Land and Resources
Teranet is a private corporation that specializes in online land registration. Under an agreement with the Ontario government, it provides thousands of people with electronic access to property documents.
The ServiceOntario agency, a division of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, is responsible for Teranet. This public-private partnership between the Ministry and Teranet takes care of land registry services in the province.
While ServiceOntario is subject to the French Language Services Act, it regrettably did not take the necessary steps when it privatized electronic land registry services. The government failed to make sure that Teranet, the service provider acting on its behalf, would provide land registry services in French.
The privatization of land registry services in Ontario dates back to 1991. The private corporation Teranet was established at that time under a public-private partnership that guaranteed it contracts to provide services for the government. Teranet’s initial mandate was to convert the paper-based property title registration system to an electronic database that would allow the public to do online registrations.
In 1995, Teranet designed an interface that enabled users to access and print property documents. At the time, the English-only interface did not accept French accented letters. Following consultations with Francophone community representatives in 2000, Teranet agreed to provide Francophones with the option of faxing or mailing their French-language documents to a designated registry office.
In 2003, the Ontario government sold half of its shares in Teranet to a consortium of private investors. A few years later, in 2009, the province and Teranet updated their database software (POLARIS) to include French accented letters.
In 2010, the government consolidated its relationship with Teranet by extending its operating licences to 2067. Further modernization work on the interface and the database to permit full land registration in French has been under way since 2011. In the meantime, the Commissioner made a recommendation that any entity established under a public-private partnership in Ontario be subject to the French Language Services Act.
Toward a new system that includes French
Since its inception in 2007, the Commissioner’s Office has taken a very active stance with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services and ServiceOntario regarding electronic property registration. Similarly, the Ministry and Teranet have worked closely in recent years on improving the delivery of French-language services. Teranet completed its modernization of the POLARIS system, which is now capable of accepting French accented letters, so that French names can be used in title searches. However, much work remains to be done before we have an equivalent system for creating and registering documents in French.
Teranet and ServiceOntario are currently working on this update, which will finally make it possible to provide Francophone users with an equivalent service. According to ServiceOntario, which is responsible for Teranet, the refit was expected to take several years, with completion in 2014-2015. Official deployment should therefore be possible in 2015, which the Commissioner’s Office is hoping for and looking forward to.
Learning lessons from a false start
The public-private partnership that created Teranet in 1991 is, to say the least, a lesson for the government with regard to French-language services. At the time, ServiceOntario did not take the necessary steps to ensure that Teranet, to which it was assigning responsibility for electronic land registration, would provide services in French. The Commissioner’s Office was highly critical of this implementation of a complex, costly electronic property registration system, whose use is compulsory in Ontario, that cannot handle electronic registration in French!
During the privatization process, it is crystal clear that from the outset, nothing was done to make Teranet aware of Francophones’ needs. This example of a false start led to a 2011-2012 recommendation aimed at avoiding this sort of “oversight” in the future. The recommendation was that any bill or other measure leading to the establishment of public-private partnerships should include provisions that would make any entity associated with such partnerships subject to the French Language Services Act.
The Commissioner’s Office remains optimistic that its approach will result not only in equal access to electronic land registration in Ontario for Francophones, but also in awareness of the importance of addressing the needs of the province’s Francophone population in all projects, services and systems that the government contracts out to the private sector.