Message from the Commissioner

Statement from the Commissioner on the launch of the Independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission

Statement from the Commissioner on the launch of the Independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission

(July 29, 2020) I would like to congratulate the Associate Chief Justice Frank N. Marrocco (Chair), the former senior executive of the Ontario Public Service, Angela Coke, and Dr Jack Kitts for their appointment to serve as commissioners to lead the Independent Commission investigating Long-Term Care and COVID-19.

I am confident that their vast expertise will enable them to fulfill the mandate they were given by the government to provide advice on how to better protect long-term care home residents and staff from any future outbreaks. I wish them much success in their efforts to ensure that long-term care homes in Ontario provide high-quality care and are safe.

I have written to the commissioners, asking for an opportunity to discuss further how Ontario’s Francophonie will be reflected in the context of their investigation.

Although I expected that at least one Francophone would be among the newly appointed Commissioners, I trust those appointed will conduct an exhaustive review of all issues, including those specific to Francophones. I will closely monitor the Commission’s investigation in this regard as it evolves.

I also communicated to the Premier, today, that I am concerned about the Terms of Reference issued by the government for the Commission that do not include any explicit expectations regarding the offer of French language services or that any consideration is to be given to issues specific to Francophones.

I also informed the Premier that I am concerned that the Terms of Reference allow the Commission to issue a report in one language only, as reflected in the provision below:

The Commissioners shall also ensure that the final report is delivered in both English and French at the same time; however, if, in the opinion of the Commissioners, the health and safety of the public would not be served by delaying the delivery of the report and only one language version is ready, the Commissioners may deliver the report in only one language. If the report is delivered in only one language, the other language version shall be delivered as soon as possible.
Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission

I strongly recommended to the Premier that he ensure that the Commission’s report is produced in French and English simultaneously to avoid any delay. I also asked that the government explicitly communicate its expectations regarding the offer of French language services to the Commission.

I will follow the Commission’s investigation carefully.

Kelly Burke,
French Language Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman

Integrating the FLSC into the Office of the Ombudsman – Reviewing year one

Integrating the FLSC into the Office of the Ombudsman – Reviewing year one

(May 1, 2020) It has been one year now since the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (FLSC) and the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario were given the mandate to join forces to promote and protect French language services in the province.  

This joining of forces has strengthened both institutions, through a broadening of scope, as well as a combination of talent, passion, and resources.

There are numerous opportunities when two institutions are joined. Although, as the Ombudsman has stated, the change was unsolicited, the organization has embraced the changes required to make the union work effectively.

While both institutions were renowned across the country and around the world, we now have a single, more impactful organization that will protect and advance French language rights in the province. We are building a unique and solid pillar in oversight, a model for other such institutions to follow.

The key benefit of this fusion is the combination of expert problem solvers. We now have a larger and more powerful team working together to oversee government action affecting Francophones. We are building on internal and external best practices and applying them to find solutions that ensure that the rights of Ontario Francophones are upheld and needs are being addressed.

Although we have just begun, I am motivated by the strides we have already made in proactively resolving issues regarding the protection of French language service rights through relationship building, teamwork, and proactive complaint handling and prevention.  

The productive and appropriate relationships we are building together with stakeholders have already paid dividends. The following examples are particularly noteworthy:  

  • The lecterns used by the Premier and his ministers are now bilingual.

  • We have worked with the Ministry of Health, Telehealth Ontario and Public Health Ontario from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure proper staffing and resources were in place to ensure a strong offer of French language services. I am pleased that both agencies and the Ministry are well engaged and responsive to our inquiries.

  • The Ministry of the Solicitor General acknowledged the lack of French language services in its report following the false alert of an incident at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station and made improvements.

  • Following a complaint of failure to provide services in French by a DriveTest centre in London, we worked with government to strengthen the offer of French language services.

I am committed to remaining accessible and engaged with the Francophone community and all Ontarians connected to Francophone affairs.

In fact, I am maintaining a full calendar of virtual meetings with government officials, mayors, education planners, health care organizations, and Francophone associations across the province. I look forward to getting back to safe social contact so I can resume my face-to-face conversations with all of you.  

I have also been working diligently to refine the way we administer our complaints process. It is important to me that citizens receive high-quality and direct service from my team when they feel that government or its agencies have not met their obligations under the French Language Services Act.

We are now directly accessible to complainants, offering an efficient and personalized service to Francophones. We are also obtaining an in-depth understanding of the linguistic issues brought forward by Ontarians, and the impact that these issues are having on them, firsthand. This provides compelling evidence of the important impact that a lack of services has on Francophones. It also allows us to make targeted inquiries to government so we can resolve the issues with solutions that are sustainable.  

But… I do not only wait for issues to be brought to my attention through complaints or current events. My ongoing interactions with key stakeholders, conversations with individual members of the Franco-Ontarian community, as well as engagement with government, agencies and organizations, allow me to address issues before they become complaints.  

I also benefit from the enhanced resources that the Ombudsman’s office offers, including effective recruitment processes to secure talent and renew expertise in our team, and a broader mandate to achieve expanded outcomes.  

