Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Update on Ontario open government: Open Data Catalogue

In my 2013-2014 Annual Report I praised the government’s ambitious project Open Data Catalogue for being produced simultaneously in both French and English. Since then, a draft of the Open Data Directive was submitted online, along with updates on the consultation process which ended in July.

This Directive, which will apply to all Ontario government ministries and provincial agencies, is subject to all applicable legislation such as the Archives and Record Keeping Act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the French Language Services Act.

The draft Directive, which was published on the Open Data site during the consultation process states that “Open data is to be published in Ontario’s Open Data Catalogue in the language it was collected”. This statement caught my attention as it seems to absolve the government of the need to provide relevant information in French. That said the Directive goes on to outline that “the dataset title, description, and all accompanying information must be available simultaneously in both English and French.” The Open Data Catalogue website is available in both English and French; however; after just five minutes navigating the Open Data Catalogue, out of my own curiosity, the first document I came upon: OPS Common Service Standards 2013-2014 was available uniquely in English. The second document I came across was a simple table titled College Enrolment by Institutions 1996-97 to 2011-2012. None of the three columns in this table: Fiscal Year, College Name and Head Count were translated, nor was the tab or document title.

The Francophone community is currently focused on the need for better access to post-secondary education in French, and this data could be of interest to students, researchers and educators, all of whom should have equitable access to innovative technologies, such as this data catalogue, in French.

Recognising that the Open Data Catalogue is still a work in progress, it is my hope that, as the government reviews and assesses the feedback received during the consultation process, they develop a policy and process that will ensure compliance with the Directive, and the French Language Services Act, which will improve the public’s access to the government of Ontario’s initiative to proactively release data, making it a more transparent and open government.

Dad, it’s my flag


It has been too long since I’ve written anything on my Blog. With the volume of work, paired with the loss of my Communications and Public Relations Officer, let’s just say that the publication schedule of my Blog has accumulated a backlog. That being said, it’s time to reactivate the blog, and what better way than with a touching and inspiring story from my colleague Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko reflecting on September 25th. His words.:

On the morning of September 25th, my small family and I are in a rush. Daddy needs to get to work; mom is exhausted from sleepless nights inflicted by the little one of only 9 weeks; but on this particular morning we have a medical appointment for the little one. The eldest is particularly excited because he has both mom and dad at home with him.

Out the door and «enroute» to downtown Toronto via the 401 and the DVP we go. I won’t go into the details of my mental state at the time, caused by the Toronto traffic… (the days may seem to pass unchanged, but there are no two mornings that are alike…) *note, this is a reference to the radio show on Radio-Canada Y a pas deux matins pareils, the French alternative to CBC’s Metro Morning.

After fighting with truck drivers, navigating among drivers who drive so closely to one’s bumper that one would think they are trying to read your shirt label; we finally make it to our appointment and find ourselves greeted by a nurse bearing big smiles and repeatedly complimenting us on what wonderful and calm children we have (if only she had seen the little one at 2h28 am).

When the Doctor arrives, all grey hair (although at the risk of offending those among the grey set, I should say salt and pepper), but with the spritely gait of a 21st century triathlete who regularly runs marathons for good causes. He greets us with a resounding “Hello, bonjour! Mais qu’est-ce qui se passe avec le petit aujourd’hui ?”, spoken in perfect French.

Hello, bonjour! It sounds like my colleague Alison Stewart actively using the active offer. How on earth does this Doctor know that we are Francophones?! Is it because of our ‘swarthy’ skin tone that our linguistic identity has been unveiled? It is likely because of my pronunciation of the word ‘the’. Having been raised in France, I, like most French, tend to murder the word ‘the’, in the same way that many Anglophones tend to massacre the ‘r’ when they’re speaking French.   As it turns out, Dr. Martry simply recognised the lapel pin of the Franco-Ontarian flag that I was sporting on my jacket.

This may seem like a trivial tale, but for me it signifies a great victory. During the Pan Am games this summer, while tending our famous kiosk, I discovered that very few recognise the Franco-Ontarian flag. People were mystified by the trillium and the fleur de lys and often thought that this strange flag represents the friendship between Québec and Ontario, or some union they had never heard of.

