Statement from the Commissioner of Official Languages about his first year in office

News releases | Gatineau, Quebec -

Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge issued the following statement today:

“This January 29 marks my first anniversary as Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada. Having spent my entire professional career dealing with issues that affect official language minority communities, I knew what to expect.

I remember my first few months in office when I was reviewing the major official languages files and deciding on the following priorities for the duration of my mandate: to urge federal institutions to break down the barriers that are preventing the objectives of the Official Languages Act from being met, to work with federal institutions and partners to ensure that the Action Plan for Official Languages achieves the expected outcomes, and to call on the federal government to provide ongoing leadership in order to undertake a meaningful modernization of the Official Languages Act. These issues are still my main concerns.

Over the past year, I have successfully completed a number of challenging investigations, and I have intervened in the Federal Court to defend and advance language rights. I also appeared before parliamentary committees to discuss the status of the Francophonie and to share my vision on the modernization of the Act. My meetings with business people, youth, politicians, researchers, and community leaders from coast to coast helped to broaden my perspective.

However, I do have to admit that I am dismayed by the events that have recently been making headlines. I never thought I would have to make public statements about language rights setbacks in 2018, on the very eve of the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act.

I am referring to events such as the Government of Manitoba’s announcement about changing the status of the Bureau de l’éducation française within the Department of Education and about eliminating 11 full-time translator positions. In New Brunswick, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of linguistic duality following the most recent provincial election. And let’s not forget the Government of Quebec’s announcement of its plans to abolish all school boards in the province and replace them with service centres whose boards are chosen by parents. The latter has generated public protest, particularly from Quebec’s English school boards, which say they are ready to take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

The elimination of the Université de l’Ontario français project and the end of my Ontario counterpart’s independence have further sparked an outcry across Canada—but have also fuelled a wave of resistance.

The trend to undermine language rights throughout the country seems to have paved the way for other shocking acts such as the hurtful comments made on social media about hockey player Maxime Comtois when Canada lost the 2019 World Junior Championship.

Linguistic duality is a powerful symbol for openness, empathy and respect. The insults hurled at the young star player on social media are compromising Canada’s fundamental values.

It is astonishing to see language issues of this magnitude back in the spotlight nearly half a century after the first Official Languages Act was passed. The Act is part of Canadians’ collective memory and represents the very foundation of the social contract that unites us.

I am conducting a very careful examination of the issue of modernizing the Official Languages Act. We have to continue to implement all parts of the Act to give it full effect. It is clear, however, that this cannot be accomplished without making major amendments and structural changes, which could have a real and tangible effect on the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society and on the vitality of official languages minority communities.

A Canadian public service in full compliance with the Act helps to ensure that quality services are provided to the Canadian public in both official languages. I am currently conducting an in-depth analysis of the language requirements of public service positions and plan to issue recommendations that will affect the entire federal public service and that will help to protect Canadians’ language rights.

In this 50th anniversary year of the Official Languages Act, we need to remember how far we’ve come. Significant milestones have been achieved, but there is still much work to be done to fully realize the Act’s objectives. I think it’s time for the government to take action and establish a dialogue with the provinces and territories—perhaps in the form of a federal-provincial-territorial summit—in order to discuss the future of linguistic duality and of official language minority communities, and to come up with concrete and sustainable solutions. We must continue to lift high the torch of Canadian linguistic duality.

It all starts with leadership and with a commitment to respect the Act. We all have a role to play in promoting respect for our official languages, but most of all, we need to show respect for one another.”