Archived - Notes for an address at the Symposium sur les langues officielles de l'Ontario of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario
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Ottawa, October 22, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good day, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to be here today for the second Symposium sur les langues officielles de l'Ontario during this anniversary year.
Yesterday, you held a debate on the future of Franco-Ontarian leadership. You had the opportunity to look back, to see how Franco-Ontarians are perceived from the "outside," and to consider how the next generation sees the future of the community.
An anniversary is an opportunity to take stock of achievements and to look ahead. I will not be repeating some of the statements put forward yesterday, but since it is an anniversary, it is worth taking the time to celebrate!
It was in January 1910, during the Congrès d’éducation des Canadiens français d’Ontario, held in Ottawa, that the Association canadienne-française d’éducation de l’Ontario (ACFEO) was established. As the name of the association suggests, the most important concern of the Franco-Ontarian community at the time, in 1910, was education.
In 1912, when Regulation 17 was promulgated by the Ontario Government, the ACFEO, chaired by Senator Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt, became the advocate and the "état-major [headquarters]Footnote 1" of the fight against Regulation 17, in the words of one of its founders and activists, Esdras Terrien. The ACFEO's mandate was to look out for the interests of Francophones in Ontario, and until 1927, it played a key role, along with the newspaper Le Droit, in the fight against Regulation 17. The ACFEO also continued to present the concerns of the province's Francophones to the provincial government.
The fact that the ACFEO successfully caused the Ontario government to back down—admittedly, after a 15-year battle—and ensured recognition of the right to French instruction in Ontario elementary schools is a major event that is part of French Ontario's proud history.
This tradition has continued over time and through the various organizational changes up until today. The Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario (ACFO) participated in many debates within Canada's Francophonie and in Ontario society. Whether it involved French instruction in secondary schools, courts or government services in Ontario, the ACFO was there for many debates involving the Francophone community.
The ACFO was also there following the announcement of the closing of the Montfort Hospital by the Ontario government in 1997 and the ensuing court proceedings. It was right there alongside SOS Montfort, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada (FCFA), my predecessor, Dyane Adam, and the Attorney General of Canada. In fact, the ACFO's legal argument was an important element, among others, of the decision issued by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2001.
Today, its heir, the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) continues on with the tradition of defending and representing the interests of the Franco-Ontarian community in all its diversity. The AFO and its member organizations also continue the work started 100 years ago, which involves strengthening the vitality of the Franco-Ontarian community and its institutions.
During the last Symposium held in 2007, I shared my thoughts on what was, at the time, the newly reinforced Part VII of the Official Languages Act. Here we are, three years later, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of this change. Five years after the adoption of the amendments presented by the late senator and pillar of the Franco-Ontarian community, the Honourable Jean-Robert Gauthier, have things changed?
First, some of you and your counterparts from other Francophone minority communities are waiting. Waiting for what? A sign or positive action from the federal government that would demonstrate a real and sincere commitment of all federal institutions towards the full implementation of Part VII of the Act. Others feel that the commitment of federal institutions is half-hearted, if not non-existent. Overall, under Part VII, the pace of implementation of the obligations by federal institutions is slow.
However, I have noticed that this reality has not prevented cooperation between communities and federal and provincial governments in order to strengthen the vitality of your communities. For example, in Sudbury, the tools developed following the study conducted by my office on the vitality of the Francophone community in the region enabled local organizations to mobilize a number of partners, including governments. Through the work they did together, the community and its partners held the first États généraux de la francophonie du Grand Sudbury. This event resulted in the adoption of a shared vision and commitment of the participants for the next steps.
Even here in Ottawa, the community got together and called on governments, particularly the City of Ottawa, to participate in the project to establish the Centre multiservices francophone de l’Ouest d’Ottawa.
Although federal institutions have already taken on a part of the work, I noticed that some confusion remains. In fact, many struggle to distinguish between their obligations to provide services to the public—set out in Part IV of the Act—and their obligations to promote the development and vitality of the official language communities and to take positive measures to demonstrate their commitment—set out in Part VII of the Act.
These two parts of the Act interact and are linked, but a federal institution meeting its obligations in terms of service to the public cannot say that it has also met its obligations under Part VII. One must go beyond obligations dealing with services, which should always be fulfilled, every day of the year.
