(TORONTO – December 7, 2022) French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke today called on the province to build on its “strong commitment” to French language services by updating an outdated regulation and improving recruitment of bilingual public servants.
In her third Annual Report, the Commissioner reflects optimistically on the achievements of her French Language Services Unit within the Ombudsman’s Office, which has resolved more than 1,000 cases since May 2019. She cites several examples of cases from the past year where her team helped individuals receive health care and other crucial services in French – and others where the Office’s intervention will benefit all Franco-Ontarians in future.
“Although we still have much work to do, this report documents important advancements in the level of services in French in Ontario over the past year,” Commissioner Burke said today in releasing her report.
The modernization of the French Language Services Act (FLSA), announced by the government a year ago, is cause for optimism, she says in the report.
“As part of the modernization of the FLSA by the government, ministers became accountable for reporting to the Executive Council on the implementation of the Act and on the quality of services delivered by their ministries,” she writes. “The amendments reflect the spirit of the broad and liberal interpretation that language rights deserve.”
The Commissioner takes stock of all her recommendations to date in this report, noting that all have been well received by the government, and two have been implemented: All Amber Alerts are now bilingual, and the Minister of Francophone Affairs now reports annually to the Legislature on her ministry’s activities. On the latter, however, the Commissioner notes that the French language services plans expected from all ministries in April this year are still in progress.
As well, all 19 of the Commissioner’s recommendations in her first formal investigation – into Laurentian University’s cuts to French-language programs during its financial restructuring – were accepted. The university and the ministries of Francophone Affairs and Colleges and Universities have already made several improvements, she notes.
The Commissioner makes two new recommendations in this report, based on the 277 cases (complaints and inquiries) received by the French Language Services Unit between October 1, 2021 and September 30, 2022, and issues arising from them:
Regulation 398/93, which lists organizations designated to provide French language services, is so outdated that it is “an obstacle to accessing services in French in several sectors, including health, child care, education, social and community services and long-term care,” the Commissioner’s report says. She calls on the Ministry of Francophone Affairs to provide her with a plan to modernize the regulation.
Job postings in the public service are only posted in French for jobs that are designated as bilingual, which effectively means “the government does not communicate all of its employment opportunities to Francophones,” even though it has committed to expanding its bilingual workforce, the Commissioner points out. She recommends the Treasury Board Secretariat review employment policies to ensure more jobs are posted in French.
“These two new recommendations are intended to help the government look to the future,” she writes.
The report details case trends in two broad categories – communications (44.3% of cases) and direct services (49.2%), and highlights cases related to health care, as well as those relating to communications and services provided by independent offices of the legislature.
Some of the most compelling cases involved Francophones who were unable to receive health care in their language, the Commissioner reports, noting that she believes that “quality of health care and language cannot be separated.”
In one case, the family of a Francophone woman who was dying in a Northern Ontario hospital said they discovered a note at her bedside that said “Please speak in English.” The hospital has made numerous improvements since the family complained to the French Language Services Unit about the lack of service they received in French.
“This is a crucial sector where the government must focus its efforts to remove barriers to accessing services in French,” the Commissioner’s report states, emphasizing the need for planning to ensure Francophone patients receive the care they need. About 20% of cases received about organizations subject to the FLSA were related to the Ministry of Health or hospitals designated under the Act.
Other top sources of cases about organizations subject to the FLSA were:
The Commissioner also reports on her proactive outreach efforts in the Franco-Ontarian community, noting that as COVID-19 restrictions have eased in recent months, she has resumed in-person activities, meeting Francophones from Sarnia to Penetanguishene to Ottawa. She also sought input from a wide range of stakeholder groups in virtual roundtable discussions, and conducted a public awareness campaign in local publications – both of these targeting regions across the province.
“I have visited Francophones all over the province, and I’ve met with hundreds of people to hear about the obstacles they face and how my team and I can help remedy them,” she said today.
About the Office of the Ombudsman: The Ombudsman, established in 1975, is an independent and impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature. Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman reviews and resolves complaints and inquiries 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 Commissioner: The role of French Language Services Commissioner, established in 2007, was transferred to the Ombudsman’s Office as of May 2019. Under the French Language Services Act, the Commissioner reviews complaints and inquiries about the offer of services in French by or on behalf of government agencies and institutions of the Legislature. These include ministries, boards, commissions and corporations that have a majority of members or directors appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in council, as well as agencies designated in O. Reg. 398/93. Like the Ombudsman, the Commissioner is completely independent of government, political parties, individual complainants and interest groups. She has the power to conduct investigations and make recommendations to improve the delivery of French language services.
For more information, please contact:
Communications Manager, French Language Services and Children & Youth Units
Communications Officer, French Language Services Unit