It was thus, standing in front of Dr. Martry  that my 3 year old son illustrated the sentiment that this flag signifies. As this doctor/athlete/Francophile and I, Francophone/proud father discussed our business this little guy interrupted our conversation:

“Dad, dad…that’s my flag. We sing that at school.”

He is right. It is his flag; it is the cultural identity of this little Franco-Ontarian, and it has nothing to do with the original roots of his parents. It is this flag that holds the aspirations of today’s generation and those that follow.

I leave you with this lovely quote by Paul Claudel: “There are only two things to do with a flag: either brandish it at arm’s length or hold it with passion against one’s heart.”

Centre Jules-Léger: a governance structure that does not work

I can assure you, since my nomination in 2007, there is no shortage of issues. But few cases have had as great an impact on me as this investigation into the governance of the Centre Jules-Léger (in French). This centre specializes in Francophone students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low of vision, deaf-blind, or have severe learning disabilities. You could say that these students are members of a double minority. All of them wish to be heard and understood, to learn in a safe environment, and not to be stigmatized. All of them are also trying to develop a sense of belonging to a community.

I confess that I was deeply moved by all the meetings with students, parents, educators, administrators and members of non-profit organizations, many of whom are former students of the Centre Jules-Léger. I also realize that many people will probably be disappointed with the
investigation’s conclusions. Our job was not to please everyone, but to answer the question asked about the Centre Jules-Léger’s governance.

And this question is legitimate: Why Centre Jules-Léger is not governed in an autonomous way, by and for Francophones? Why does the actual governance model report to the Ministry of Education? Why is there no board that can lead the administration in an autonomous and independent manner, like most of the other Francophone institutions in Ontario?

I concluded that, following our investigation, the Centre Jules-Léger’s governance model violates section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and undermines the Centre Jules-Léger’s integrity and mission. The current governance structure does not work. This situation must be remedied and governance by and for Francophones should be instituted before the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

Therefore, I recommend that the government put the governance of the Centre Jules-Léger in the hands of Francophones. That the Centre be governed by one of the 12 French-language school boards on a trustee basis. To achieve this goal, I also recommended that a transition committee be established. The committee’s mandate will be, from September to December 2015, to make recommendations to the Minister of Education. The committee’s mandate will be to make recommendations to the Minister to ensure both a smooth transition for the students and the viability of the Centre Jules-Léger by September 2016. I also suggest referring to the CFORP (in French) as a model.

Since the goal is to get this new governance model in place by 2016, the government needs to act quickly, in the best interests of Francophone students served by the Centre Jules-Léger.

All want to see the Centre Jules-Léger revitalized, returned to its status as a benchmark, a model for others. I can only hope that the French-language school boards will be visionary, not just operationally effective. I hope, as indicated by the school board administrators, that there will be centralized decision-making, combined with decentralized services. I also hope that the renewed research mandate will be built around visionary, responsible management, which will make this institution into a true centre of excellence.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all those who met with us, gave us their time, and shared with us their ideas and their abiding passions. The ball is now in the government’s court…and there is no time to lose.

The Pan Am Games and the French language

First of all, it’s worth noting how successful the 2015 Pan Am Games appear to have been in every respect. And, of course, there is the exceptional performance of all our Canadian athletes, who are truly remarkable, inspiring models for us all. Citizens also took a definite interest in this wonderful public project, which will leave behind a fine legacy not only in terms of sports facilities but also in terms of memories and opportunities for the region. At the very beginning of this venture, we met with senior executives of TO2015 and the provincial government. We knew that the main theme of these games would be diversity, an undeniable attribute of the GTA. On this point, mission accomplished. But what about the presence of French at these games? With so much funding from federal and provincial government coffers, we clearly had to make sure that the organization fulfilled its linguistic obligations and that the funding providers were fully satisfied.

