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Time is running out to act on bilingualism issues at the 2010 Olympic Games, says Graham Fraser

There are still major shortcomings in the preparations to provide bilingual services during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, according to a report released today by Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser.

“The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), Canadian Heritage and the various federal institutions that will provide services to visitors and athletes have taken a number of measures to ensure that both of Canada’s official languages are fully reflected during the Games,” acknowledged the Commissioner. “Still, five months before the start of the celebrations, we see that many crucial elements are still not in place. There is only a short amount of time left to do something about it.”

“The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games are a unique opportunity for Canada to showcase its linguistic duality,” said Mr. Fraser. “However, this is only possible if VANOC and the federal institutions take the necessary measures in advance to provide Canadian and foreign visitors with quality bilingual service. All too often, employees who serve the public are bilingual but greet visitors in English only.”

Where VANOC is concerned, the Commissioner’s report outlines problems regarding volunteer recruitment and training, signage, cultural programming and translation.

“We are still awaiting more resources for translation, even though I emphasized this point back in December 2008. Given the urgency and importance of this issue, VANOC and Canadian Heritage need to find a solution to this problem as soon as possible,” said Mr. Fraser. “I worry that, due to lack of funding, only a portion of the documentation released to the public and athletes will be translated.”

The Commissioner also noted that, five months before the Games, the 10 or so federal institutions evaluated in the report have shown dismal results overall. At points of service where there is an obligation to provide bilingual service, this service was available in only 43% of cases at Vancouver Airport screening areas, 23% of cases at Air Canada counters and 10% of cases for services under airport authority responsibility. Bilingual service delivery at Toronto’s Pearson Airport also leaves much to be desired, even though a large proportion of visitors to the Games will be passing through this airport.

“On a more positive note, we noted that employees of Parks Canada, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Service Canada can provide bilingual service in nearly all cases. However, these institutions need to ensure that all their employees greet visitors in both official languages so they know that bilingual service is available,” said the Commissioner.

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