Commissioner’s Blog

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François Boileau
French Language Services Commissioner

Looking back on the 2017 congress of the Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO)

I’m taking advantage of a #ThrowbackThursday to reminisce about my weekend at the congress of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) on October 28, 29 and 30. Once again, it was a weekend full of reunions and discussions on topics that are important to Ontario’s Francophones and Francophiles.

During my stay in Ottawa, I participated as a panellist in the workshop on revision of the Act. Many people are already taking part in the debate. I presented once again the recommendations I made in my 2015-2016 annual report regarding a modernized French Language Services Act. Other groups are also demanding an amended Act, in some cases going even a bit further than what I recommended. That’s a good thing: the debate is well and truly joined.

In the evening, we were treated to a lovely reception plus a comedy show. Several good young comedians are clearly ready for the big time. And laughter was just what the doctor ordered for the delegates.

Saturday’s AFO awards ceremony was another great success. A wonderful evening in an enchanting setting surrounded by planes and helicopters of yesteryear. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the award recipients:

  • Linda Cardinal: Pillar of the Francophonie Award
  • Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne, Regroupement des étudiants franco-ontariens and Association des communautés francophones d’Ottawa (FESFO-RÉFO-ACFO Ottawa): Franco-Ontarian Horizon Award
  • Tréva Cousineau: Florent Lalonde Award

You’ve made a great contribution to the Francophonie over many years, and you’ve left your mark on it in a very special way in the past year. The ceremony was an excellent way of honouring the recipients and all those who were nominated.

I’d also like to express my gratitude and deepest appreciation to the AFO for the special ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Commissioner’s Office. I will remember the sage advice of AFO president Carol Jolin, who encouraged us to continue working with the community and to ensure the continuation and improvement of French-language services across the province.

The unveiling of the very beautiful drawing touched me deeply. It’s certainly a fine representation of the first 10 years of the Commissioner’s Office.




What’s new in immigration?

The issue of immigration has generated much debate in the last few weeks, and I don’t think I’ve provided you with an update on the subject in a while.

I was recently invited to give the closing remarks at the forum of the Central-Southwestern Francophone Immigration Support Network, and I believe that the message I delivered was clear. The province of Ontario cannot achieve its Francophone immigration target without the federal government’s leadership and commitment. In fact, the two levels of government have signed an agreement, and this is a step in the right direction. As part of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement, a specific Annex on Francophone immigration is under development with a goal of unveiling the annex next March and which, I hope I can believe, will clearly state that the 5% target for Francophone immigration to Ontario will be incorporated into all categories of federal and provincial immigration programs.

One of the objectives listed in Annex A to the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement is that the governments want “To increase the number of French-Speaking Immigrants to Ontario.” This annex is specific to the Provincial Nominee Program, which gives the province an important role in selecting its immigrants on the basis of its labour market needs.

The Provincial Nominee Program lets the provinces create sub-classes based on their needs. This is what Ontario did when it created its Express Entry French-Speaking Skilled Worker Stream, which is for French-speaking skilled workers who are proficient in English and want to live and work permanently in Ontario. This stream enables the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program to nominate individuals who have the required education, skilled work experience, language ability, and other characteristics to help them settle successfully in Ontario and integrate into the province’s labour market and communities. Applicants must, of course, be eligible for the federal Express Entry pool.

The agreement between the two levels of government provides for a number of evaluation and accountability measures. This is an excellent opportunity for the Commissioner’s Office to monitor the efforts and initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration of Ontario (MCI) to achieve its target, and to ask the Ministry questions about it.


What’s happening at MCI?

We are continuing to work with the Ministry. A hot topic is the U.S. government’s recent announcement that it was terminating the Temporary Protected Status granted to many immigrants, including Haitians, in the United States. Many Francophone community leaders have stated that the new flow of immigrants would be an opportunity for Ontario to pursue its Francophone immigration target. I certainly plan to pay close attention to this issue over the next few months. That said, it’s important to remember that the rules regarding refugee claimants continue to apply and that many of them do not satisfy all the refugee criteria.

So while we understand that the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration is ready to support an influx of Haitian refugee claimants should one materialize in Ontario, the ministry emphasizes that entry into the country is clearly defined by federal legislation and criteria; and that prospective refugee claimants need to be mindful of the legal means for entering the country.

There will be many important discussions in 2018. Of particular interest to me is the establishment of a pilot project called Destination Ontario francophone in Algeria and Morocco. It’s a promising step. In March 2018, Ontario will host the second Ministerial Forum on Francophone Immigration  to follow up on the one held recently in Moncton.

