[lg policy] Canada: Ontario’s French language commissioner wants government policy filtered through a ‘francophone lens’

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jun 2 10:22:35 EDT 2017

 Ontario’s French language commissioner wants government policy filtered
through a ‘francophone lens’

François Boileau says the province must take the needs of French-speaking
Ontarians into account when it develops new policies and services
Published on Jun 01, 2017
by Daniel Kitts <http://tvo.org/authors/current-affairs/daniel-kitts>
[image: François Boileau]
French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau presents his 10th
annual report at Queen's Park on May 30, 2017. (Daniel Kitts/TVO)

After 10 years as Ontario’s first French language services commissioner,
François Boileau says the government has made strides communicating
policies and delivering services in French. But he stresses that too often
the government acts as if fulfilling its commitments to the province’s
600,000 francophones
merely an act of translation rather than of meaningful accommodation.

“No longer will you see unilingual leaflets distributed to every home in
the province; no longer will you see English-only documents on ministry
websites,” Boileau said, introducing his 10th annual report
<http://csfontario.ca/en/rapports/ra1617>Tuesday at Queen’s Park. “Is there
still work to be done in the area of social media? Absolutely. But the
foundation we have beneath us is much more solid than it was 10 years ago.”

Still, the report lists more than a dozen areas — including health care,
justice, education, and children and youth services — where the province
could do more to accommodate French-speaking Ontarians. (In 25 regions that
contain a significant number of francophones, residents are entitled to
receive provincial services in French. About 80 per cent of
Franco-Ontarians live in these places; a 26th region, Markham, will be
added in 2018.)

A key reason problems persist, he said, is the government tends to develop
initiatives without taking francophones’ needs into account. As a result,
the French Language Services Act <https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90f32>
(FLSA) is often misinterpreted or ignored by staff and agencies delivering
services to the public.

Some may question the importance of these issues: after all, francophones
are much less vulnerable than, for example, Indigenous communities, and
there are dozens of other unprotected minority languages spoken in Ontario.
Still, francophones have been here more than 400 years — long enough to
develop a unique culture and identity within the province’s own — and as
with other minority groups, have been subject to government efforts at
assimilation (including through Regulation 17
which limited the use of French in elementary schools from 1912 to 1927).
[image: Bilingual signage in a court house.]*Bilingual signage at a
courthouse in Sarnia. (news.ontario.ca <http://news.ontario.ca>)*

While many Franco-Ontarians today also speak English, it remains their
second language. That can make it tough to express themselves clearly in
times of stress — for example, at a hospital or the local police station.
As well, Ontario’s French population increasingly contains vulnerable
groups: Boileau noted that among GTA francophones, roughly half were born
outside Canada, and many are racialized immigrants from former French
colonies in Africa.

“My own staff, we’re 14,” Boileau said. “Eight out of 14 were not born in
this country.”

To ensure francophones are considered from the beginning of the policy
formulation process, Boileau recommended Ontario ministries use the
so-called Francophone Lens, a tool developed by the Office of Francophone
Affairs. It offers a user guide, an online course, and other materials
intended to help bureaucrats better understand when and how they need to
offer French language services.

French language services come up particularly short in health care, Boileau
said. Although Ontario recently passed its Patients First Act
the commissioner said the legislation fails to resolve a problem he has
repeatedly complained about. Namely, that while the Ministry of Health and
Long-Term Care is subject to the FLSA, Local Health Integration Networks
and the third-party service providers they hire to interact with the public
are not — at least according to ministry lawyers.

“The ministry found a legal interpretation useful to the ministry and the
networks rather than the public,” Boileau, himself a lawyer, said.

Bill 89, which lays out reforms to the Ontario children’s aid societies, is
another area of concern for Boileau. The bill, he said, fails to define
clearly when a CAS is required to offer French language services.

Following Boileau’s presser, Marie-France Lalonde, the minister responsible
for francophone affairs, did what ministers always do when a new report is
released: she said she would take its suggestions seriously.

“There’s 10 strong recommendations that we are agreeing with,” Lalonde
said. “We will be moving forward with an official response as a government
very shortly, so I look forward to working and continuing to work with the

But the NDP’s Francophone Affairs critic France Gélinas said that, despite
Boileau’s many reports, the Liberal government has repeatedly failed to
ensure francophones have access to the language services they need: “You
look at health, you look at education, you look at justice, it’s the theory
of little steps. But there are little steps that leave us standing in

Gélinas says Boileau and various francophone groups have been pushing for
updates to the decades-old FLSA, yet the government has failed to do much
about it. “When Commissioner Boileau puts in black and white what needs to
be done,” she said, “it doesn’t always mean action follows.”

Boileau said that, while he’d rather the government act upon his
recommendations immediately, patience and persistence are important parts
of his job.

“As a minority we will always have to claim our place,” he said. “It’s
normal for a minority that you’ll have to repeat yourself.”


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