The Commissioner of Official Languages - Biographical Notes
Raymond Théberge took office as Commissioner of Official Languages on January 29, 2018.
Commissioner Théberge has a PhD in linguistics from McGill University, a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Ottawa and a bachelor’s degree in history from the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface. He held a number of leadership positions before coming to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and he has significant experience with official language minority communities. He also has extensive experience in academia and has worked across Canada.
He spent a large part of his career at the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface (1985–1995 and 1997–2003), where he was director of the research centre, a professor in the faculty of education and then dean of education. In 2012, he was appointed president and vice-chancellor of the Université de Moncton.
Commissioner Théberge’s background also includes experience as a senior public servant. From 2004 to 2005, he was assistant deputy minister at the Bureau de l’éducation française in Manitoba’s Department of Education, Citizenship and Youth. From there, he moved to the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, where he was executive director from 2005 to 2009. He was also an assistant deputy minister in Ontario’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
He is the author of twenty peer-reviewed publications, three books, one bibliography and forty-five research projects, which reflect his interest in official language minority communities. He wrote a book called Demain, la francophonie en milieu minoritaire? about the future of French-speaking minority communities and an article entitled “Le développement culturel des communautés francophones de l’Ouest : Vers un plan d’action” about the cultural development of French-speaking communities in Western Canada.
Commissioner Théberge has served on boards of directors of a number of organizations, including the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne and the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie. He was Director General of the Société franco manitobaine from 1983 to 1985, and president of the Centre d’études franco canadiennes de l’Ouest from 1995 to 2004.
A brief look at our former commissioners of official languages
In the wake of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Parliament of Canada adopted the first Official Languages Act in July 1969. The Official Languages Act created the position of Commissioner, whose dual role was described by the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission as “
the protector of the Canadian public and the critic of the federal government in matters respecting the official languages.”Footnote 1
Interim Commissioner Ghislaine Saikaley: Call for reforms
Ghislaine Saikaley, a native of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, joined the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in 2008 as Assistant Commissioner of the Compliance Assurance Branch. For eight years, she was responsible for investigations, audits and performance measurement under the provisions of the Official Languages Act. In December 2016, she was appointed as Interim Commissioner of Official Languages by the Governor in Council. Over her 13 months in office, she continued to connect with official language communities and initiated discussions on the Office of the Commissioner’s position on amending the Act.
“The Official Languages Act will be turning 50 in 2019. Canadian society has changed significantly since the 1988 reform of the Act, including demographic and identity shifts, as well as the growing importance of digital technologies. These changes indicate that it is time to think about amending the Act to ensure that it continues to be an effective tool.”Footnote 2
Commissioner Graham Fraser: Longest-serving Commissioner of Official Languages
Graham Fraser handled such high-profile language issues as the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, created the Award of Excellence – Promotion of Linguistic Duality, and tabled the Special Report to Parliament on Air Canada.
He was involved in many court cases and appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as a co-appellant in the DesRochers case, which resulted in the Court’s broadening the interpretation of Part IV of the Official Languages Act and recognizing the public’s right to receive service of equal quality in both official languages.
“Cultural diversity and linguistic duality are two key Canadian values—values that complement each other. Canada’s openness and spirit of accommodation, which are the result of the development of its two major language groups, have helped to encourage immigration and diversity in the Canadian population. The fact that there are two official languages in Canada helps convey these values.”Footnote 3
Commissioner Dyane Adam: A revival founded on communities, duality and diversity
Dyane Adam, a Franco-Ontarian, became Canada’s fifth commissioner of official languages on August 1, 1999. Commissioner Adam paid particular attention to the changing composition of Canada’s linguistic landscape. As she saw the country become increasingly cosmopolitan and multilingual (nearly 20% of the population was of neither British nor French descent), she believed that this new reality should transform our vision of linguistic duality. During her tenure, the government presented its Action Plan for Official Languages 2003-2008, and the Official Languages Act was amended in 2005.
