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Notes for an address to the House of Commons
Standing Committee on Official Languages


Graham Fraser – Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

Honourable members, members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Mr. Chairman, good morning.

I am accompanied today by Johane Tremblay, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications; Ghislaine Charlebois, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch; and Carsten Quell, Director of Policy and Research.

I am pleased to be able to meet with you and talk about the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The Games are a global event and a unique opportunity to showcase linguistic duality as a fundamental Canadian value. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the cultural richness of our Anglophone and Francophone communities.

Your interest in the 2010 Games could not be more timely.  With the Games less than a year away, progress has been made towards ensuring linguistic duality. However, there is still work to be done. In my opinion, three important aspects must be considered: the broadcasting of the Games in English and in French, the preparedness of both the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Federal Secretariat, as well as the delivery of services by federal institutions during the Games.

Broadcasting the 2010 Vancouver Games

Broadcasting the Games will enable Canadians who cannot travel to Vancouver or Whistler to experience the various events taking place there and to partake in the celebrations. As the opening and closing ceremonies will be broadcast worldwide, this is a unique opportunity to showcase Canada’s linguistic duality.

For 2010, the English-language broadcasting rights in Canada were awarded to a consortium comprised of Bell Globemedia and Rogers Media, while the French-language broadcast rights were awarded to TQS, RDS and RIS. This commercial contract is exclusively between the International Olympic Committee and the broadcasters. Neither my office, the CRTC nor VANOC has any power to intervene in this contract.

The TQS, RDS and RIS networks are not all part of the basic cable channels available across Canada. For this reason, Francophones and Francophiles in many Canadian regions may be deprived of the opportunity to follow the Games on television in French, unless they subscribe to additional broadcasting services. However, the consortium has agreed to grant free access to the TQS/RDS signal to broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) for the duration of the Games.

We have learned that the TQS/RDS signal will be unscrambled and accessible one month prior to and during the Games, thanks to an agreement between the consortium and the cable distributors. The consortium has also indicated that it would broadcast all competitions directly on its Internet site. While these are very encouraging measures, they are not enough to ensure complete nationwide coverage. The consortium will have to continue to seek a solution so that all English- and French-speaking Canadians across the country have equal access to the Games.

Office of the Commissioner’s study on VANOC’s preparedness

In my report published on December 2nd, 2008, I highlighted the fact that VANOC has stated its commitment to bilingualism, but that effort is still required in certain areas. Particular attention must be given to communications with the general public, the media and the athletes.

My report contains 18 recommendations concerning translation and simultaneous interpretation, the recruitment of bilingual volunteers, signage, the participation of sponsors, the role of the Games Secretariat, cultural activities, and resources allocated to the Official Languages Function.

VANOC has implemented part of Recommendation 17 by forming an official languages advisory committee. As I recommended, Canadian Heritage will prepare a formal quarterly progress report. I also learned that the Gesca group and VANOC have signed an agreement enabling VANOC to distribute information and advertisements for the Games in the chain’s newspapers. These signs are very encouraging.

That being said, to ensure that official languages are fully incorporated and present during the Games, VANOC and the federal government will need to go beyond implementing the 18 recommendations contained in my report. “Going beyond” means fully integrating official languages in all areas of activity, and at all stages. Respect for linguistic duality must be an early reflex during the  planning and execution stages, not an after-thought. The events surrounding the One-Year Countdown Celebration in February should serve as a warning.

The issue of translation and simultaneous interpretation remains a significant challenge. In fact, the allocated budget seems inadequate to me, given the task to be accomplished. Our study and the information we have lead us to believe that VANOC is ill-equipped to ensure adequate delivery of these two services during the 2010 Games. Yet we also know that the federal government’s expertise in this area—given the work done by the Translation Bureau—is recognized worldwide. Therefore, I expect VANOC and the federal government to address this issue as soon as possible. The Games should serve as an example of Canada’s leadership in language services.

Another issue that concerns me is signage. Visitors will not distinguish between municipal, provincial, VANOC or federal government signage. As I mention in my report, the federal government and VANOC must exercise their leadership role with other partners, so that all signage is available in both official languages. It is also important that VANOC and the federal government not neglect their own bilingual signage obligations.

The municipality of Whistler is a case in point. This municipality decided, of its own accord, that it would ensure that services are provided in both English and French, and that it would offer cultural programming that reflects linguistic duality. Other municipalities could learn from Whistler’s example.

Vancouver 2010 awareness campaign and federal services

My office has recently launched an awareness campaign among federal institutions. The experience of Canadian and foreign visitors, journalists and athletes will largely depend on the work done by federal institutions.

In addition to our Canadian athletes, foreign athletes—namely, those from 30 Francophone countries—will arrive in Vancouver, and their Canadian Olympic experience will begin the moment they set foot in the country.

This awareness campaign is aimed at intervention at various levels—from deputy ministers as much as from public servants in charge of implementing programs and initiatives related to the Games—and in many areas, such as security, transportation, and front-line services to the public.

In terms of best practices and encouraging initiatives, Parks Canada will be preparing a DVD for its employees on active offer. Other institutions will be reminding their employees of the importance of active offer and of measures to take so that members of the public can receive service in the official language of their choice. Furthermore, my staff has met many highly motivated people who are eager to provide visitors and athletes with a positive experience. To do this, they must have not only the resources, but also the knowledge that linguistic duality is a priority for senior management. Willingness on the front lines will not translate into coherent action unless it is supported by strong leadership at the head of every institution.

Conclusion

In closing, I believe that there is still a lot of work to be done between now and February 2010. I will continue to closely monitor the preparations and I intend to produce a follow-up to our study. This follow-up report will be released in the fall, so that last-minute adjustments can be made, if necessary.

The government must show leadership and usher Canada’s linguistic duality into the global limelight. I hope that all partners will rise to the occasion and that Canada will continue to be perceived as an international leader in linguistic duality.

Thank you all for your attention. I would like to take the remaining time to answer your questions.