Beyond the Official Languages Act, it’s a matter of respect and safety for all Canadians
For immediate release
Gatineau, Quebec, April 23, 2020
Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge issued the following statement today:
“We can all agree that we are living in a precarious time in which the behaviours, actions and choices of Canadians are paramount in addressing the COVID‑19 crisis head on. Canadians are getting used to the 24‑hour news cycle of news conferences and updates on the pandemic, all of which are crucial so that we as a society have the information we need to do our part collectively. We owe this to the front-line workers, to our neighbours, to our friends and families, and to future generations.
“It is in times like these, when public health and safety are threatened, that we seek leadership and turn to our politicians for sound advice and direction. We expect that the decisions they make and the actions they take are based on good judgment, built on the expertise of professionals and evidence-based research, and democratically supported by all parties.
“Most Canadians would say that their leaders have been steadfast—and so would I, for the most part. However, it is my responsibility as Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and as an independent agent of Parliament to raise red flags related to official languages when I see them. It is also simply the right thing to do.
“While I do realize that many are making considerable efforts to ensure that Canadians receive messages in both official languages, I am also concerned by what I’ve witnessed and what I’ve heard from the public, from organizations representing Canada’s official language minority communities and from my counterparts in Ontario and New Brunswick.
“Canadians must be able to understand messages directed to them from all federal institutions, particularly in the current context. Beyond the Official Languages Act, it’s a matter of respect and safety for all Canadians. I have therefore communicated with all deputy ministers and with official languages champions across federal institutions to remind them of the importance of meeting their obligations to communicate with the public and their employees in both official languages at all times in order to ensure the respect and security of all Canadians.
“All complaints that have been filed with my office in relation to the COVID‑19 crisis have been given due consideration and investigated if admissible. Our prompt interventions with certain federal institutions have led to either an immediate resolution or an improvement in the situation, and we will continue to proceed in this fashion.
“I will also continue to monitor the situation and intervene when appropriate. Like other federal institutions, once this crisis is behind us, I will be looking back and making sure lessons are learned and problems are addressed. I will also be reporting to the federal government on issues that we’ve identified, on what we’ve heard from Canadians and on the best practices we’ve seen, as some federal institutions have taken positive measures. All of these factors will inform the recommendations I will present as avenues of action for ensuring that Canadians’ language rights are effectively protected in times of crisis.
“We are all working toward a common goal, and we all need to do our part.
“On a final note, I encourage all leaders across the country to do their part and ensure that all Canadian citizens receive information in both official languages. It’s a matter of respect and safety for everyone and, above all, it’s the right thing to do.”