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.
French Language Services Commissioner
An evening high in emotions last night. We highlighted a number of personalities that have contributed from afar or up-close to our francophonie. An evening filled with good laughs, happy tears, and some sadness. We have lost a great man, Paul Demers. Founding member of the l’Association des professionnels de la chanson et de la musique (APCM), he has played a determining role for the recognition and promotion of many francophone artists from Ontario, and also with the creation of the Gala Trille Or.
With his lyrics and music, he has touch many francophones and francophiles in Canada, Louisiana and France with his famous song Notre Place – the anthem of the francophones in Ontario. You may not know, but this song is much more than simply an musical symbol. This song actually was an order for a celebration for the anniversary of the French Language Service Act. I invite you to go watch the excellent interview with Gisèle Quenneville during for the show Carte de visite. We are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the FLSA, and I can say thank you Paul in helping us find our place today, for tomorrow.
Our sincerest condolences to his wife Sylvie and his relatives, from all of us at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.
In the past ten years, we have done many meetings and presentation throughout the community and the public function, and we’ve understood that the French Language Services Act in all it’s facets can sometimes be hard for many of us.
In that occasion, we approached Improtéine to help us explain the Act in the easiest way possible, and also explain the proposed changes to the Act by the commissioner in his last annual report. They had a lots of fun preparing this video and did add a bit of humor, as it is their specialty.
We plan on using it very often in the next few months, and we also invite you to share the video with your friends and colleagues via social media, to use it for meetings, and even presentations.
And finally, I’m taking the opportunity to invite you to go and like our new Facebook page. You will find various announcements on our reports and publications and also the Commissioner’s Office various activities.
My federal counterpart, Mr. Fraser, points out in his report that there is no consensus on the impact that section 23 of the Charter has on provincial and territorial governments’ obligation to provide early childhood minority language programs. Despite this lack of consensus, there is clearly a very important connection between access to minority language education under section 23 and the delivery of early childhood services.
According to the report, French-language services provided to young children not only support acquisition of the language but also promote the development of a sense of belonging to the Francophone community. In profiling and describing the reality of young children in Francophone minority communities, Mr. Fraser pinpoints the issues that have a very direct bearing on this report: language transmission and exogamy, the involvement of two levels of government, and the lack of funding (which relates directly to the shortage of staff and training, insufficient infrastructure, and the lack of awareness among parents and service providers).
Mr. Fraser hopes that his report will influence the development of the next Roadmap for official languages by Canadian Heritage, since the current one is due to expire in 2018.
What does this mean for our Ontario government and for us Francophones and Francophiles in Ontario?
It is clear that early childhood programs funded by the provincial government play a crucial role in maintaining the identity connection to the French language among young children, particularly the children of exogamous couples.
It would therefore be a good idea for the provincial government, especially the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, to work on a policy framework that would map out and fund the delivery of French-language early childhood services in Ontario. Ideally, the two levels of government should engage in a dialogue and work together in response to Commissioner Fraser’s report to arrange suitable early childhood services that would be equivalent to the early childhood services provided in the majority language.
There have been many new initiatives in the last few years: Best Start Centres, the establishment of Early Years Centres, and the French-language school boards’ pilot projects for three-year-olds. Though useful, these measures have not helped develop stable, consistent delivery of French-language programs in all designated areas.
It is time Ontario put more emphasis on the early childhood component in negotiating the next Official Languages in Education Program (OLEP) agreement.
The province has the opportunity to be a leader for other provinces by improving early childhood services and ensuring a smoother transition to the French-language education system. It now needs to put its shoulder to the wheel and provide our young children with a top-quality educational environment – in French!
I therefore echo the call made by the Commissioner of Official Languages in his early October report for the federal government to provide sufficient funding for minority community early childhood initiatives in its next five-year plan for official languages.
The time has come to introduce the OFLSC team. I left you somewhat in suspense in my last posting, since I think it’s important to introduce the new members of our staff.
As some members of the community and many of our partners know, the Commissioner’s Office has doubled its workforce in the last year. We now have new spaces for this wonderful team, and I can assure you they are eagerly awaiting your inquiries and complaints!
Our existing team – myself, Executive Director Jean-Gilles Pelletier, and investigations staff Mohamed Ghaleb, Jocelyne Samson, Marta Dolecki and Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko, and also Anne Nguyen, Business Services Coordinator – has been expanded with the addition of an investigator, communications specialists, an analyst and a legal adviser.
