations in the 2012 report can be found here.

The 2015 report states that the three recommendations have been implemented. Various presentations and lectures on language rights have been organized for judges and justices of the peace. All three courts in Ontario have instituted mentoring programs for newly appointed judges. New resources that are readily accessible online, including the AJEFO’s JURISOURCE, are available to all judges and justices of the peace. There is even talk of establishing a forum to promote discussion of language rights among judges.

I congratulate the judiciary on the efforts they are making to improve their knowledge of language rights. However, despite this progress, complaints about access to justice and the lack of awareness of language rights in Ontario’s court system, such as the above-mentioned Dorcin case, are unfortunately not isolated instances. It seems clear that much work remains to be done, especially since deputy judges of the Small Claims Court (most of them lawyers) may have missed the language rights education. Consequently, I strongly support the proposal in the 2015 report to develop ongoing language rights education programs, to be delivered by educators such as the National Judicial Institute. I must add that it is crucial that all judges and justices of the peace, including deputy judges (i.e., Small Claims Court judges, bilingual or otherwise), receive regular, compulsory language rights education. Educating judges will unquestionably lead to substantive equality of access to justice in the two official languages.

Until these measures become a reality, my office will continue to investigate complaints it receives on this subject, including Ms. Dorcin’s. In view of the 2015 report, our new challenge will be to determine how the new French Language Services Regional Committees (discussed in the first blog post) will deal with complaints such as the Dorcin case. According to the 2015 report, these committees are composed of judicial and Ministry representatives who serve as resource persons responsible for French-language service issues and complaints in their region. How does the process of filing a complaint with the committees work? How can we coordinate our efforts? I will, of course, keep you informed of developments.

An inclusive welcome for French-speaking Syrian refugees

Canada is preparing to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees. Of this number, 10,000 are expected to settle in Ontario, including 4,000 by the end of the year. I would like to congratulate our governments on their undeniable leadership in this never-ending crisis, which is claiming more victims every day. On the national, provincial and municipal levels, every effort is being made to prepare for the arrival of those destitute women, men and children.

Yesterday, a coalition of almost 30 Francophone organizations published an appeal for cooperation to facilitate the intake and integration of newcomers who need French-language services and support. The coalition called for the establishment of a seamless process to identify and take charge of French-speaking Syrian refugees. It urged that they be identified in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and continue receiving effective, competent French-language support when they arrive in Ontario.

The Office of the French Language Services Commissioner supports this approach initiated by Passerelle-I.D.É, a community organization that helps immigrants get settled in their new environment. I would add that it is critical for French-speaking Syrian refugees to be informed, both before their departure and upon their arrival in Canada, not only that there are Francophone host communities but also that French-language programs and services are available to them. My federal counterpart, Graham Fraser, and I made recommendations to this effect in the joint report on immigration that we published in November 2014.

People who flee their country, who cross seas and oceans to start a new life, have suffered through ordeals that are, in many cases, unspeakable. One way to ease the transition to their new society is to show openness and inclusiveness. For the Francophones among them, that could mean welcoming them in their own language. In Ontario, which already has more than 600,000 French-speaking residents, we have the resources and the capacity to do so. The coalition’s initiative clearly shows that Ontario’s Francophone community also has unwavering solidarity and determination.

“Bonjour, vous avez joint la boîte vocale de …” [Hello, you’ve reached the voice mail of …]

This fall, the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario published a report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (“2015 report”). The 2015 report is the response to the findings and recommendations presented in the 2012 report entitled Access to Justice in French (“2012 report”). The 2015 report examines the progress made since the publication of the 2012 report and suggests various other measures to continue improving access to justice in French. Since this is an extremely important subject, I plan to study it in detail and publish a series of blog posts over the next few months. 


This blog post deals with the measures taken by the Attorney General of Ontario to implement the recommendations arising from the 2012 report’s first conclusion. Here is that first conclusion:

“Without an active offer of French-language services in the courts of Ontario, and a clear service objective, French speakers may not be able to access equal French language services and feel truly comfortable in a system designed for English speakers.”

As a result, the 2012 report recommended that the Attorney General of Ontario (1) adopt a clear and coherent service objective for the delivery of French-language services in Ontario’s legal system, and (2) renew its commitment to delivering French-language services based on the concept of active offer.

