Chapter 2

A Human Story

2.9 Municipalities

An analysis by the Commissioner’s Office, documented in its latest annual report,35 demonstrated that more than half of the member municipalities of the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario (AFMO) had no by-law or policy on French-language services, although 80% of them provided bilingual municipal services de facto. Moreover, where there are by-laws, most of them are more than 20 years old.

The Commissioner has congratulated the municipal councils that have taken such initiatives, of course. However, he feels that others should follow suit. In the Commissioner’s view, the future of the Francophone community depends on the enactment of genuine safeguards.

Furthermore, by passing legislation on this issue, municipalities could mitigate the inclination of certain individuals to politicize and exploit the language question, as was the case with the Township of Russell’s by-law on bilingual commercial signs that was challenged by two citizens. The lawsuit brought by the two citizens was thrown out by the Ontario Superior Court in August 2010 and the Ontario Court of Appeal in June 2012. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case in December 2012.36 These judgements should encourage municipal officials to forge ahead without worrying about having their actions challenged in the courts or questioning the constitutional legality of their decision.

Yet the debate surrounding the relationship between Francophones and their municipalities has not faded away. For example, last fall the États généraux de la francophonie d’Ottawa recommended that the city be officially designated bilingual. The Commissioner’s position on this question is crystal clear. He has come out in favour of a declaration of official bilingualism, which would reaffirm Ottawa’s unique place in the Canadian landscape and strengthen all Francophone citizens’ sense of belonging and equal status.

Meanwhile, the debate about bilingual commercial signs has reignited with the recent decision by the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario37 (ACFO) of Prescott-Russell to urge the region’s municipalities to adopt a policy on this matter. Although the Commissioner is proud to see this issue being debated in the public square, he regards the adoption of a by-law guaranteeing and safeguarding the provision of French-language services as equally important, even crucial. Lastly, the Commissioner believes that on the eve of the celebrations surrounding the 400th anniversary of the French presence in Ontario, municipalities should seize the opportunity to send a clear message to their citizens by taking the necessary steps to entrench the availability of the French-language services that are being provided de facto.

 

A WISH OF THE COMMISSIONER

The Commissioner would like the member municipalities of the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario (AFMO), especially those which are already providing French-language services, to adopt a municipal by-law or regulation that would formalize the use of French in the delivery of their programs and services.

 

35Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, supra note 15.

37For more information, see http://www.radio-canada.ca/regions/ottawa/2013/02/24/004-acfo-affichage-bilingue.shtml (page consulted in May 2013).

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