Ombudsman appoints Kelly Burke as new French Language Services Commissioner

January 13, 2020

13 January 2020

Ombudsman Paul Dubé today announced that Ms. Kelly Burke has joined his office as Ontario’s new French Language Services Commissioner. Ms. Burke, an Assistant Deputy Minister and lawyer with several years’ experience in senior roles within the Ontario Public Service, including the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, begins work in her new position this morning.

(TORONTO - January 13, 2020) – Ombudsman Paul Dubé today announced that Ms. Kelly Burke has joined his office as Ontario’s new French Language Services Commissioner. Ms. Burke, an Assistant Deputy Minister and lawyer with several years’ experience in senior roles within the Ontario Public Service, including the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, begins work in her new position this morning.

“A tremendous effort was made to find the best person in Canada to fill this role, and I am confident we have done that,” Mr. Dubé said. “I am thrilled to have found Ms. Burke and I know she will be the successful champion of language rights we all want as Commissioner. We are fortunate to have found someone of her calibre and leadership experience for this role.”

Ms. Burke will be a vital member of the Ombudsman’s Executive Management Team, at the level of Deputy Ombudsman. “With her legal skills and vast experience in government, she will be a tremendous asset to our office as a whole,” the Ombudsman said. “We look forward to working with her and are convinced that the best days for French language services in Ontario are not behind us, but ahead of us.”

Completely bilingual in both official languages, Ms. Burke most recently served as Assistant Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Prior to that, she worked in the Ministry of Francophone Affairs from 2014 to January 2019 as Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Administrative Officer, serving as Interim Deputy Minister for part of 2015.

She played a key role in such projects as the establishment of a monument at Queen’s Park marking the 400th anniversary of French presence in Ontario, and engaging the community in a pilot project to improve access to justice in French in Ottawa.

Ms. Burke has also held senior positions in the ministries of the Attorney General, Intergovernmental Affairs and Democratic Renewal, and Government and Consumer Services (Management Board of Cabinet, where, among other things, she was counsel to Ontario’s Conflict of Interest and French Language Services commissioners). She is a seasoned labour lawyer, and also worked as a French immersion teacher early in her career.

“It is a privilege to be part of an organization that is renowned as an agent of positive change,” Ms. Burke said of the Ombudsman’s office. “As a passionate franco-Ontarian, I sought out this role because it provides me with a unique opportunity to contribute my knowledge and experience to the promotion of French language service rights within an organization that is known to be effective. With the expertise and resources of the Ombudsman’s Office to draw upon, I am enthusiastic about what the French Language Services Unit will be able to accomplish for francophones and francophiles in Ontario.”

As of May 1, 2019, provincial legislation transferred the responsibilities of the former office of the French Language Services Commissioner to the Ombudsman. “Although my office did not solicit this mandate, we see it as an historic opportunity to enhance respect for French language service rights in Ontario, building on the legacy of the former Commissioner‘s Office,” Mr. Dubé said. “Francophones will benefit from a more powerful and impactful organization promoting their rights, and the new Commissioner will operate within a larger, more experienced organization, with a broader mandate. She will be proactive, highly visible, and accessible to the community.

“The Commissioner’s role is to be an independent, effective agent of positive change. It is also to be a champion of French language service rights. Having played a vital role in the delivery of French language services, Ms. Burke already has extensive knowledge of the key players, stakeholders and issues.”

The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature who resolves and investigates public complaints about provincial government bodies, as well as French language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards. He does not overturn decisions of elected officials or set public policy, but makes recommendations to ensure administrative fairness, transparency and accountability. The Ombudsman’s recommendations have been overwhelmingly accepted. In 2018-2019, his office received 27,419 complaints, 61% of which were resolved within two weeks.

Please see backgrounder below.

Mr. Dubé and Ms. Burke are not available for comment today, but will speak to media at a press conference on Wednesday, January 15 at the Queen’s Park Media Studio, at 1 p.m. Journalists who are not members of the Queen’s Park Press Gallery should report to Room 149 of the Legislative Building for passes, or call 416-325-7922. The press conference will also be streamed live on the Ombudsman’s website,

For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications

Emmanuelle Bleytou, Communications Manager (acting)


Backgrounder: French Language Services and the Ombudsman’s Office

As of May 1, 2019, legislation came into effect that transferred all functions of the former Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (FLSC) to the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman. The legislation provided that the Ombudsman’s office would establish the position of Commissioner at the level of Deputy Ombudsman. The same legislation also transferred the investigative function (but not the advocacy function) of the former Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (PACY) to the Ombudsman on May 1.


