(TORONTO – December 7, 2021) French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke today called on the province to ensure its services for Franco-Ontarians are truly equivalent to those in English, and provided without delay.
In her second annual report, released today, the Commissioner:
Provides details on the 351 cases received by the French Language Services Unit within the Ombudsman’s Office (the FLS Unit) between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021 – a 15% increase over the previous year;
Reiterates the importance of planning to deliver quality services in French, equivalent to those in English and without delay;
Welcomes proposals to amend and modernize the French Language Services Act (FLSA), announced by the province last month.
The report builds on Commissioner Burke’s December 2020 report, which recommended that the government require ministries to create plans to improve the provision of French language services, and that the Minister of Francophone Affairs report on these plans annually, starting in April 2022. These recommendations were received favourably by the government, and are reflected in part in its recently introduced bill to modernize the FLSA.
In this report, the Commissioner recommends an assessment tool to support the government in measuring the success of these plans. Called the French Language Services Commissioner’s Compass (FLSC Compass), the tool measures the effectiveness of services in French using four criteria:
Fairness: Is the service in French equivalent to that offered to the general population?
Logistics: Is service in French available and provided at all times?
Services: Is the experience of Francophones with the service positive?
Communication: Is the service in French well identified, communicated and known within the community?
“Assessment is a crucial step to ensure good planning and to make it an evolving exercise, suited to the specific needs of Francophones,” Commissioner Burke states in the report. “When we evaluate French language services, we look at both the legal obligations under the French Language Services Act and the moral obligations we all have to protect our Francophone cultural heritage for future generations.
“This is how we can ensure good linguistic health: By working both preventively and continuously, and by devoting extra attention to the issues that require it.”
The report provides numerous examples of how the Commissioner, the FLS Unit and the Office of the Ombudsman in general achieved results for Francophones using this approach, resolving issues quickly and often proactively. Many of the cases are “concrete examples of a pervasive lack of planning on the part of the government,” or illustrations that “the government lacks information about what is happening in the field regarding the availability and quality of services provided on its behalf,” the report states.
The three main case trends it covers are:
Cases regarding COVID-19 – including concerns about English-only government announcements, and several cases where the FLS Unit’s intervention improved French services provided by public health units, even though they are not subject to the FLSA;
Cases related to government communications – including a major improvement to Amber Alerts;
Cases related to in-person services – including many examples where the FLS Unit’s work resulted in changes for the better.
The report also notes that the FLS Unit has received 60 complaints related to cuts to French-language programs at Laurentian University. The Commissioner launched an investigation into these complaints in June, which is ongoing. She will publish a separate report on the investigation when it is completed.
About the Office of the Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature, who reviews and resolves complaints from the public about provincial government organizations, as well as French language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards. The Ombudsman does not overturn the 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 by the government, resulting in numerous reforms.
About the French Language Services Unit
The Commissioner leads the French Language Services Unit - a team of Early Resolution Officers and Investigators that is fully supported by the Ombudsman's Legal Services, Communications, Finance, Information Technology and Human Resources teams. The Commissioner and the Director of Operations, French Language Services Unit, are members of the Ombudsman's Executive Management Team.
For more information, please contact:
Emmanuelle Bleytou – Communications Manager, French Language Services and Children & Youth Units
Josée Laperrière – Communications Officer, French Language Services Unit
Linda Williamson – Director of Communications