“Duality and diversity are far from being contradictory. In fact, it is the very dualist tradition at the root of our society which has made us particularly open to diversity. In turn, it is now Canada’s diversity that can and should contribute to our linguistic duality.”Footnote 4
Commissioner Victor Goldbloom: Linguistic duality at the heart of national unity
Victor C. Goldbloom, a native of Montréal, was appointed Canada’s fourth commissioner of official languages in 1991. During his tenure, Commissioner Goldbloom carried out two comprehensive studies. The first study addressed the availability of services in both official languages at designated bilingual offices, reinforcing that the federal government’s bilingualism still had a long way to go. The second study, concerned the federal government’s implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act and, suggested a number of possible courses of action to jumpstart the application of section 41, such as assigning the role of coordinator of the entire language policy to the Privy Council Office.
“We cannot preserve the unity of Canada if we set aside the historic premise that we have two official languages.”Footnote 5
In order to illustrate the composition of Canadian society, Commissioner Goldbloom had a symbol of linguistic duality designed, known today as the “
Canada’s Social Fabric” emblem.
Canada’s social fabric
A fabric is woven of many threads. English- and French-speaking Canadians from myriad cultural backgrounds make up the social fabric we call Canada. The gold fabric at the centre of the pin symbolizes the coming together of our two language communities and the richness of the dialogue between them.
Wearing the emblem of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages shows our commitment to fostering harmony between the English and French fibres of Canada’s social fabric.
Commissioner D’Iberville Fortier: A more solid framework
D’Iberville Fortier, originally from Montréal, was appointed Canada’s third commissioner of official languages in 1984. In his first report, Commissioner Fortier called for a re-launch of the official languages program, based on an in-depth review of the 1969 Official Languages Act. Following repeated requests from the Commissioner and English- and French-speaking communities across Canada, the government tabled a bill in 1987 for a new official languages act that was adopted in 1988 under the leadership of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
“[O]ur past, present and future are marked by language, whether we like it or not.”
Commissioner Maxwell Yalden: Constitutional recognition of the equal status of English and French
Maxwell Yalden, a Toronto native, assumed his duties as Canada’s second commissioner of official languages in 1977. Confronted with the language tensions that marked several years of his term, he helped mitigate the backlash from a large segment of the population against the Official Languages Act. He also opened regional offices in Moncton, Winnipeg, Montréal, Sudbury and Edmonton in order to improve Canadians’ access to the services of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Commissioner Yalden ended his term by speaking of the need to review the 1969 Official Languages Act so as to ensure its compliance with the language provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The enshrinement of language rights in a made-in-Canada Constitution was a very substantial landmark in that process… But there it unquestionably is: a set of constitutional guarantees which effectively says that English and French are our two official languages…”Footnote 6
The first commissioner Keith Spicer: Laying the foundations
Keith Spicer, a fluently bilingual Toronto native from a unilingual English family, was appointed Canada’s first commissioner of official languages of in April 1970 for a seven-year term. Spicer established the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages during his first year as Commissioner. He saw institutional bilingualism as an ideal of human dignity that called upon the mutual respect of the two language groups (English and French). One of his main tasks was to explain the meaning of the Official Languages Act, which had received a rather lukewarm response from the public. Spicer was driven to reach the next generation and contributed to the creation of Canadian Parents for French in 1977.
“[T]he Office [of the Commissioner] seeks… to consider justice in State bilingualism simply as an ideal of human dignity and as one of the much-needed long-term bridges to understanding among Canadians.”Footnote 7
- Footnote 1
André Laurendeau and A. Davidson Dunton (co-chairs), Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, “
Book I: General Introduction – The Official Languages,” Ottawa, Queen’s Printer, 1967, p. 141.
- Footnote 2
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, “Preface,” Annual Report 2016–2017, Ottawa, 2017. On-line version accessed January 19, 2018.
- Footnote 3
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 2014-2015, Ottawa, 2015, p. 9.
- Footnote 4
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 2002-2003, Ottawa, 2003, p. 9.
- Footnote 5
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 1991, Ottawa, 1992, p. i.
- Footnote 6
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 1982, Ottawa, 1983, p. 2.
- Footnote 7
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, First Annual Report 1970-1971, Ottawa, 1971, p. 4.