Statement by the French Language Services Commissioner: Taking steps to improve French language services in our province

Statement by the French Language Services Commissioner: Taking steps to improve French language services in our province

April 17, 2020

17 April, 2020

It has now been one month, to the day, since Ontario declared a state of emergency.  We are facing an unprecedented situation.

It has now been one month, to the day, since Ontario declared a state of emergency.  We are facing an unprecedented situation.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been monitoring the offer of services in French to the public: see press release.

I proactively contacted Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Health, and TeleHealth Ontario to ensure that they were prepared to offer quality services in French and equivalent to those provided in English.

According to my observations, the government is demonstrating important efforts to communicate to the public in French by ensuring that all information on its “newsroom” website is available in French, and through local community Francophone media outlets as well.

I am aware of the concerns of the francophone community raised in various discussions I have had, through complaints made to my office, and through the public statements by key organizations such as l’Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario. All have revealed concerns about the government’s media briefings being conducted in English only.

I share these concerns. In a statement that I sent to francophone media last week, I noted that I am particularly concerned about seniors and Francophones in remote areas who might not have other sources of news than the televised daily government updates: This link opens in a new tabhttps://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1692763/covid-19-plaintes-absence-francais-gouvernement-ontario.

I have had regular discussions over the past few weeks with the government. I raised these issues with the Premier, with the Minister of Francophone Affairs, Caroline Mulroney, and public service leaders. They have acknowledged the right of Francophones to receive services in French that are equivalent to those provided to the general population.

We have seen some important progress as a result of our efforts. I am very pleased to see that our intervention has led to a favourable response by the government and in real time, as its This link opens in a new tabdaily press briefings are now offered in French and English simultaneously.

There is always room to improve, to do better, as has become apparent in the current situation. I am keeping a close eye on the government’s actions and I am in regular contact with the community. There are lessons to be learned from the exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves.

When I release my first annual report this fall, I will pay particular attention to the government’s handling of this aspect of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as emergency situations in general. These are moments where Francophones are twice as vulnerable, and providing them with a truly equivalent offer of services in French in these circumstances requires solid planning for resources and staffing to address the needs.  

The complaints I have received indicate a need for a review of emergency practices in order to provide Francophones with the level of services they are entitled to receive from their government.

Rest assured that I will remain vigilant, engaged and will continue taking steps to improve French language services in our province.

Kelly Burke
Deputy Ombudsman and French Language Services Commissioner