Canada: Languages commissioner condemns funding cuts

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon May 14 00:32:49 UTC 2007

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 » *May 13* » *2007
    Languages commissioner condemns funding cuts
    *Andrew Mayeda* CanWest News Service
Saturday, May 12, 2007

 OTTAWA - The Harper government shirked its duty to protect Canada's two
official languages when it cut spending on social programs last fall, the
official languages commissioner has found. Commissioner Graham Fraser
received 117 complaints after the government announced about $1 billion in
cuts to more than 70 programs and organizations in September. Most
complaints stemmed from the government's decision to end funding for the
Court Challenges Program, which financed court cases that advance language
and equality rights under the Constitution.

In a preliminary report sent to the complainants on Friday and obtained by
Canwest News, Fraser concludes that their allegations were "founded."

In addition to the Court Challenges Program, Fraser's review focused on
eight programs, including Status of Women Canada and an adult-literacy

Fraser said the decision to withdraw funding for the Court Challenges
Program "stands out" for its violation of the Official Languages Act.

Under the act, the federal government is committed to "enhancing the
vitality" of anglophone and francophone minority communities, and "fostering
the full recognition and use English and French in Canadian society."

Fraser noted "the (Court Challenges Program)'s significant contribution over
the years to the advancement of language rights in this country is

"Just as certain are the ongoing evolution of language rights and the need
of minority language communities for reasonable access to the judicial
process to ensure the protection and promotion of their interests."

New Democrat MP Yvon Godin, who submitted a complaint on the cuts, welcomed
the findings.

"It's a tool to make sure in our country, in a democracy, that people can
get justice through the courts," he said of the Court Challenges Program.

He said the program has been crucial to upholding the language rights of
French-speaking minorities in New Brunswick, where his riding is located.

Supporters of the program argue that individuals or interest groups often
cannot fund lengthy court battles on their own.

The Harper government was accused of stifling such objections this week when
the Conservative chairman of the Commons committee on official languages
cancelled hearings on the program.

Although the other programs that were cut do not appear directly related to
language policy, Fraser said they were all "contributing in their own way
and in varying degrees to the general advancement of English and French and
to the well-being of minority language communities."

"A federal program does not have to specifically target official language
groups to affect them."

The cuts "were the product of a seriously flawed decision-making process
that did not allow due consideration of the needs and interests of
official-language minority communities," Fraser says in his report.

He recommends that the federal Treasury Board conduct a "thorough
assessment" of the impact of the cuts on official-language minorities, and
then submit the results to the government so it can "review its decisions."

Ottawa Citizen
(c) CanWest News Service 2007

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