The notion that there would be challenges with the integration between these two offices was acknowledged by Ombudsman Dubé in an early interview a year ago. He remarked that it was a complex effort that would take time, but he remained convinced that the interests of the Francophone community would be well-served in the long run.

He was right. It is complex, but the opportunities arising from the integration far outweigh the challenges that complexity presents. In French, I would say, “C’est un beau défi,” a nice challenge to take on.

It is particularly challenging, but also rewarding, during the present pandemic and state of emergency, where the need for Francophones to receive accurate and timely information in French is more important than ever.

That is why I have been actively engaged with the government, from the Premier, to the Minister of Francophone Affairs, to the heads of public service since the onset of the crisis.  

As Commissioner, and Deputy Ombudsman within the Ombudsman’s Office, I am well positioned to have these discussions and I am pleased that the government has embraced the opportunity for dialogue and action on these important issues in collaboration with my office.  

While gaps in French language communication services are still in question, I am pleased that my productive discussions with the government to date have resulted in the Premier’s important acknowledgement, in a recent letter to me, that:

“[…] Francophones in Ontario have the right to receive communications services in French, equivalent to those offered in English. This is even more critical at this time of crisis.”

The recent decision from the government to offer its daily press updates with simultaneous translation in French is a concrete example of what we can accomplish when a Commissioner, a government and a community work toward the same goal. I also want to acknowledge the crucial role the Speaker, Clerk and staff of the Legislative Assembly played to provide means to obtain these results.

In the year ahead, there is much more work to be done and the integration will continue to evolve. The clock will advance. There will be new good times, more changes and additional challenges to tackle.  

I am extremely grateful for the warm welcome and pledges of support I have received from across the province in my first four months as Commissioner. From Ottawa to Sudbury, from Toronto to Chatham, Thunder Bay, Embrun and beyond, the encouragement from hundreds of stakeholders in a wide range of areas from healthcare, to education, to justice and other general government services has been heartwarming and much appreciated.

Our work together is just beginning and I look forward to continuing to achieve positive results for Francophones across the province, and to effecting even more positive changes ahead.


Kelly Burke,
French Language Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman

Taking steps to improve French language services in our province

Taking steps to improve French language services in our province

(April 17, 2020) 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:

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 daily 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,
French Language Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman

On the 50th International Francophonie Day and current issues

On the 50th International Francophonie Day and current issues

(March 20, 2020) On March 20, 2020, we marked the 50th International Francophonie Day. Did you know that French is the fifth most spoken language in the world? According to the International Organization of La Francophonie, which brings together 88 states and governments including Ontario, approximately 300 million people on five continents speak French.

Ontario's francophonie is a reflection of the international francophonie: 1.5 million people in the province report speaking French. Of those, according to the inclusive definition, 622,415 are francophones. We are of diverse origins: From here in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada, France, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritius, Vietnam, Haiti and many other places.

Ontario is a destination of choice for francophones who want to live in French and put their language skills to work to contribute actively to the social, cultural, political and economic development of our province.

A few weeks ago, I began a tour of different regions of the province to meet with Ontario’s francophones. My objective is to get to know their stories, ambitions, successes and ideas so that Ontario’s society continues to be welcoming, inclusive and proud of its francophonie. Our province’s growth, both economic and social, depends on us all contributing to positive outcomes.

During this tour, I heard great concerns highlighting the urgent need for a strong bilingual workforce able to provide French language services. I heard government agencies looking for best practices to improve their offer of French language services. I heard leaders in the francophone community eager to share their expertise on the needs of francophones in the province.

This is what Ontario's francophonie is all about: Vibrant, dynamic and open, representing great opportunities and constantly looking for new ones.

The francophone community in Ontario is also a minority; however, this is not a sign of weakness. A minority is comprised of strong people with convictions who, when faced with adversity, are resilient and will persevere.

As Ontario’s Commissioner of French Language Services and a Franco-Ontarian, I want to ensure that dialogue, collaboration and opportunities are possible, and that the French language is recognized as an asset in our province.

I also want to ensure that our francophone community remains strong and able to participate actively in the province's growth. Over the past few weeks, I had productive and stimulating conversations with the Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario and Telehealth Ontario, which are leading the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus in the province. From our conversations, they signalled that they are well aware of the importance of a strong offer of French language services.

This virus is affecting all private and public areas of our society – our work and family, our health, our lifestyle and our economy. Complex times like these show the importance of having a robust offer of services that allows Ontarians to be served in English or French.

We all have a responsibility – sometimes legal, sometimes moral – whether we are a government, an agency, a municipality or a private company, to be proactive in planning and organizing our services in both languages.

I invite each and every one of us to make a conscious effort to ensure that everyone can contribute fully to our society here in Ontario, and that we can benefit from the great opportunities that the French language brings to our province.

I remain committed, present and determined to support you, should you not be satisfied with the services you receive. The French Language Services Unit of the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman remains available to deal with any complaint. Our office and phone lines are currently closed due to COVID-19, but our staff are working from home and will do their best to respond to complaints filed via our online complaint form. Complaints about French language services can also be emailed to as usual.

Kelly Burke,
French Language Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman