A Human Story
2.1 Introduction – A life
Despite six years of progress in improving the delivery of French-language services in Ontario, the old — not to say antiquated — question of the validity of the French Language Services Act and the energy invested in implementing the Act keeps rearing its ugly head.
While the reasons for asking the question range from simple curiosity to partisan intent, the underlying argument is almost always the same: “After all, most Francophones are bilingual.” The classic rejoinder goes as far back as the Commissioner’s first annual report: “There is a direct correlation between the delivery of high-quality French-language services and a thriving Franco-Ontarian community. ”The reader may also want to consult section 1.3 of the same report, which situates the Act within a broader sociopolitical context.
Those who pursue the issue with the allegation that providing French-language services is expensive will find an apt counterargument in the foreword of the 2011-2012 Annual Report: the high cost of failing to provide French-language services. One need look no further than health care, where misunderstanding directions on the use of medication or interpreting a patient’s symptoms sometimes forces the Francophone citizen to make another visit to the doctor or another health professional, thereby doubling the cost to taxpayers.
The above political, social and economic arguments have lost none of their relevance, but after six years of appeals for help, efforts to find solutions, positive conclusions, less happy endings, victories, defeats, laughter and tears, one can now bolster the rationale with something that has an eminently human dimension.
For, defining what Francophone Ontarians need and expect from their government simply as sterile verbal interaction is extravagantly simplistic.
First, it constitutes a failure to understand that as trivial as a deficiency in the provision of French-language services — absence of a French greeting at a ServiceOntario office or unilingual English signage on a provincial highway — may seem, those deficiencies gradually smother the Francophone’s feeling of attachment to a culture whose history is intimately connected with one’s own.
It also constitutes a failure to understand that, for Francophones in Ontario, French is often their mother tongue, their everyday language, the language in which they can express every nuance of their thoughts, the language that reflects and incorporates their individual, cultural and social being. In Kapuskasing, Welland, Casselman and Brampton, Francophones of every age live their lives in French every day, with everything that implies: they go to school; they get oriented after arriving from another country; they buy and sell property; they get sick; they seek justice; they have or adopt children; they lose their way; they vote; they drive; they deal with a disability; they recycle; they age.
And in all these facets of their lives, as in countless others, the government and its agents are required to intervene, subject to the applicable laws and regulations, of course. However, when it appears that the letter and spirit of the French Language Services Act are not being adhered to, it is up to the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner to intervene and, like government services, the interventions of the Commissioner’s Office are quite varied in nature. What these interventions have in common, though, is that they all help, to varying degrees, to significantly improve the lives of Ontario’s Francophones, from beginning to end. As a result, what they also have in common is that they help to significantly improve the political, social and economic well-being of Ontarian society today and in the future.