1.2. Plea for a statement of purpose in the French Language Services Act
While the provisions in the preamble of the French Language Services Act provide information about the Legislature’s intention, the same cannot be said about the Act’s purpose. There is no statement of purpose in the Act, which is an anomaly that needs to be rectified. This did not stop the Court of Appeal for Ontario from referring to the Act’s two main underlying objectives: (1) protection of Ontario’s Francophone minority population, and (2) advancement of the French language and promotion of its equality with English.5
If those are the purposes of the law, with which the Commissioner concurs, they should be clearly stated in a revised version of the Act.
Moreover, the rights and obligations set out in the Act have no meaning unless they are taken collectively. A single individual is entitled to receive services in French if he/she is in a designated area, of course. But the services provided to that individual and his/her family will have full import only if they benefit the entire Francophone community in the area concerned.
The idea of including concepts of rights and obligations in respect of official language minority communities — and not just individual rights — is not new.
In 1977, in a hard-hitting manifesto entitled Les héritiers de Lord Durham6 [The Heirs of Lord Durham], the Fédération des francophones hors Québec (now the FCFA du Canada) took a position in favour of a global, specific, coherent policy for the development of French linguistic and cultural communities (p. 18). Every action by this organization representing one million minority Francophones was undertaken with a view to advancing this ultimate objective. For example, the major amendments to the Official Languages Act (OLA) in 1988, one of which was the addition of Part VII, were made in an effort to reflect this need. The Action Plan for Official Languages and later the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages of subsequent federal governments were also inspired by this desire to address the concrete needs and legitimate aspirations of official language minority communities.
Indeed, it is only logical to believe that public services to individuals must also have a community component, since the individual will be able to preserve his/her language only if he/she can communicate with other members of the community. In addition, in the Commissioner’s view, the Ontario government must make every effort to ensure that its policies, programs, services, communications and other content benefit the Franco-Ontarian communities scattered across the province. A statement of purpose in a revised French Language Services Act should contain explicit provisions concerning these new policies of government ministries and agencies.
Accordingly, the Commissioner recommends to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs that legislative amendments be introduced to ensure that the revised French Language Services Act has a practical, concrete impact in support of the development and growth of the Francophone community across the province, ideally in its statement of purpose but also in particular provisions.
To that end, the government will need to understand the community’s needs. Hence, the new Act should have specific provisions concerning not only the necessity of properly consulting community members but also the means selected to do so, although that could also be done through regulation.
5 Ibid., para.143.
6 Fédération des francophones hors Québec (1977), Les héritiers de Lord Durham, Ottawa, 1977. Available online: http://www.fcfa.ca/user_files/users/40/Media/heritiers_de_lord_durham.pdf (page consulted in May 2016).