1.8.3. Active offer
The Commissioner promised last year to revisit the question of active offer, which is still considered a priority issue. This re-examination of the issue is associated with the celebration of the French Language Services Act’s 30th anniversary in 2016. On this occasion, the Commissioner is advocating a revision of the Act so that the principle of active offer will be enshrined therein, in clear and straightforward terms.
Accordingly, he published his special report on active offer in the spring of 2016.31 The report focuses on the need for the Ontario government to take concrete measures and acquire the necessary instruments to ensure that ministries, agencies, entities and third parties that provide services on the government’s behalf implement the active offer of service in French.
The Act does not explicitly mention Francophones’ right to be actively offered services in their language. In the absence of such a provision, progress on active offer is likely to be difficult and slow. Nevertheless, some entities have made active offer a standard of service, even developing some expertise on the subject.
The Commissioner’s Office also acknowledges that Regulation 284/1132 is a step in the right direction for active offer, but it only requires active offer by third parties that provide French-language services on the government’s behalf, not by government organizations as such.
Without active offer, the quality of the services provided suffers. Sometimes the lack of active offer has tragic consequences in emergency or crisis situations. Francophone citizens in vulnerable situations are the most seriously affected.
While the following testimony did not lead to an investigation or a complaint, it is telling. In April 2015, Mélissa had to call 9-1-1 twice for a family crisis; a member of her family was suicidal. The first time she called, she asked for service in French but could not get it. She had to speak English to two Ontario Provincial Police officers.
“I am a capable person, but you know when you are in a crisis situation […] I would really have appreciated being served in French […] I was always groping for words and, you know, anyway, it wasn’t easy for me to explain the situation, especially since it was a serious crisis.”33
As we approach the Act’s 30th anniversary, there can be no doubt that stricter regulation of the obligation to “actively” offer service in French is the keystone to achieving its objective for the Francophone community.
In his special report, the Commissioner recommended that the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs take the necessary measures to have the Act amended to include a provision on active offer. These changes should be based on a provincial strategy on active offer of service in French developed by the Office of Francophone Affairs in conjunction with the French-language services coordinators. The Commissioner also recommended to the Minister that the recommendations on active offer be implemented no later than the spring of 2018.
31 Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, Special Report — Active Offer of Services in French: The Cornerstone for Achieving the Objectives of Ontario’s French Language Services Act, Toronto, 2016.
32 Available online: www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/110284 (page consulted in May 2016).
33 Personal account of Mélissa, F, age 35.