First steps:

In order to ensure uninterrupted service to the public – while combining responsibilities of three separate offices and teams in three different bargaining units – the Ombudsman established two new units, devoted to French Language Services and Children and Youth. Both units are staffed by employees from the former FLSC and PACY, and function according to the Ombudsman’s long-established models of complaint resolution and investigation.

During the transition, the Ombudsman’s Office also restructured positions that were redundant or not part of its new mandate, eliminating 49 at the former PACY, and three at the former FLSC. The former Executive Director of the FLSC was appointed as Interim Commissioner; when he departed on August 15, Mr. Dubé assumed the role of Interim Commissioner himself.

In June, the Ombudsman hosted the sixth annual conference of the International Association of Language Commissioners, of which he is now a member. This honoured a commitment made by the former FLSC, and the event was organized by staff of the French Language Services Unit.


Recruiting the Commissioner:

On August 15, 2019, the Ombudsman announced a nationwide search for a permanent Commissioner to head the French Language Services Unit. His office engaged an executive search firm and appointed two experts to assist him in the selection: University of Ottawa professor Linda Cardinal and Michel A. Carrier, then the interim Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick. Mr. Dubé said he expected the new commissioner would be selected by late fall 2019. The search firm identified more than 100 potential candidates, reviewed dozens of applications from across Canada, and compiled a short list of applicants who were then selected for interviews. Ms. Burke was selected as the successful candidate by mid-December, as planned, and details of her start date and contract were finalized after the holiday season. As the Ombudsman is completely independent of government in all of his operations, including staffing, at no time was the provincial government involved in or had any influence on any part of this process.


Complaint handling:

From May 1, 2019 onward, the French Language Services Unit has continued to handle complaints, work on ongoing cases, proactively flag issues to government bodies, and identify issues for potential investigation. Many cases have been successfully resolved (several have been reported on the Ombudsman’s website and in its monthly e-newsletter). The volume of cases has been steady, and the Ombudsman has implemented new complaint intake practices. In late November, the Ombudsman disabled the automated online complaint portal used by the former FLSC, ensuring that all complaints are now responded to directly by staff in the French Language Services Unit.

The Unit is now in the process of transitioning to a complaints management system that is the same as the one the Ombudsman’s office uses to track cases, monitor issues and compile statistics. Complaint statistics for all units will be reported in the Ombudsman’s Annual Report this June. The Commissioner will also issue separate reports as warranted.

The Ombudsman’s role as an office of “last resort” is often misunderstood. In fact, the Ombudsman and his team often work proactively to resolve individual cases and broader issues. All of the Ombudsman’s units resolve complaints quickly and efficiently wherever possible, through their Early Resolution officers. Complaints will be referred to the appropriate complaint mechanisms, but for matters that have already been rejected or cannot be resolved, Ombudsman staff can and do intervene.


Commissioner’s role and independence:

The Ombudsman’s office is impartial and completely independent from government. As an integral part of this office, the Commissioner will benefit from its independence, longstanding credibility and impact. The Commissioner will also be independent of interest groups and lobbyists. Her role will be to work independently and impartially to promote French language service rights, not to be a spokesperson for any group.

The Commissioner will be proactive in promoting French language service rights and develop a strategic communications plan that will enable her to meet as many stakeholders as possible on a regular basis. With the larger communications and outreach resources of the Ombudsman’s office, the Commissioner will be highly visible and accessible to stakeholders. The Commissioner will also have authority to hire for and create positions within the French Language Services Unit.

Investigations and proactive work:

The Ombudsman has always had the power to launch investigations on his own initiative, not only in response to complaints. He follows up on accepted recommendations to ensure they are implemented, and his office also routinely flags issues to public sector bodies to resolve them proactively, and monitors how they are addressed. As well, the Ombudsman and senior team regularly meets with senior government officials and ministers to discuss issues, and the office makes submissions on government bills when warranted. The Ombudsman’s office is renowned internationally for the quality and impact of its systemic investigations, which have prompted broad government reforms, affecting millions of Ontarians. It has also conducted training in investigation techniques for other watchdog offices across Canada and around the world (including the former FLSC). Through the work of the Commissioner, francophones will benefit from these powers and the investigative expertise and resources of the Ombudsman’s office.