L’Aquilon (Northwest Territories) – According to the two most recent annual reports published, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, during these two years, no complaint was dealt with by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. After this slump, a new wave of complaints was recorded during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, but citizens who took advantage of the service deplored unsatisfactory treatment.
Cecile Antoine-Meyzonnade – Aquilon
Suzanne Houde, a unilingual Francophone residing in Yellowknife since the 1980s, has struggled for years to receive better services in French, a complex battle in which support seems absent to her. After numerous representations to the various authorities in order to assert her language rights, she turned to the Office of the Languages Commissioner. It was in 2019 that she filed her first complaint. Nearly ten more will follow.
“Nothing has changed, it’s very demoralizing. It’s nothing new, and you end up wondering if it’s worth going to the Commissioner’s Office, ”says Ms. Houde.
As a reminder, the function of the Commissioner is to ensure proper compliance with the Official Languages Act. To do this, the Commissioner receives complaints from the public and conducts investigations. It issues recommendations intended for the pinned instances, but it cannot in any case force them to make a modification.
Following his various complaints, meetings with members of the government were organized by the current Languages Commissioner, Shannon Gullberg. No report would have been sent to Ms. Houde, only detailed records of these meetings.
“I told them what was wrong. They say they are going to do something, and nothing has changed, explains Suzanne Houde. I was waiting [que Mme Gullberg] shows his authority. She would like everything to be resolved during these meetings, but it does not work and nothing succeeds. “
Asked about this, Shannon Gullberg knows that this method of mediation is not “100% successful”. “It doesn’t solve the problems, but it allows for a better understanding,” she says. It personifies the complaint. ”
Xavier Lord-Giroux, a francophone also living in the capital of the NWT, attended these meetings as a guide: “His ideas may be good, but the complainant’s opinion is needed, and I know there is no no fallout. Suzanne has been neglected. ”
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Mr. Lord-Giroux himself filed numerous complaints, five in total, during the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The annual report for this fiscal year is expected this fall.
He supports one of the “big obstacles” encountered by Ms. Houde in her interactions with the Office of the Languages Commissioner: the greeting is provided exclusively in English.
“There are only two employees, and we cannot be served in French,” testifies Mr. Lord-Giroux. One of the objectives of the Act is to have a principle of equality between languages and we cannot speak of equality if it is incumbent on Francophones to take additional steps. ” Reports are translated into the desired language, and an interpreter can be made available with certain delays.
In addition to the reception, Mr. Lord Giroux advances the argument that it is complicated to file a complaint. Unlike all other Canadian offices of this type, for example, it is impossible to complete a complaint request directly online. It is therefore necessary for the requesting party to print it out, fill it in by hand and then send it by e-mail or by post. All at his expense. “I think this is a contributing factor, in addition to having difficulty obtaining services in French, assumes Xavier Lord-Giroux. [La commissaire] does not make it easy for those who want to make complaints. “
In addition, according to him, a commissioner should be at least bilingual: “I think it is an aberration that she does not speak French, or even none of the other official languages. And let’s say she speaks an indigenous language, it is unacceptable that her staff do not speak French. ”
Deadlines and processing
In early May 2019, Xavier Lord-Giroux filed a complaint. Without an answer, he asks if an investigation will take place the following October. Almost a year, to the day, after the filing of his complaint, an answer is finally given: the investigation is refused for having requested anonymity.
“I do not understand why it took me a year to receive a report,” he protests.
The annual report for 2018-2019 was also delayed: it was published in May 2020, more than a year after the end of the financial year. Shannon Gullberg confirms that the office does not impose deadlines on itself. However, she admits that she took longer to process complaints than usual. “There is no specific time limit for dealing with a complaint, it all depends on its nature. I would like to add that, in the last few years, I have been slower than before ”, she confides.
In addition to the deadlines, Mr. Lord-Giroux also deplores the fact that the commissioner forgot certain points raised in her complaints: “There are factual errors, such as being in the wrong place or changing a person’s title, but she also omitted to mention a major component that is not addressed in the report. ”
Some recommendations even “scandalized” the complainant: concerning a complaint about the fact that certain statements by deputies published on the NWT government website were not translated, she wrote in her report that she “felt that it would be inappropriate. that a GNWT department translate a minister’s statement, ”referring to“ parliamentary privilege ”.
“I completely disagree with that, it’s scandalous, what she recommends, he insists. She is very meticulous in detailing the judgments, the articles of law and, there, she does not rely on anything. “
To obtain the reports on the complaints he lodged, Mr. Lord-Giroux indicates that he had to make the request himself.
In a response written by the office, Xavier Lord-Giroux realizes that all of his personal information filled in his complaint form has been submitted to the government without his consent: postal address, email, telephone number, the name of his employer …
“Having made several complaints at the federal level and in New Brunswick, where I come from, anonymity is always respected, unless we are asked to do so,” he explains.
On the complaint forms provided by the office, which can be downloaded from their website, no part mentions confidentiality. “I want confidentiality to be applied, there have been repercussions on my professional network,” said Mr. Lord-Giroux.
Asked about this, Shannon Gullberg explains that, according to her, anonymity interferes with the proper processing of cases. “Personally, even though I allowed it, I don’t think that’s the best principle for handling complaints,” she explains. If there are facts, dates, references, it is not fair to members of the government because they cannot respond adequately. There shouldn’t be anonymous complaints. I know some offices do, and that’s their right. ”
It hasn’t always been the approach to this office. In the 1993-1994 annual report, the very first languages commissioner of the NWT, Betty Harnum, wrote: “The identity of the complainant is also kept confidential unless the person authorizes it to be revealed.”
No complaint filed for two years
Unlike the previous two years in which no complaints were registered, more than ten complaints were filed during the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Shannon Gullberg has confirmed that the number of admissible complaints is ten.
According to the latter, several explanations can be considered to explain the absence of complaints between 2017 and 2019. “For indigenous people, and this is a generalization, the idea of filling out a complaint request is not in their habits. , she explains. I must give them the choice not to do so, and discuss with the members of the government afterwards. ”
Ms. Gullberg also justifies the absence of complaints by the fact that people are trying to “cooperate” directly with the government. She cites the Fédération franco-ténoise (FFT) as an example. “People are looking for other means than through the complaint process,” she adds.
Moreover, according to her, “many complaints are the same as when the office opened, so we can always make the same recommendations or try to involve more people in the process,” she said before. to add: “It’s a personal approach.”
Request for information and complaint, same result?
In addition to complaints, the office of the Commissioner of Official Languages can also receive requests for information. No investigation is planned in this case, unless the Commissioner feels the need to do so. These are recorded in the various annual reports. Last year, four requests were registered.
Asked about the usefulness of this operation, Shannon Gullberg explains that the request for information and the complaint are on an equal footing.
An opinion that Xavier Lord-Giroux does not share: “When we file a complaint, we have expectations about the quality of the investigation, while a request for information is [la commissaire] who chooses or not to conduct an investigation. ” He adds that he has already been satisfied with a request for information, knowing that he expected nothing more.
“I think there is a deep misunderstanding of what a police station is. When you look at his work, it is more like that of an administrative tribunal. The maneuver possibilities are not exploited by the commissioner. There is a deep unease in handling complaints. ”
“I have the impression that Ms. Gullberg thinks that the plaintiffs are angry people, comments Xavier Lord-Giroux, but I am not angry with the government. I just want the violations to be recognized. ”