We will have an opportunity later to take a close look at the operations of these games in the area of official languages. The object of this blog post is not to provide a detailed analysis of the subject; it’s still a bit early, especially since we still have the Para Pan Am Games to come in August.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage the organizers to keep going, because they are clearly on the right track in fulfilling their linguistic obligations. Generally speaking, the signs and posters are perfectly bilingual. The official announcements at competitions were made in French, Spanish and English, without notable exception. Volunteers were able to direct us, most of the time, to other, bilingual volunteers to guide us concerning the various sites. In fact, we noticed that at every site we visited, there was at least one accredited volunteer at the information booth who was able to communicate in French and, if necessary, assist visitors with Security. Certainly, bilingual volunteers could have been encouraged to be more meticulous about wearing their “Bonjour” buttons and their caps indicating in French that they were volunteers, but that’s okay. There will always be small things to improve on, and we hope that for the next games, some adjustments will have been made.

But for now, let’s celebrate! Because TO2015 seems not only to have met its linguistic obligations (the two Commissioner’s offices have received a very small number of complaints so far) but also to have seized the opportunity to make these games a compelling demonstration of the vitality of the Franco-Ontarian community and the linguistic duality. I have never seen or heard so many shows in French in the GTA. Definitely the summer of French in the big city. In the case of Franco-Fête, which unquestionably benefited from the festivities for the 400th anniversary of the French presence in Ontario and the 2015 Pan Am Games, the quantity, diversity and quality of the shows in Dundas Square was nothing less than phenomenal. And considering all the connections with Panamania and all those artists performing on other popular stages as well, including Nathan Philips Square, I must congratulate the organizers.

My federal counterpart, Graham Fraser, and I often say that good practices always begin with leadership. No one forced TO2015 to sign a memorandum of understanding with our two organizations. Yet that’s what they did, and it set the tone. Saäd Rafi, CEO of the TO2015 Organizing Committee for the Pan American and Parapan American Games, set the tone by putting his own signature on that very public agreement. It showed a commitment starting at the highest level. The two Senior Managers, Official Languages, have done an amazing job. Pamela Coles kindly and tirelessly hammered the importance of French and Spanish among her colleagues. Louise Gauvreau and her team were outstanding. They relied, correctly, on an advisory committee, the Forum francophone, and I think that the bold gamble of holding both the Games and Francophone cultural activities was a resounding success. Bravo!

Speaking of resounding successes, I’ve kept the best for last. Both the opening and closing ceremonies were impeccable. Watching Franco-Ontarian Véronic Dicaire sing the national anthem, knowing that the director of the Cirque du Soleil’s aerial acrobatics is also a Franco-Ontarian, and hearing all the announcements in the three official languages of the Games were highlights of the opening ceremonies. Watching Swing’s performance at the beginning of the closing ceremonies as well was wonderful. I will also add that in my humble opinion – no chauvinism here – they gave the most exuberant performances to get the crowd dancing. And then there was Saad Rafi, whose delivery was flawless and exemplary in both ceremonies! I can assure you that it’s one thing to have appropriate, inspiring speaker’s notes, and quite another to deliver a good speech. I’ve been there! In short, congratulations to the organizers and all the volunteers who helped make these Pan Am Games an unforgettable event!

The Honourable Albert Roy

At its recent congress (in French) in Lafayette, Louisiana, the Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario (AJEFO) awarded the Ordre du mérite [order of merit] to two exceptional candidates. One of them was Laurie Joe, of West End Legal Services of Ottawa. After hearing all the comments about her and following her career to some extent, I have no doubt that she is most deserving of this award. However, my focus in this blog post will be on the Honourable Albert Roy, who also received the Ordre du mérite.

A retired judge, the Honourable Albert Roy was a lawyer in Ottawa and later represented the riding of Ottawa East in the Ontario Legislature from 1971 to 1984, winning in no less than four consecutive provincial elections. Now that’s really something! Justice Roy was introduced by Ronald Caza at the awards ceremony. Mr. Caza described the recipient as practical, persistent and friendly. Practical because the Honourable Albert Roy, as a judge and previously as a lawyer, always put the interests of the case and his clients ahead of his ego, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is not so common. Persistent because for a pioneer like Albert Roy the lawyer, having been accepted as a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1965, there was obviously a lot of work to do regarding language rights. As he said himself, you could have a case with Francophone clients, Francophone Crown attorneys and a Francophone judge, in Ottawa, but the proceedings were entirely in English. Indeed, you had to be persistent because what we take a bit too much for granted today simply didn’t exist at that time. And Mr. Caza said he was friendly, which, on the basis of a single evening, I can readily attest to. And much more!