A member of the investigations team, Élisabeth Arcila, travelled to Timmins to attend the provincial forum of the Francophone Immigration Support Networks. Francophone organizations made a number of observations. They complained that Anglophone organizations were not referring newcomers to Francophone networks. It would also appear that we are missing opportunities to provide proper orientation for French-speaking newcomers when they arrive at Canadian airports.

There is good news from the Mobilité francophone program. Some 955 applications for residence have been approved. In the Express Entry pool, about 3.9% of those invited to apply for permanent residence are French-speaking. In addition, MCI has a new team responsible for Francophone immigration, internal coordination and coordination of the federal-provincial relationship for the purposes of developing and implementing the announced measures.

There are a lot of new developments concerning immigration, but much follow-up will have to be done over the next few months and we look forward to continuing to follow these developments closely.

Forum on French-language health services

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the forum on French-language health services organized by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC). Those present included not only the Minister, though he was there only to kick off the discussions, but also senior managers of the MOHLTC and the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), the French Language Health Planning Entities, and the members of the French Language Health Services Advisory Council. It was only the second time such a forum has been held (the last one was in 2014). One of the good things to come out of the meeting was certainly Minister Hoskins’s commitment to make the forum an annual event.

At the meeting, everyone was brought up to date on the latest regulatory changes (Regulation 515/09), and an effort was made to renew the relationship between the LHINs and Planning Entities and focus on the common goal of improving access to French-language health services. It is important to work together to assist Francophones who do not have equitable access to French-language health services in their area and are unable to find out which health service providers or professionals might help them and where they are located. In my brief talk, I attempted to address these particular issues. It is important to bear in mind that the LHINs have been around for just 11 years, and the Entities 7 years. That is not very long, but it is well past time to stop ignoring the mistakes that have been made for so many years. The key word is “collaboration.” The intent of the amendments made in the Regulation is clearly to ensure that the Entities are seen as the LHINs’ partners, and not as mere subordinates.

What’s more, the MOHLTC has published a new guide on French-language health services requirements and obligations. The guide is extremely well designed, and I am very hopeful that it will help all those who were not present at this important meeting to better understand the roles and responsibilities of all parties in the health system and the need to truly focus on integration and collaboration as they go about their work. I have been told the Guide will be available on the MOHTLC website soon.



Bill 177 Carried to First Reading

Yesterday, there were several announcements included in the 2017 Fall Economic Statement. During his presentation of the Statement, Minister of Finance Charles Sousa introduced Bill 177, Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017. It is an omnibus bill (a bill that amends several existing laws or introduces several new laws).

With the legislative calendar being so busy, I fully understand the government’s desire to include three bills for which the province’s Francophones and Francophile have been waiting for a long time.

Here is a brief overview of each of the three bills/amendments.

First, we have Schedule 5 of Bill 177: City of Ottawa Act, 1999. After a few years of letters, demonstrations and complaints from Ottawans favouring official bilingualism for the City of Ottawa, the government has picked up the defunct Private Bill introduced by MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers. It confirms the status quo, of course, but with a few tweaks that will, we hope, enable the City of Ottawa to serve all of its residents better.

The second schedule of interest in Bill 177 is Schedule 12, which would amend the Education Act by establishing the Centre Jules-Léger Consortium. This amendment is more than just a name change: it is also a change in governance. The Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’Ontario (ACÉPO) and the Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC) will each appoint three of the Consortium’s six members. The schedule also contains a number of other details, but I won’t bore you with administrivia. The good news in all of this is that the Centre Jules-Léger will finally be managed by and for Francophones!

Third, Schedule 43 introduces the Université de l’Ontario français Act, 2017. This bill details the constitution of the new university and gives it a name: Université de l’Ontario français. Its special mission will be “to offer a range of university degrees and education in French to promote the linguistic, cultural, economic and social well-being of its students and of Ontario’s French-speaking community.” While I haven’t done a comprehensive analysis, it appears that this mission will give the university a prominent place in the universe of postsecondary institutions. The bill covers the composition of the university’s board of governors and senate, the selection of a chancellor and a president, and the rules for the university’s administration.

Not surprisingly, these announcements made headlines a few minutes after they were made. They deal with issues that matter to the Francophone and Francophile community. The debate will now move to the parliamentary arena, and I can only hope the deliberations will be positive.

New Ministry of Energy program

Most of the time, our day-to-day investigation work tends to remain behind the scenes. For obvious reasons, we focus our communications efforts on long-term investigation reports. Nevertheless, we do some rather important work every day, work that the public doesn’t know about. Our complainants are more aware of that work, since they receive regular communications from us. In that respect, we now have new standards for service to the public. We take great pride in how meticulously we adhere to them.