The new investigator joining the other four members of the investigations team is Elisabeth Arcila. A native of Colombia, Elisabeth studied law and worked in labour law and arbitration in her country of origin. She immigrated to Canada a number of years ago and completed a B.A. in international studies at the Université de Montréal and a certificate in public administration. Her employment experience includes more than five years of labour relations work for the Government of Quebec, the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail and the Ministère de la Famille.
With a full complement of five investigators, we are ready to receive your complaints! You will undoubtedly have the opportunity to meet the team during our tours of the community and government bodies.
In communications, we have a whole new team! Two individuals who both have very relevant backgrounds. They will be here to field all the inquiries and questions you may have for us.
Our new Strategic Communications Lead is Touria Karim. Native of France, Touria studied business and administration at Laurentian University. She worked for many agencies in the Sudbury area (including the Centre Victoria pour Femmes and the Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury) and the London area (ACFO – London Sarnia). Subsequently, she worked in communications and marketing for more than 10 years and, more recently, as head of communications for Groupe Média TFO, a job in which she had productive relationships with institutions and Francophone community organizations. Her experience and interpersonal skills will be of great value to us.
To work with Touria, we have hired Mélina Leroux as our Communications and Community Relations Officer. She comes to us from the Ottawa area. After studying at the University of Ottawa and La Cité college, she worked for the Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne (FESFO) for nearly three years as a major events coordinator. She is quite familiar with the world of community organizations, and her passion for politics and current affairs is an asset for the entire team. She and Touria will often be expected to give presentations and travel around the province to make connections with the community and educate people about their right to receive services in French in accordance with the standards set out in the French Language Services Act.
Very recently, we welcomed Policy and Research Analyst Hermann Amon to the team. Hermann comes to us straight from the Toronto CCAC after working at Entité 4. He has a master’s degree in program evaluation from Quebec’s École nationale d’administration publique and a certificate in Lean Process Improvement from the Ontario Hospital Association. He is also an aficionado of classical studies. In his other life, he is doing research in Roman history in the University of Ottawa Classics and Religious Studies Department’s Ottawa Network for the Study of Late Antiquity, and he has a doctorate in Roman history from the Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV). His extensive experience with community organizations and his expertise in areas such as research, planning and databases will certainly come in very handy.
We also welcome to our team a new administrative assistant: Mary Jane Hee Fa Chung. Native from Mauritius, she is quadrilingual, and has been in Canada since 2003. Certified in administration and in Mandarin, Mary Jane continues her studies in Human ressources management. In Canade, she has briefly worked in the private sector, and has worked as an administrative assistant for over 10 years for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). Before she came to join us, she was the executive assistant to the General manager of the CMEC.
And last but not least, the newest member of our team is Legal Counsel Joseph Morin. Native of Cornwall, Joseph studied Canadian history and then law in the French common law program at the University of Ottawa. He also studied constitutional law at the master’s level. After articling with a national law firm, he worked as a lawyer for the Senate of Canada, for a public interest group and later for the Government of Nunavut.
Now that I’ve given you a brief introduction to the members of the team, I’d like you to come and meet them at our Open House this Friday. You are hereby cordially invited to visit the new offices and meet the new team of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario on Friday, September 23, between 1 and 3 p.m.
We’re looking forward to welcoming you to our new spaces and to meeting you on Friday afternoon!
For many people, September means back to school and back to work. We have been hearing a lot of back-to-school talk for a few days now, as elementary and high school students return to the classroom. At the same time, parents are getting back into the swing of things at work after a few weeks’ vacation or just a nice long Labour Day weekend.
I would like to take the opportunity the new school year offers to note a few important news items about things that have happened since the end of the school year last June. First, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner published a follow-up on the June 2011 report on education. In that follow-up report, we cited the importance of collaboration between French-language and English-language boards in order to expand the facilities available for French-language schools in need of space. Admissions will continue to grow, and in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto the need has become pressing. Secondary schools that are already offering a lot to the growing population of Toronto are doing an excellent job, but they are starting to experience space shortages at an alarming rate. In addition to the space shortage, there is the question of distance, since many students are spending hours getting to school and then back home, just to have access to an education in French. Let’s hope this follow-up will get some positive responses so that access to education in French improves in the eastern part of Greater Toronto.
On August 8, after several months of waiting and uncertainty about the future of the Centre Jules-Léger, the Government announced that it was keeping the Centre open – very good news for the students who are deaf or hard of hearing, are blind or have learning difficulties who attend or will attend this centre of excellence in special education. There were many happy and relieved messages sent on the day the announcement was made. In addition to confirming that the Centre would be continuing to operate (along with all the demonstration schools and the provincial schools), the Government will be pursuing “legislative changes to transfer the governance structure of Centre Jules-Léger to the 12 French-language school boards to better support French-language students”. I am also very pleased with this news, since this was a recommendation made in my investigation report on the Centre Jules-Léger. I must also recognize the hard work done by a number of parents and members of the community who travelled to the consultations and voiced the importance of keeping the school open and keeping it under Francophone governance.