Did you know that our conference room at the Commissioner’s Office is named for Albert Roy? When I was appointed Commissioner and set up my office, I wanted to recognize in some small way this visionary man to whom we owe so much. If Dr. Bernard Grandmaître is considered the father of Bill 8 (the French Language Services Act), then the Honourable Albert Roy is certainly its grandfather.

In 1978, Albert Roy, then an MPP, introduced a private member’s bill on French-language services. The bill was voted down on Third Reading (in French) in the Legislature. Typical of the time, Premier Bill Davis explained his decision by stating that the interests of Franco-Ontarians would be better served by a policy of gradual service expansion, rather than a symbolic declaration of bilingualism, which would only result in bitterness. Ah, the good old “baby steps” policy for French Ontario!

In any case, the Honourable Albert Roy, who is still active serving as a mediator, has helped the entire Ontarian Francophonie take giant steps forward. I am very proud that he was awarded the AJEFO’s Ordre du mérite.

Markham designated. Next stop: Oshawa?

A new addition to the list is an event that should not go unsung. On June 30, Markham became the 26th area designated under Ontario’s French Language Services Act. With the announcement by the Office of Francophone Affairs, this major step forward, reflecting the wishes of an entire community, finally became a reality. What does this mean, in concrete terms, for Francophones in this municipality northeast of Toronto?

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. High-quality services available in a city of more than 300,000 people. This is not a minor victory. Implicitly, official designation breaks the isolation and creates a network, a circle in the form of a link, demonstrating that other Francophones in this same area also wanted to receive their services in French. As a result, people feel less alone.

Good things come to those who wait. And, in the interim, to those who work hard. We should take this opportunity to commend citizens and Francophone organizations in the area for the years of work they have put into this project. Since the early 2010s, the Association des francophones de la région de York (AFRY) (in French) has held many talks, meetings and consultations to ensure that the desire for French-language services in the area is fulfilled and realized through designation. With a vision for the future, the AFRY, from its head office in Aurora, was able to mobilize Francophones in the York region. This is exactly the kind of approach recommended in the 2011-2012 annual report of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, entitled Straight Forward. In the report, support is viewed as a new criterion for the approval of designations. That support, that commitment, can take different, varied forms. People send letters and meet with elected representatives and, eventually, they get service in French, in their native language. It’s not just a nice story.

Next stop: Oshawa
Now we turn to the profile of another municipality, this one located east of Toronto. You can get there on Highway 401, or on the Go train, rocked by the gentle swaying of the rails and, through the window, the waves of Lake Ontario. Next stop: Oshawa.

In this city of more than 140,000, the members of the Francophone community are working hard to get designated-area status. ACFO-Durham-Peterborough’s designation committee is redoubling its efforts, holding talks and meetings with the various levels of governments to advance its case. The committee has given up on official designation for the Durham region to focus its efforts on Oshawa. Just like Markham, Oshawa has a growing Francophone population.

Following the completion on May 25 of public consultations on the designation of Oshawa, the matter is now in the hands of the Office of Francophone Affairs. So the burning question is, When will Oshawa’s designation happen? Franco-Ontarian Day, September 25, would be a splendid occasion for the government to announce Oshawa’s designation and the perfect opportunity to pave the way for a list consisting of 27 designated areas. Two municipalities: Markham and Oshawa. Two similar challenges, one similar destiny? Both cities have a highly multicultural population, which ensures vitality, a population composed of Francophone newcomers, at a time when the face of Ontario is changing and becoming more diverse. This is also the sense of a plural Francophonie, and an opportunity for the government to show that it is listening to its constituents, regardless of the municipality of origin.

In conclusion, the Government has missed a great opportunity. Hoping that the next will be the good one.