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French Language Services Commissioner
Just over a week has passed since I submitted my 2017-2018 Annual Report. This year, the report looks ahead at French-language services and the Francophonie over the next 10 years. I described the situation as alarming, and that message drew a response from many people. That was the aim.
Reactions on social media to the report’s observations and recommendations came fast and furious. There was a great deal of support for the concern I expressed about the situation being alarming (see the editorial in Le Droit) and requiring immediate action.
The timing of the report’s submission was carefully thought out. We all have a role to play: public decision-makers, service providers, both community and government agencies, and individual Ontarians.
I am optimistic that the new government will act on my recommendations. Already, the Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs is showing a willingness to work with key leaders and with my office to improve French-language services and to develop immigration strategies and an interministerial plan to attract more Francophones to Ontario.
Following the report’s submission, we have had, and continue to have, an excellent media coverage. The interviews have really helped open up the discussion and highlight the issues raised in my report.
To continue the discussion, I will be going out and meeting with you during the fall. You are also invited to attend our symposium in Toronto on November 26. Our experts and other prominent speakers will be there to look for new ideas to help address the issues.
The future of Ontario’s Francophonie rests in our hands. I look forward to discussing it with you in November!
** Please note that for environmental reasons, we have decided to stop distributing large numbers of copies of the annual report. In fact, the new practice will apply to all of our publications. The electronic version is accessible and downloadable. However, if you would like a printed copy, please email us at email@example.com
A native of Sturgeon Falls, François Larocque is a full professor in the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law – Common Law Section and the new holder of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights.
He is interested in the philosophy of law, Canadian legal history, civil liability, human rights and international law. His research is conducted mainly in the following two fields:
Civil liability for serious violations of international human rights
The language rights of Canada’s French-speaking minority communities
Professor Larocque accepted my invitation to be a guest blogger and provide a description of the new research chair.
I am very grateful to the University of Ottawa for appointing me to the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights, whose objectives are to advance critical thinking on the legal frameworks that protect Canada’s official language minority communities and make a tangible contribution to the development of the legal norms that govern those linguistic arrangements. Though generally concerned with the legal protection of official languages, the research chair will focus primarily on the language rights of Francophone minority communities outside Quebec and the protection of indigenous languages.
The research chair has set itself a research-based mission and an action-based mission. The research chair’s first mission will be to document, analyze and comment on current legal developments in the field of language rights by studying the relevant decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada and other Canadian courts, the reports of the various language commissioners, draft legislation and parliamentary studies. This research chair will also look at the secondary literature dealing with official language minority communities in a variety of disciplines, including public law, political science, history and sociology. In particular, the research chair will endeavour to build collaborative relationships with the University of Ottawa’s other Canadian Francophonie research chairs and with other Canadian research centres working in this field, such as the International Observatory on Language Rights (University of Moncton) and the National Observatory on Language Rights (University of Montréal).
The research chair’s second mission will be to operationalize its research by taking an active role in developing the constitutional, legislative and jurisprudential norms governing language rights. For example, the research chair will prepare reports on current major language issues and submit them to the Senate and House of Commons committees on official languages. In addition, the research chair will intervene, on a pro bono basis, as an amicus curiae in language rights cases to present courts of justice with innovative legal arguments supported by rigorous interdisciplinary research. These strategic interventions may lead to changes in existing legal frameworks or the creation of new legislative and jurisprudential norms, which will later feed into the research chair’s research under its first mission.
As holder of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights at the University of Ottawa’s – a university that has obligations under the French Language Services Act – I will naturally take an interest in the situation of Ontario’s Francophone minority communities, the changing composition of those communities, and constitutional requirement in Canadian law to provide those communities with the means to thrive in a multicultural Canada.
I will also study the more recent movement demanding legal status for indigenous languages and the conceptual contributions of Indigenous law to enhancing Canadian understanding of language rights. While the research chair will inevitably turn its gaze on the world and the linguistic systems of certain countries, it will distinguish itself as a forum for research and expertise on language law development in Ontario and Canada. Through an innovative methodological approach that combines legal praxis and research, the research chair will contribute to the advancement of knowledge about the language rights of the official language minority communities, their scope and the instrumentalization of law in building and maintaining identity.
The creation of the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights clearly illustrates the University of Ottawa’s unwavering commitment to its legislative mission of “further[ing] bilingualism and biculturalism and […] preserv[ing] and develop[ing] French culture in Ontario.” I am proud of my university’s leadership in French Ontario, and I am proud to be able to lead the research chair’s research program as a full professor in the Faculty of Law’s French-language common law program, which, over the past 40 years, has established itself as an incubator of ideas, instruction and research on language rights in Canada.
Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights
Last week saw the beginning of a provincial election campaign in Ontario that will end on voting day, June 7.
