French language services commissioner receives highest level of complaints and inquiries since 2019 (The Trillium)

December 7, 2023

7 December 2023

The commissioner released his annual report on Thursday

Sneh Duggal
This link opens in a new tabThe Trillium
December 7, 2023

A sign for the French River between Sudbury and Parry Sound was missing something: French.

So was a provincial ministry’s X account that was detailing the government’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place.

These were just a few of the cases the French Language Services Unit within the ombudsman’s office handled this past year, which received its highest number of complaints and inquiries since 2019, according to the office's 2022–23 annual report that was released on Thursday.

The Ministry of Transportation corrected the issue by adding a bilingual sign saying “Rivière des Français/French River.”

And Infrastructure Ontario now has an X account dedicated to French posts.

The French Language Services Unit handled 386 cases between Oct. 2022 and Sept. 2023, a 40 per cent increase since the previous year and the highest number since the Doug Ford government closed the French language services commissioner’s standalone office and added it to the areas overseen by Ombudsman Paul Dubé.

French Language Services Commissioner Carl Bouchard, who has been leading the office since March as interim commissioner and was made permanent this week, said his message while meeting with Franco-Ontarians this year was: “You have the right to receive French-language services from the Government of Ontario. Do not hesitate to contact me, to contact us, if you do not receive these services or if you do not have a positive experience.”

“My call seems to have been heard,” he said in French during a press conference on Thursday.   

The ministries that were the subject of the greatest number of inquiries or complaints were colleges and universities (35.8 per cent), transportation (6.7 per cent) and public and business service delivery (6.1 per cent), the commissioner's report stated.

Among all the cases Bouchard's office handled during the past year, there were some recurring themes and the commissioner has asked the government to do better when it comes to communicating in French via social media and training employees.  

Around 29 per cent of the cases dealt with written communications, including social media, from government bodies.

In April, a regulation under the French Language Services Act went into effect that detailed the obligations of government agencies to provide an “active offer of services in French.”

The regulation requires agencies and institutions that provide an English document to the public with information about its services to also provide “a French version containing the same information … at the same time and in the same format.”

It also says websites, social media and other online content must have information in both English and French.

“We have realized that agencies are not systematically publishing bilingual content, the content available in French is not always equivalent, and some posts include photos or videos in English only,” said Bouchard.

He has recommended that the francophone affairs ministry “develop and communicate guidelines for all government agencies and institutions of the Legislative Assembly to ensure that all of their social media accounts comply with the active offer regulation, and provide me with a copy of these guidelines.”

Bouchard also recommended training, noting that even when services were available in French, “staff members were not always aware of the policies, practices and tools that exist for the provision of French-language services.”

He recommended the Treasury Board have government agencies and ministries “provide regular training and reminders to all front-line staff where an obligation exists to provide services in French,” and require them to attest each year that they have complied with the directive. Bouchard also asked that the Treasury Board share with him within the next year the directive and confirm it’s been implemented.

The office of Caroline Mulroney, the francophone affairs minister and president of the Treasury Board, thanked Bouchard for his report and said it would consider the recommendations.

"Indeed, French language services are a priority for our government; by improving access to and delivery of these services, francophones can continue to flourish and contribute fully to the province’s prosperity," a spokesperson wrote.

"The Ontario government has always responded promptly to many of the issues raised by the Ombudsman’s office, leading to swift resolutions. The Ministry of Francophone Affairs and the Treasury Board Secretariat will therefore give careful consideration to the recommendations."

Originally published on This link opens in a new tabThe Trillium’s website (for subscribers only).