1.11.4. Role of the French Language Services Commissioner
The functions of the French Language Services Commissioner are set out in section 12.2 of the French Language Services Act. The Commissioner is responsible for encouraging compliance with the Act. He does so by conducting investigations regarding French-language services in response to complaints or on his own initiative. That is the primary task of the Commissioner and his team: receive complaints from the public, process them, investigate, and if applicable, table reports. The Act says the Commissioner may advise the Minister. This implies a notion of dialogue with the Government. And to establish such a public and open dialogue, the Government must answer in opportune time recommendations of the Commissioner, whether they agree or not.
The Commissioner monitors progress, advises the Minister and makes recommendations on matters relating to the administration of the Act. He also prepares special reports, investigation reports and annual reports. In this regards, the Commissioner recommends that the Government answer each of the reports within 90 days following their tabling.
In addition, the Commissioner is required by the Act to perform any other functions assigned to him by the Lieutenant Governor. Should he then have the ability to take legal action? The Commissioner reserves judgement on this question, but he acknowledges that it should probably be debated during public consultations and eventually in a parliamentary committee.
Should the Commissioner have other powers, such as the ability to impose fines or sanctions in the event of non-compliance or failure to fulfil obligations under the Act? For the moment, he is of the opinion that such powers could turn the Commissioner’s Office into a decision-making tribunal, which would deprive it of the flexibility to resolve complaints in other ways. The Commissioner expects that there will be heated discussion on this issue during public consultations on possible revision of the Act.
The Commissioner should probably also have a promotional role, as his New Brunswick counterpart does. Making Francophones aware of French-language services is imperative if we truly want those services to be fully utilized. Francophones have to be educated to demand service in French. For that to happen, however, they must be aware not only of what services are available, but also, more fundamentally, of what their language rights are.
This new promotional role should also be exercised, in particular, in education. For Francophone communities, everything begins with and depends on education, and that has been true for centuries. For this reason, the Commissioner has not been shy about intervening in the education sector. But aside from investigations, which are nevertheless limited because school boards are not currently under the Commissioner’s jurisdiction, his role could also encompass the promotion of French-language education in all of its forms, including French-immersion programs.
It would also be a good thing if, while performing promotional activities, the Commissioner had in his toolbox the ability to provide training for the Ontario public service and even the private sector. The Commissioner would like his office to be as proactive as possible and to be in the forefront of all things related to the provision of government services for linguistic minorities.