This week, the Ministry of Energy was in the hot seat. That’s because, in announcing a new program entitled the Affordability Fund, the Ministry was accused in the media, particularly social media, of failing to comply with the requirements of the French Language Services Act. We responded immediately, posting on social media that we were looking into the issue. The public was concerned that the beneficiaries of this new program would have to complete a form that was available in English only. Yet the Ministry website clearly suggested that the form was available in French.

One of our investigators immediately opened a file, since the Ministry of Energy is obviously subject to the FLSA. In other words, there were no admissibility or jurisdiction issues.

Then our investigator decided to telephone the Ministry directly rather than send an official form. The ensuing conversation between our office and the Ministry had a very rapid, positive effect, in that the Ministry quickly realized the error and corrected it with the same diligence. The French version of the form was already online, but there was an error on the home page.

In short, everything was fixed. The file was opened, the complaint was deemed founded, the issue was resolved in just a few days, and it took only a few phone calls.

It would be appropriate to consider whether the problem was a systemic one, but we decided to let this one pass since this Ministry usually complies quite thoroughly with FLSA requirements. The Ministry nevertheless pledged to exercise better quality control in the future.

There will always be blunders, gaffes and faux pas, and the French-language services sector is not immune. In fact, that is, in part, the reason for the existence of the Commissioner’s Office.
I wrote this blog post to illustrate the fact that, in concrete terms, we sometimes get much better results with rapid intervention than with a complaint process that can linger.

And while she was at it, our investigator took advantage of the opportunity to check the bilingual capacity of the Ministry’s managers by telephoning and requesting service in French, which she received without delay.
This has been a glimpse of what we do in our day-to-day work.

A first visit to Sarnia

In my last ten years as Commissioner, I have travelled a lot and I have met people from the four corners of Ontario. Yet, I never had the chance to go to Sarnia and, this weekend, I finally got that chance!

I had the opportunity to chat with a group of retirees and seniors from the South-West at the FARFO Information Fair and to speak to them about my priorities:  health. I also brought up the reform of the Act, a subject that is getting a lot of coverage right now in the media, especially after the publication of the results of the AFO survey. But that’s not all. The Sarnia region is an area that is not yet designated, and I think that my recommendation to make the entire province a single large designated area resonates deeply for the community of Sarnia. They want more access to services, they have French-language secondary services that serve more than 220 students and, finally, there are very active organizations and a cultural centre that make a significant contribution to the Francophone vitality of this area.

I also had the opportunity to be the guest of honour of the AGA of the Réseau-Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l’Ontario [“Southwestern Ontario Women’s Network”]. This organization has offered services to women who are victims of violence (spousal, economic, isolation, etc.) in the communities of Windsor, London, and  Sarnia, for more than 26 years. This is nothing short of incredible! The organization has faced some difficulties in recent years, but overcame them with power and panache. For each of these three areas, three people were available to respond to women’s needs, with more than a thousand hours per year for counseling, companionship, and follow-up services. I was impressed with the work that they do every day, and their accomplishments that, in my opinion, are not highlighted enough in the media or elsewhere in the province.

Here are a few projects for Francophone women from the South-West that are worthy of recognition:

  • Portable Housing Project (Windsor) – pilot project: rather than place a woman on a waiting list for subsidized municipal or provincial housing, she is given a direct subsidy. That way, she can choose where she wants to live (she can choose private), and stay close to her social support. This is now a permanent project across the province.
  • Establishment of the Centre juridique pour femmes francophones de l’Ontario [“Legal clinic for Francophone women of Ontario”] (CSJFFO): The goal of the CSJFFO is to increase access to justice for all French-Speaking women of Ontario. Women often face obstacles with their legal issues, such as having trouble finding a Francophone lawyer, the high costs of legal representation, the eligibility requirements for a legal aid certificate, the geographic isolation of rural regions and long distances to travel to obtain services. (From the 2016-2017 Annual Report of the Réseau-Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l’Ontario)

I would also like to congratulate RFSOO for establishing new strategic planning. You have a mission and a clear strategic direction and especially very specific objectives. Congratulations for your fine work. Francophone women living through difficult situations have resources and tools available to them and are certainly well taken care of by your people. I wish you great success in the coming years.

Despite that Sarnia is not a designated area under the French Language Services Act, it is important for me to highlight the relentless work done by Francophones in this area. I also took some time to stroll in the city, and have French fries on the bridge (recommended by a delegate of the Information Fair).

I will have fond memories of this trip, especially of the people I met and the discussions we had. I promise not to let another decade go by without a visit!