FRANCOPRESSE – The Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge begins his 2019-2020 report by noting the failures of the health crisis in terms of official languages, stressing that “the obvious absence of bilingual services puts public safety at risk.” The annual report, tabled in Parliament on September 29, also marks the 50e anniversary of the Official Languages Act – and recalls the urgency of modernizing it.
Bruno Cournoyer Paquin – Francopresse
There is no need to make a choice between respecting the Law and public safety, because access to information in both official languages is in itself a public safety issue, explains the report. “Too often, important information about this crisis has been published in one official language,” recalls the document.
In an interview with Francopresse, Commissioner Théberge claims to have “prepared the ground” to ensure that these failures are not repeated, as Canada prepares to face a second wave of COVID-19.
“At the start of the pandemic, we did take certain actions, we communicated with all deputy ministers of the public service and all official languages champions to remind them of the importance of communicating in both official languages. », He explains.
In the wake of the health crisis, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages ”is also preparing a report […] on emergency situations, including the pandemic […] to explain the importance of official languages in emergency situations, in security matters, ”adds the Commissioner.
This report, which should be published in the coming weeks, reminds us that the issue of official languages is also one of fundamental rights.
Professor François Larocque, holder of the Research Chair on the Francophone World, Linguistic Rights and Issues at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa, is nevertheless disappointed that the issue of official languages in the crisis of COVID-19 “goes almost unnoticed” in the report.
“I think we should give the Office of the Commissioner a chance to prepare a report. I’m waiting for that and I think it’s going to be interesting and very important that he does it. Because there are issues that have been identified […] and it is important to shed light on this issue, ”he adds.
Modernize the Official Languages Act as soon as possible
The document also recalls that the government had undertaken to modernize the Official Languages Act in 2018, and he reiterates his expectations of seeing a bill in this regard as soon as possible – this is moreover one of the Commissioner’s three recommendations. “The reflection is well underway and the government has all the tools in hand to move from words to actions,” observes the report.
In the Speech from the Throne, the government pledged to “strengthen” the Official Languages Act “Taking into account the particular reality of French”. Raymond Théberge wonders:
“Reinforcing in an abstract way, it’s not clear to me what that means. And I know that several speakers interpreted it to mean that only certain changes would be made. We remain convinced of the need for a thoroughly modernized bill. ”
The commissioner says he is impatiently awaiting “a timetable, and slightly more concrete proposals” from the government.
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A high number of complaints
In 2019-2020, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages received 1,361 complaints, the majority of which (731) concerned communications with the public and the delivery of services. This constitutes an increase of 25% compared to the previous year; but an increase of 69% compared to the average of complaints recorded over the last ten years.
For Commissioner Théberge, this increase in complaints is explained by the fact that “in Canadian society, we are more and more aware of our rights, whether they be our language rights or others, and we are seeing an increase in the filing of complaints. , whether in the area of language rights or other complaints ”.
Éric Forgues, Director General of the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities (ICRML) of the Université de Moncton, partially agrees with this analysis. “[Peut-être qu’il y a] more complaints because people are more informed about the Law, of their rights. [Mais] maybe the situation is getting worse [aussi] from the point of view of respect for Law. “
For Professor Larocque, the two issues – citizen demands and offenses by federal institutions – go together: “There are problems in federal institutions, citizens are seeing it, and citizens are making complaints.”
“It illustrates the point that there is growing dissatisfaction with the Law, which shows its age. It is obsolete, and federal institutions are obviously managing to dodge their linguistic obligations. And that frustrates people, and people make complaints, ”continues François Larocque.
Commissioner Théberge recalls, however, that the majority of complaints are resolved – 80%, according to the report; also, “filing a complaint leads to results, so people are more and more aware of the importance of filing complaints”.
One of the main shortcomings of the report, according to François Larocque, is found in the absence of “intersectional analysis of complaints, differentiated on sex, origin, socioeconomic status. It is therefore difficult to assess the impact of breaches of Official Languages Act “On the most vulnerable populations of Canadian society”, who, moreover, make much greater use of public services.
Air Canada, this repeat offender
As usual, Air Canada stands out for its breaches of Law ; a sub-section of the report is devoted to it. As Commissioner Théberge points out: “As far as I know, Air Canada has always been very present in the reports of my predecessors. And we continue to have compliance challenges with Air Canada. Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t attempts to fix the situation, but it’s still difficult. ”
“What we see is that the problems at Air Canada are systemic, and will require significant changes in Air Canada’s culture to [qu’ils soient] able to meet their obligations, ”adds Raymond Théberge.
Éric Forgues adds that “Air Canada is a bit external [au gouvernement fédéral], which is subject to Law, but which is quite autonomous. So they may have a perception that they have less obligations. ”
However, he adds, Air Canada’s repeated failures reflect a “lack of leadership. And in the studies we’ve been able to do, it takes leadership to change an organizational culture, because it doesn’t change just by taking small steps here and there. These are pretty fundamental changes. ”
According to the commissioner, Air Canada’s failures still revolve around the same issues, but “what is different this year is that Air Canada will undergo a self-diagnostic exercise through the official languages maturity model», A way for them to assess where the obstacles are so that they meet their obligations under the Official Languages Act.
This type of diagnostic tool, according to Professor Larocque, is an interesting initiative of the Commissariat because “often, the institutions, it is not to do badly, but they do not understand what they can do, or even their own weaknesses. So a tool like [le modèle de maturité des langues officielles] would allow, if federal institutions adhere to and use it, [d’aiguiller] federal institutions on the right track. ”