Statement from the Commissioner of Official Languages about ministers’ Twitter use


Gatineau, February 20, 2015 - There has been an interesting public conversation about the use of Twitter by federal ministers and their responsibility to communicate government information in both official languages. It was a conversation that began with stories based on a preliminary report that I had sent to Canadians who had filed complaints and to the departments named in the complaints. In some cases, it began with a translation and summary of the original story, which was written in French. Clearly, many people commenting on the issue have not read the report or even the original story.

This puts me in an awkward position. My preliminary report was released only to the parties directly involved in the complaints. I am now waiting for their comments before I can issue my final report, which will also be released only to those who filed the complaints and the federal institutions involved. I am bound by rules of confidentiality and cannot discuss the facts of the case.

Nevertheless, I would like to clarify a number of things that have become somewhat confused. To begin with, I do not investigate complaints filed against parliamentarians in their role as MP or Senator. However, the Official Languages Act does apply to federal institutions, and all Canadians have a right to receive information from the federal government in the official language of their choice.

Ministers play a number of different roles. As ministers of the Crown, they speak on behalf of the Government of Canada. As parliamentarians, they communicate with their constituents. And as men and women, they send birthday greetings, anniversary congratulations and notes of enthusiasm or disappointment about the events of their day.

Social media are in the process of transforming our lives and the way institutions—both public and private—communicate with Canadians. Communications that previously took days or weeks now happen in seconds. In my case, it means that a citizen who files a complaint can forward a preliminary report to a newsroom before a departmental assistant can print it out and deliver it to the appropriate official. However, as Radio-Canada Ombudsman Pierre Tourangeau wrote recently, the most important word in the phrase “social media” is the word “media.” These are public forums, not private channels of communication.

As I wait for the comments from the parties who have received my preliminary report, I am encouraged by the fact that these complaints have stimulated a vigorous public discussion about social media and official languages. The landscape of public information and public discussion is shifting dramatically, and we all need to respond. These are interesting times for anyone interested in the relations between Canadians and their government.

Graham Fraser
Commissioner of Official Languages

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For more information, please contact:

Nelson Kalil
Manager, Strategic Communications and Media Relations
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Telephone: 819-420-4714
Cellular: 613-324-0999
Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368
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