A lot of things are happening on the postsecondary side as well. A few days ago, several funding announcements were made for new projects that will help postsecondary institutions make their mark in their communities and in other institutions at the national and international levels.
Parliament has also got back to work. After a Throne speech that was, on the surface at least, disappointing for Francophones, I take the opportunity to remind my latest annual report: FLSC 2.0, the most important report published by the Office of the Commissioner since it was established. The report shows that our French Language Services Act is outdated and needs to be redesigned, specifically to include passages about our technological era and revisions to the various positions created by the Act. The world in 1986 and the world today are completely different places, and for that reason I believe that our politicians really need to rethink the Act to update it and make it clearer and more complete. That means embarking on an enormous project, but it has to be done, and it needs to be done well! This is particularly important since on November 18 of this year we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the French Language Services Act – 30 years already, and Francophones have seen tremendous benefits when it comes to government service, but there is still more it could do.
Along the same line, we have to think about the question of active offer. That was another of my most popular reports, and is very closely connected with the FLSC 2.0 Annual Report. We have to offer Francophones services in French, but it has to be clear that those services are offered. The way that people are going to understand that service in French is actually offered is by seeing, hearing and recognizing it being done. If those markers are not there, people may be too embarrassed to request services, or may not know they are able to do so. That amounts to pointing people toward a language other than their own, and it can cause misunderstandings and complications in processing their requests. We have to work hard to make sure that people get more than just “Hello, Bonjour”, and receive service in French once they get through triage or reception at the location that provides a service.
An example I often use is a person in their own job, particularly in customer service jobs (or other positions where there is direct contact with the public). When that individual offers a service, do they do it in French and English, or only in English? If they offer it in both languages, out of respect for the other person, then why not respect that person when the person requests a service as well? These questions prompt some thought, because while the intent to offer services in French is there, the services are of lower quality than they are in the majority language. Under the Act, services should be offered equally and equitably.
On another note, I am very pleased to be back myself. Our team has grown and they are motivated! I am eager to introduce them to you in an upcoming post. You will also have a chance to meet them at one of the various events all around the province where the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner will be present. This fall is a very busy time for us, since we are working on a plan that will give the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner greater visibility and make us even more accessible to people, and enable us to continue to inform the public about their rights and the services they are entitled to.
So take advantage of the fact that the Office of the Commissioner has more resources to serve you, and send us your complaints and information requests.
It would not surprise me to hear that the good Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier himself greeted Mauril Bélanger last night with the kind of remark we might expect from him: “I wasn’t expecting you so soon, but good work, old friend.” Good work indeed. Replacing Jean-Robert Gauthier as MP was not going to be a simple task. But before long, through sheer hard work, but most importantly through the force of his own open, straightforward and endearing personality, Mauril’s riding became his own. After his 21 years as the federal member for the riding of Ottawa-Vanier, it had to happen!
And now Mauril Bélanger has left us. Not just as an MP, but as a hero. When he learned of the terrible illness he had, he could very well have left it all behind and simply tried to enjoy the time left to him. No one, absolutely no one, would have had a word to say against him had he done that; everyone would have understood. But because he had been a fighter all his life, he never gave in. He chose to continue in his important role as an MP, and even to travel to Africa, in spite of his illness, because he had made commitments as a parliamentarian and a representative of the Association des parlementaires de la Francophonie.
That kind of dedication, and with such class to boot, is not something we will see again soon.
Mauril was always available and his wise counsel helped me a great deal. He always recommended not wavering from the course and always being open with people. Mauril Bélanger is the real deal. The real Francophone deal, and they don’t make many like him. It is not unusual for politicians to be eulogized when they die. But our own Mauril has left us, and that hurts. There will be others who will stand up and wage the political battles in future. There will be others whose integrity shines uncommon bright. There will be other MPs who are quite simply top-notch. But the thing is, Mauril is all that and much more.
Mauril’s work has been extraordinary, and some projects can still have a follow thru and great impact. It would be great to see our national anthem (English version) become fully inclusive, and also have our nation’s capital become officially bilingual by the celebration of the 150th anniversary of our country’s Confederation.
Our sincerest condolences to his wife Catherine and their children and grandchildren, from all of us at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.