Ottawa: Language policy definition sought City's bilingualism efforts misunderstood, councillor says

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jan 31 16:15:41 UTC 2008

Language policy definition sought City's bilingualism efforts
misunderstood, councillor says


West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry wants a review of the city's
bilingualism policy to ensure it's not open to misinterpretation.
"We need to have it clearly defined in the policy," said El-Chantiry.
"It's not clear enough for everyone. Obviously, others have a
different interpretation of what practical bilingualism is." In 2000,
the city amalgamated with its 11 municipal neighbours and inherited
the old City of Ottawa's bilingualism policy that was nearly 30 years
old. On May 9, 2001, council implemented a new policy that, according
to the city, "reaffirms its commitment to offer services in the two
official languages to both residents and staff," and "is deemed both
practical and flexible in its approach."


The city's website says the policy is based on provisions that "govern
several features of civic activity, notably communications, the
proactive delivery of services in both languages to citizens and
staff, work organization, including designation of positions, language
training, and cultural program management." The policy also states
"the City of Ottawa recognizes both official languages as having the
same rights, status and privileges." El-Chantiry said the statement is
ambiguous and could force all city employees to learn both languages.
"We need to open the policy to have less confusion," he said. "We
don't need every employee working for the city to be bilingual."

The city's bilingualism policy came under scrutiny this week after an
Orleans man filed an official languages complaint against the city.
Michel Thibodeau filed the complaint because OC Transpo bus drivers
weren't calling out stops in both English and French. The city clerk
is investigating.


However, not all of El-Chantiry's colleagues agree the policy needs to
be reviewed.

Bay Coun. Alex Cullen wants to wait for the results of the clerk's
investigation, but doesn't think there is compelling evidence to
reopen the policy.

"Let's not get stampeded into a debate that may not be necessary," he said.

Francophone councillor Michel Bellemare said the current policy is working.

"We don't need a review of the policy. We need to make sure we are
implementing it properly," said Bellemare.

Coun. Steve Desroches said all city policies need to be reviewed at
some point but a review of the bilingualism policy can wait.

"We shouldn't be questioning the policy based on one complaint. One
person's complaint is not reflective of the entire francophone
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