The next election will be highly polarized. We can expect very firm positions in favor of a specific party, or against a specific party. In the Commissioner’s Office, we feel it is the political parties’ turn to take center stage so that voters can make an informed decision over the next few weeks.
As you know, the Commissioner’s Office, like the other officers of the Legislature, is obliged to treat the incipient democratic process with the greatest deference. You may have noticed that the Commissioner’s Office has been pretty quiet on social media lately. Over the past four years, we have accepted every interview request from the media. We have had three years and 10 months to talk our heads off, but during the campaign period, the debate belongs to the people.
Nevertheless, it is my job to see that the residents of Ontario receive French-language services for the election. With a view to ensure that Francophones receive high-quality service in French, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner and Elections Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding to guarantee the effective handling of complaints.
I’m very happy about this cooperation between two independent officers. I would even say it’s a first, but it certainly won’t be the last! I’m particularly grateful to Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa and his team for making this proactive commitment to properly serving the Francophone and Francophile community. The agreement encourages citizens to exercise their language rights, and it also helps find appropriate solutions to their complaints – quickly.
And that excellent cooperation doesn’t end there! We have also been working with the Elections Ontario team and Improtéine to produce entertaining videos, laced with a bit of humour, of course, to encourage Francophone and Francophile Ontarians to get themselves on the voters list and work for Elections Ontario, and to encourage 16- and 17-year-olds to participate by registering now for the list of future voters.
So I am inviting you to enjoy exclusive access to our first video. Feel free to share it on social media. But whatever you do, remember to get out and vote!
We learned last week that the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Ms. Katherine d’Entremont, is planning to retire in July.
I have had the pleasure of collaborating with her since her appointment in 2013. Indeed, a few months after she took office, Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary was published. She jumped in with both feet and worked extensively with my office and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada (in the days of Mr. Graham Fraser).
We also worked on a regular basis on other files, such as the active offer of French language services, Francophone immigration, and French language services in general.
We are also members of the International Association of Language Commissioners, of which I am very proud!
We also spoke out in a common voice on a number of occasions to promote an increase in Francophone immigration outside Quebec, in particular by calling for a concrete action plan to obtain tangible results.
Our situations are certainly different, but we share the same passion for our respective mandates. We were able to observe her exceptional contribution to promoting the development of members of both of New Brunswick’s official language communities throughout her professional career. Through her numerous investigations and her actions, she demonstrated how seriously she took her position as Commissioner of Official Languages. When there was a language-related injustice, she and her team intervened as quickly as possible to condemn it.
Dear colleague, I hope that you enjoy this well-deserved retirement, and know that I am happy and privileged to have had the opportunity to work with you over the last five years.
For over 30 years, Jocelyne Samson has dedicated body and soul to the Ontario Public Service, and more specifically its Francophone clientele. The time has come for her to return to good health and focus a little on herself and her family.
When Jocelyne was hired at the Office of the Commissioner in February 2008, after I called her to offer her the position, she was the one who interviewed me! She did not want to work for someone who was not committed to the development of Ontario’s Francophone community. I hope I have not been too much of a disappointment to her! To me, however, that anecdote spoke volumes about her strong personality: if she could talk to her future employer that way, I knew that she would never hesitate to voice her opinion, and the bonus was that she would not have accepted responses submitted by ministries that were not really interested in finding long-term solutions for complainants. In fact, she often used the word “deplorable” to describe what ministries and other government agencies did or did not do.
Speaking of complainants, I have yet to meet a single person who did not have great things to say about Jocelyne’s work. She is indefatigable – I had to persuade her not to write to complainants on the weekend (so she would mischievously send out a series of ready-made emails at 7:00 Monday morning). She is a hard bargainer – she quickly gained a reputation among our government partners for proving that the Office of the Commissioner was not here just for window dressing. She is irreproachable – the quality of her work spoke for itself. For a long time, she was the only person at the Office of the Commissioner who handled investigations, and still, complainants were always kept abreast of the results of our investigations.
I also want to highlight Jocelyne’s high ethical standards, her strength of character, her convictions, her passion as a communicator, her unwavering commitment to the Franco-Ontarian community, and her deep affection for the Office of the Commissioner.
The one thing I can think of to say is little indeed to describe Jocelyne’s contribution to the success of the Office of the Commissioner, but I will take my chances: thank you.
Jocelyne, I wish you a very long and unbelievably well-deserved retirement. Most importantly, may you have good health and let your family and friends pamper you now.
We are saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Noble Villeneuve. He was 79 years old.
Mr. Villeneuve served as MPP for the riding of Stormont–Dundas–Glengarry and East Grenville. In his long political career, he held the cabinet positions of Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs from 1995 to 1999.
On behalf of the team at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, we extend our most sincere condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.