Laurentian University violated French Language Services Act when it cut programs: report (CBC)

March 31, 2022

31 March 2022

The Sudbury university eliminated 29 French-language programs in April 2021

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March 31, 2022

Sudbury's Laurentian University violated Ontario's French Language Services Act when it cut 29 French-language programs in April 2021, according to a new report from the province's French language services commissioner.

In her report, Kelly Burke, Ontario's deputy ombudsman and French language services commissioner, concluded the Ministry of Francophone Affairs also "failed to take an active role in monitoring Laurentian University's compliance with its designation, which contributed to a situation where no one was ensuring the protection of language rights under the French Language Services Act."

In February 2021, Laurentian filed for insolvency and entered into creditor protection. In April of that year, the university cut 72 programs, including 29 French-language programs. The university also cut more than 100 faculty and staff positions.

After the cuts, Burke said she received 60 complaints from students, teachers and Franco-Ontarians who were directly affected by the cuts to Francophone education.

On June 16, 2021, her office launched its investigation to determine whether or not Laurentian, and the ministries for Francophone Affairs and Colleges and Universities had broken the French Language Services Act.

"The university violated the requirements of the Act by ceasing to offer two designated degrees [Master of Arts and Master of Human Kinetics] without following any of the mandated procedural steps," the report said.

"I also found that there was no process in place to assess how eliminating programs leading to designated degrees may impact the ability of students to obtain those degrees in French."

During a press conference Thursday morning, Burke said the university did not consult with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities or the Ministry of Francophone Affairs about the potential impacts cuts to French-language programs would have.

"Why is that?" she asked.


19 recommendations made

Burke said she made 19 recommendations in the report, which touch on three key areas: assessment, consultation and collaboration.

"I concluded that the lack of consultation in any assessment process led to the university's violation of the French Languages Service Act," she said.

"I also noted that the lack of consultation, assessment and collaboration processes resulted from the lack of proactivity on the part of the three organizations."

Burke noted in her report that all of her recommendations have been accepted by the provincial ministries and Laurentian University.


French education 'an afterthought,' says advocate

Denis Constantineau, spokesperson for the Coalition Nord-Ontarienne pour une Université de Langue Française (Northern Ontario Coalition for a French-Language University), said there was "lots of buzz" in the Francophone community following the release of the report Thursday morning.

The coalition has been pushing for the University of Sudbury to take over the offerings of French programs and a university by and for French speakers.

Constantineau said the commissioner's report bolsters that argument.

"[Laurentian] calls itself a bilingual institution but it didn't consider the impact on the Francophone community when it proceeded to close programs. It just shows that the French language element at Laurentian is an afterthought, as it always has been."