In short, the service objective must ensure that French-language services are equivalent in quality to English-language services, and that access to those services does not involve delays or additional costs. Similarly, French-language services and the choice to proceed in French must be offered actively from the outset and for the duration of every proceeding. In general, the term “active offer” means that when a person approaches a court’s service counter (or any other part of the court system) to inquire about the procedures for initiating legal action or to submit a document or simply to request information, the clerk greets him or her as follows: “Bonjour, puis-je vous aider?” [Hello, can I help you?]. In addition, the employee must actually be able to assist the person in French; in other words, he or she must be sufficiently fluent in French. “Active offer” includes the obligation to put up posters, signs, notices and so on indicating that French-language services are available and encouraging people to use them.

According to the 2015 report, the Attorney General of Ontario has taken some measures to address the two recommendations of the 2012 report described above.

The 2015 report indicates that the Ministry of the Attorney General has prepared a draft document on the establishment of clear and coherent service standards for the delivery of French-language services. According to the report, those standards promote active offer and contain a clear description of the services to be provided and a pledge concerning the quality of service to be expected. In addition, the standards indicate that the results will be measured each year in terms of performance objectives, and they contain clearly defined complaint and redress mechanisms. The Attorney General must now finalize, approve, adopt and promote the standards to ensure that they produce the desired results. I endorse this initiative, which, as noted in the 2015 report, addresses the 2012 report’s recommendation. I also support the recommendation in the 2015 report suggesting that the performance objectives in the standards of the Ministry of the Attorney General should not be fixed and permanent, but should be able to be adjusted to address the needs of Franco-Ontarians, which would make it possible to effect the necessary improvements in the court system as required and on a timely basis.

I am nevertheless concerned about the initiatives regarding the active offer objective. Of course, I have no objections to the measures taken by the Attorney General and the Ontario government, as described in the 2015 report, to raise awareness in the public service and promote the concept of active offer. I applaud the development of online modules designed to educate public service employees about French-language services. I am also pleased that there are plans to introduce active offer training programs with funding from the Canada-Ontario Agreement. Moreover, as mentioned in the 2015 report, Regulation 284/11 introduced the concept of active offer into Ontario’s regulatory framework, requiring third parties that provide services on behalf of the Ontario government to implement the concept of active offer.

Despite this legal obligation and the measures taken to this point, there remain some weaknesses in the delivery of French-language services. Active offer of service in French is not taken into account in everyday situations such as voice-mail announcements. For example, the announcement on the voice-mail system of the Toronto Estates Office is currently in English only.

While I applaud the standards proposed by the Ministry of the Attorney General and I support their being finalized, approved, adopted and promoted as soon as possible, I still maintain, as noted in my last annual report, that voluntary standards may not produce the same results as a compulsory directive. The service standards proposed by the Attorney General, combined with a specific compulsory directive on active offer, could help achieve the objectives for improving access to justice in French. With this twofold approach, we would finally hear the following message in French after the tone: “Bonjour, vous avez joint la boîte vocale de ….”

Another milestone on the road to improving access to justice in French!

The Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario recently published a report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (“2015 report”). The 2015 report represents the work of the French Language Services Bench and Bar Response Steering Committee.

The 2015 report is the response to the findings and recommendations presented in the 2012 report entitled Access to Justice in French (“2012 report”).

The 2012 report contains nine conclusions identifying major problems in accessing the court system in French. One of those conclusions is that it is more difficult and more costly to obtain services in French. The 2012 report includes 17 recommendations on how to use existing resources to improve access to justice for French-speaking Ontarians. In a series of 16 blog posts published in 2012 and 2013, I reviewed each of the report’s conclusions and recommendations. All of those blog posts can be found online:

In its five main sections, the 2015 report examines the progress made since the 2012 report and suggests a number of additional courses of action and 10 specific measures for continuing to improve access to justice in French.

Access to justice in French is a key issue for my office, which continues to receive many complaints on the subject. Consequently, I will be publishing a detailed review of the 2015 report in the form of a number of blog posts over the next few months. In the meantime, the following bullets provide a quick overview of some of the improvements made in Ontario’s justice system, as described in the 2015 report, as well as some of the resulting suggestions:

  • Since the 2012 report was published, the Ontario government has taken a number of steps to ensure that its employees actively offer services in French so that rights holders do not have to ask for them or go looking for them. For example, the Office of Francophone Affairs developed guidelines on the active offer of service in French. At the same time, the Ministry of the Attorney General prepared draft standards for service in French that must be adopted, finalized and promoted.
  • To boost public confidence in French-language services, it is also necessary to ensure that there is suitable proficiency in French and adequate knowledge of language rights at all levels of the justice sector. To that end, various training and awareness programs and the development of glossaries and bilingual hiring and retention strategies are under way in justice sector ministries. A number of training and mentorship programs, tools and other initiatives are also being considered or introduced to educate the legal community regarding language rights and address the shortage of bilingual judges and lawyers.
  • To ensure uniform, timely delivery of French-language services as recommended in the 2012 report, new French-language services regional committees are being formed. These committees are composed of judicial and Ministry representatives who serve as resource persons responsible for French-language service issues and complaints in their region. The committees will organize a discussion forum for French-language service issues, which will help identify the best ways of delivering and promoting French-language services in each region according to its needs. Aside from the establishment of regional committees, the 2015 report recommends the introduction of a permanent mechanism, such as a French-language services oversight committee, to measure progress in this area and ensure implementation of the recommendations in Ontario. I strongly support this recommendation, which is consistent with what I advocated in my 2013-2014 annual report.
  • Three pilot projects based on the 2012 report’s recommendations have been launched: (1) the Seamless Access to Justice in French Pilot Project, at the Ottawa courthouse (high-quality French-language services will be offered actively to the public during the initial contact with counter service staff and throughout a court proceeding, including bail hearings); (2) the Toronto South Detention Centre Pilot Project (bail hearings in French by video will be provided); and (3) the Small Claims Court E-Filing Project (it will be possible to file claims electronically in both official languages). These pilot projects should help in the review of barriers to enhancing access to justice in French. Now we can only hope that these projects will be extended to the entire province.

Pending my series of blog posts, I will conclude here by pointing out that the 2015 report reflects the good will and hard work of everyone involved to improve access to justice in French. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way – or at least we hope so!

Francophones and Francophiles cities Network in America

This blog post is brought to you by our guest blogger Mohamed Ghaleb, who is one of my three Project Managers as well as responsible for research and monitoring. This is his summary of the conference which took place in Québec City last week.

From 29 to 31 October, Quebec City hosted its inaugural event of the Francophones and Francophiles cities Network in America to welcome representatives from various cities and organizations across Canada, the United States and the Caribbean countries. One of the objectives of this first meeting was to highlight best practices by emphasising not only on the history of Francophones, their heritage and landmarks, but to develop a tourist circuit for 33 million French speakers in America as well.

At the initiative of Quebec City, Moncton and Lafayette, in collaboration with the Centre de la francophonie des Amériques, the meeting gathered keynote speakers such as the essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul and the anthropologist Serge Bouchard. In his opening remarks, the latter passionately talked about the little-known story of Franco-Americans and the role played by a number of French explorers and founders who traveled the United States from Louisiana to California via Wisconsin and Missouri. These journeys have left indelible traces in today’s toponymy of landmarks in the United States such cities as Beaumont, Louisville and St. Louis, as well as Antoine and Boeuf rivers or the Lake Champlain.

As for Stephen J. Ortego, elected to the House of Representatives of Louisiana, he referred to the political will to reappropriate French language in Louisiana, to which he is no stranger, thanks in part to the success of immersion schools since the adoption of a law that requires school boards to create an immersion program when at least 25 parents signed a petition. Bilingual signs are also a workhorse though he acknowledged the many challenges it represents.

Finally, Ontario was the show stopper of the event which highlighted 400 years of Francophone presence in the province. Artists such as Stef Paquette, Céleste Levis and the group Swing showcased its proud Francophone heritage. The progress made by Franco-Ontarians on language rights has earned the admiration of participants from Canada, the United States, Cuba and Martinique. In short, this first network meeting was a mega-success and it promises many more to come. Congratulations to the organizers!