It is up to federal institutions to ensure that in offering and delivering services in both official languages, they take into account the latest Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the DesRochers case. Mr. DesRochers, another important voice in the Franco-Ontarian community which we lost this year, and his intervention led to the Supreme Court's recognition of the fact that equal service in both official languages can require that it be adapted in order to meet the specific needs of the Francophone community.
Everyone must contribute by working and by developing new approaches. Federal institutions, especially must demonstrate innovation and creativity in implementing the revised Part VII of the Act.
Although the revised Part VII provides for creativity and new ideas, a clear commitment and accountability from federal institutions and their senior management are some of the key ingredients for success. Canadian Heritage has the responsibility for coordination under Part VII but all federal institutions must take action in terms of positive measures. Each federal institution, whatever its field of activities, can, and must, take action.
Senator Gauthier would have celebrated his 81st birthday on this day. He would certainly have grown somewhat impatient with the slow implementation of Part VII, five years after its amendment. However, I believe there is still reason to celebrate.
Over the next year, I plan to highlight the fifth anniversary by calling on federal institutions. I will dedicate a thematic chapter to Part VII of the Act in my Annual Report next year.
Senator Gauthier, author of the amended Part VII, always answered the question, “What is a positive measure?” by saying, “It’s not a negative measure!” Implementing Part VII is not only a matter of obligations but also one of values. Fully implementing Part VII depends on the willingness to act, which is what Senator Gauthier meant by his answer.
Linguistic duality is a Canadian value and is a part of our country's identity. This value is not limited exclusively to federal institutions that have obligations under the Act. The willingness to act on behalf of the values that the Act and Part VII embody also shows itself in the actions taken by other levels of government and by official language communities.
Governments must be receptive to the priorities established by communities, in order to meet their needs and contribute to their development. This is true both for institutions that have obligations under Part VII of the Act and for the provincial government and municipalities. These key players can also support the development and vitality of the Franco-Ontarian community.
The community, like you, must be able to benefit from the support of the provincial and federal governments. However, you can also exercise leadership in the way you engage with governments. Even if this work can sometimes seem burdensome, the community must persevere and continue its efforts dealing with the federal, provincial, and municipal governments.
It is essential to continue to call on the municipalities, because as the form of government closest to the people, they can take action and make decisions that enhance the contribution of official language communities. They can encourage the use of the minority language in the public sphere. They can take measures that foster recognition of Canada's linguistic duality as a value of Canadian society and contribute to the vitality of the Franco-Ontarian community.
For example, in June 2008 the Township of Russell adopted a municipal by-law requiring that all new commercial signs be in both English and French. Furthermore, in a recent judgment, the Ontario Superior Court affirmed that such an approach was legitimate given the situation of the Francophone community.
Places such as the Vanier and Orleans districts of Ottawa, and the municipalities along the Highway 11 corridor, should promote themselves more as Francophone spaces. They should be able to present themselves as being places where French language and culture are heard, shared and lived. They should also act as bridges between the Francophone community, Francophiles and the majority, and promote the value of bilingualism. Municipalities may face some resistance. However, this should not discourage them from taking actions that will contribute to the vitality of communities and promote French within these communities.
Municipalities will make considerable gains by emphasizing the importance of linguistic duality so that it becomes an integral part of their image and identity. Those that project a bilingual image derive commercial, economic, cultural, social and tourism benefits. Moreover, their citizens feel proud to live in a city that reflects who they are.
In closing, the Franco-Ontarian community must seize upon the opportunities that present themselves to increase the visibility of communities and of the French language in Ontario. I continue to be concerned with the visibility of the French language in the public space of Ottawa, the nation’s capital. There is still much work to be done. Events such as the Pan American and Parapan American Games in the Greater Toronto Area in 2015 or even Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017 are also opportunities to increase the visibility of the Francophone community in Ontario and in its municipalities. Just as I was interested in the preparations for the Vancouver Games, I am also interested in the preparations for the Pan American and Parapan American Games in 2015.
Despite the significant progress, a lot of work remains to be done so that both official languages can be visible and audible in the public spaces of our municipalities, including our capital. Large-scale events such as the 2015 Games and the 2017 celebrations are not-to-be-missed opportunities that can also lead to new partnerships or projects carried out in cooperation with the federal and provincial governments, as well as the municipalities.
This is an opportunity for the AFO to continue to show its leadership much like it has always done so well in the past.
Happy anniversary and have a good symposium.
- Footnote 1
Esdras Terrien, Quinze années de lutte contre le Règlement 17, Ontario, s.n., 1970, p. 5.