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Political reactions to the modernization wording of the French Language Services Act

FRANCOPRESSE – After unveiling on September 11 their wording for the modernization of the French Language Services Act (LSF) of Ontario, the Assembly of the Francophonie of Ontario (AFO) and the Association of French-speaking jurists of Ontario (AJEFO) have started their lobbying tour with the provincial deputies.

Didier Pilon – Francopresse

Following their meeting with the two Franco-Ontarian organizations, the NDP and Liberal spokespersons for Francophone Affairs, Guy Bourgouin and Amanda Simard, say they are ready to support a modernization of the Law during a possible vote in the Legislative Assembly.

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“There are several similarities between theAFO and theAJEFO and the bill I tabled last year», Notes Mr. Bourgouin. Bill 137, Franco-Ontarian Community Act, 2019, presented to the Legislative Assembly in November 2019, also called for the reinstatement of the French Language Services Commission (CSF) and the enshrining of the concept of active offer in law.

“It’s been since they came to power that the Conservatives have promised to modernize the Law, recalls the NDP member. Minister Mulroney is dragging her feet. ”

Caroline Mulroney’s office indicates that the Minister of Francophone Affairs still intends to update the Law of 1989, without specifying a timetable. Credit: RoyalObserver – Wikimedia Commons

Caroline Mulroney’s office indicates, however, that the Minister of Francophone Affairs still intends to update the Law from 1989, without specifying a timeline.

“Despite the impact of the pandemic on the consultation process regarding the modernization of the French Language Services Act, the government’s objective is to review the Law by the end of his term, ”assures a spokesperson for the minister.

Ms. Mulroney will meet with AFO soon to discuss the wording, the spokesperson added.

The return to “independence”

The wording of the AFO calls for the reestablishment of an “independent French services commissioner”, a formula that sows discord at Queen’s Park.

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“Ombudsman Paul Dubé is independent from the government and [la commissaire aux services en français de l’Ontario] Ms. Kelly Burke is also, replies the spokesperson for Ms. Mulroney. This decision [d’intégrer le CSF au Bureau de l’Ombudsman] is very good news for all Franco-Ontarians as well as for those who are committed to protecting access to services in French. ”

“The ministry firmly believes that the new commissioner will do a rigorous and impartial job,” she adds.

0918 Francopresse Réactions politiques libellé AFO Amanda Simard Cr. Archives Le Carillon
The Liberal spokesperson for Francophone Affairs, Amanda Simard, wants the Law on French language services Ontario goes even further. Credit: Le Carillon Archives

According to Guy Bourgouin, the government is playing with words.

“The government insists on saying that it is the same thing we had before, while it is clear to everyone that it is not,” he retorts. The mandate is no longer the same. ”

“It is clear that the government simply does not want to admit its mistake,” adds Amanda Simard.

“It is not a question of whether the ombudsman or the current commissioner is doing a good job,” said the Liberal member. The way of doing things should not be about the person, but rather about the job. The person can change at any time. ”

Ms. Simard actually wants the Law go even further.

“For it to be a truly independent commissioner,” continued the member for Glengarry — Prescott — Russell, “I would like to see a mechanism enshrined that ensures that any changes to the position require a two-thirds vote of the members of the Assembly. legislative. It would therefore prevent a majority government from eliminating the post without the support of the opposition. ”

The end of designated areas

The wording of the AFO and the AJEFO also proposes to eliminate the designated regions in order to extend the scope of the Law to the whole province. This is also a recommendation from the former French language services commissioner, François Boileau, included in his Annual Report from 2016.

Noting that each element of the proposal will be “closely studied”, Minister Mulroney’s office is however reluctant to the idea, instead touting its reform of the process for appointing an organization.

“Currently, more than 80% of Franco-Ontarians live in a region designated under the Law, specifies the spokesperson for the Minister. The ministry is working with other ministries on a pilot project aimed at simplifying and speeding up the designation process. Once the evaluation of the results of this pilot project is complete, organizations wishing to obtain the designation of services in French will be able to benefit from this new approach. ”

Mr. Bourgouin does not share this opinion.

“There are francophones who live throughout the province and they deserve the same services,” exclaims the NDP member.

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To include more public institutions

In addition to expanding its territorial scope, the wording also introduces legislation that would encompass a greater diversity of organizations.

“The problem is that there is an ambiguity in the existing terminology”, explains Me François Larocque, professor of law at the University of Ottawa who chaired the drafting committee of the wording.

0918 Francopresse Réactions politiques libellé AFO Assemblée législative Cr. Benson Kua Flickr
Bill 137, Franco-Ontarian Community Act, 2019, presented to the Legislative Assembly in November 2019 by MP Guy Bourgouin, called for the reinstatement of the French Language Services Commissioner and the enshrining of the concept of active offer in law. Credit: Benson Kua – Flickr

“The legislature has used the expression ‘government agency and institution of the legislature’, but it never defines the second term.”

This “annoying” formula has given rise to litigation, says the law professor, but the courts have avoided specifying its meaning.

The wording therefore proposes to substitute the term “public entities”. This new terminology would result in more organizations being included under the umbrella of the French Language Services Act.

“The goal is to include all the entities that exercise a power under a law or a provincial regulation,” explains Me Larocque. It’s still potentially a lot more entities. ”

If the proposal is accepted, the new law would apply to professional orders such as the Bar, the Order of Physicians and the Order of Teachers.

“If they are entities created by laws that have supervisory power; they should, in our opinion, be subject to the French Language Services Act», Concludes Me Larocque.

Municipalities are nevertheless excluded.

While Pierre Foucher, professor of linguistic law at the University of Ottawa, shares this conviction, he nevertheless questions the province’s ability to enforce the law.

“Let’s turn our gaze [vers le] federal, where the law is more inclusive, he explains. While we generally succeed in enforcing the law in government departments, it is more complicated in Crown corporations or Crown corporations. ”

“If the Ontario law covers more institutions, we risk experiencing similar difficulties,” he concludes.

A law with more teeth

In order to ensure the proper implementation of the Law, the AFO and AJEFO document also proposes the creation of a special committee, made up of a deputy from each recognized party, which will have the sole function of dealing with the application of the Law.

This proposal is inspired by the federal model, specifies Me Foucher.

“At the federal level, there are two committees that are specifically responsible for the official languages ​​file: one in the Senate and one in the House of Commons,” he explains. When the commissioner makes his report or when there are problems, it is these committees that deal with it. Regularly, ministers or officials are invited to appear before the committee to explain. ”

“This type of committee ensures parliamentary monitoring of the commitments and actions that the government takes for the implementation of the law,” he adds. In addition to that, it is not very expensive. The deputies are already there, it is just a matter of reorganizing the schedule. ”

In addition, the new law would also allow recourse to the courts to resolve disputes.

“It is extremely important, judges Mr. Foucher, because access to the courts allows the law to adapt to new realities. A law, no matter how well written, always needs interpretation. You never know what awaits us, what new technologies will exist in 10 years. “