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The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games are a unique opportunity for Canada to showcase its linguistic duality. Since the beginning of his mandate, the Commissioner has made this international event a priority.

This report is both a follow-up to a study published in December 2008, which covered the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) and Canadian Heritage, and to an awareness campaign that the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages conducted with more than 20 federal institutions from December 2008 to May 2009.

It is divided into two main sections. The first section assesses progress made since the publication of the study in 2008 towards the implementation of language requirements -- those of VANOC set out in Annex A of the Multiparty Agreement and those of Canadian Heritage established by the Official Languages Act (Act). The second section examines how federal institutions have integrated language requirements, as set out in the Act, into their planning for the Games.

The Commissioner recognizes the numerous efforts undertaken by VANOC, Canadian Heritage, and federal institutions in terms of official languages. His intentions, through his observations, are to support them so that aspects that could compromise the full integration of official languages in the preparations and hosting of the 2010 Games are addressed.

This follow-up report was conducted from June to August 2009, i.e. a little over six months before the Games take place. With the Games fast approaching, it is imperative that VANOC, Canadian Heritage, and federal institutions act swiftly and implement corrective measures so that the deficiencies identified in this report do not jeopardize the success of the Games.

VANOC and Canadian Heritage

Since the release of the study in 2008, VANOC has advanced on many fronts with regard to respecting both official languages. However, there are still key issues that need to be quickly corrected.

The main challenges that need to be addressed are related to VANOC’s insufficient translation resources. If the situation is not resolved soon, the Organizing Committee’s ability to comply with many of the clauses pertaining to official languages in the Multiparty Agreement will be compromised. The implementation of six important clauses in the Multiparty Agreement, which address such aspects as communications with the public, the media, athletes, officials and dignitaries, is entirely dependent on VANOC’s ability to translate a high volume of words into French. The protracted discussions between VANOC and Canadian Heritage about hiring translators from the Translation Bureau must be resolved.

Another key concern is that VANOC must immediately demonstrate that it has ensured the recruitment of a sufficient number of bilingual volunteers and that it has a backup plan in place should attrition levels be higher than expected .

Solutions also need to be found to ensure the equal representation of both official languages in communications with the media and the public and to ensure the full integration of linguistic duality into cultural activities.

In other components related to the organization of the Games, there has been considerable progress. The governance of official languages has greatly improved within VANOC and Canadian Heritage. The creation of the VANOC Board Advisory Committee on Official Languages, and the presentation of more detailed and systematic reports have contributed to enhancing the importance accorded to linguistic duality within these bodies. The Official Languages Function has been strengthened with the addition of resources and the integration of the Translation Services into this unit. Canadian Heritage is monitoring the official languages issue more closely than at the time of the initial study.

Collaboration with Francophone communities, which was already good, has been enhanced. The organization of the Olympic Torch Relay route, which closely involves the Canadian Foundation for Cross-Cultural Dialogue (Fondation Dialogue) and the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique (FFCB), is a good example.

VANOC officials now have a better understanding of the concept of equitable representation of each language during the opening and closing ceremonies. Still, the Commissioner feels that the importance of this aspect of the Games cannot be stressed enough since billions of people will be watching the ceremonies on television.

In his report on the use of French at the Beijing Games, former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, as Grand Témoin de la Francophonie for this event, indicated that expectations towards Canada vis-à-vis the Vancouver Games are high. Mr. Raffarin pointed out that, “since Canada is an officially bilingual country, no one would understand if French were to take a back seat during these Games”[translation].1

The performance of federal institutions

Early in 2009, the Office of the Commissioner carried out an awareness campaign within federal institutions. Information sessions were also held by the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Federal Secretariat. Interviews held in the summer of 2009 show that some institutions are taking steps to ensure the spirit and the letter of the Act is respected during the Games.

These measures range from intensive French courses to a performance bonus, to information sessions, and to training material on active offer. The active offer DVD created by Parks Canada has been requested by a number of federal institutions. It can certainly be considered a best practice. Service Canada has also demonstrated that it has paid special attention to official languages in the context of the Games, and important steps are being taken to offer services in key non-designated offices that will likely experience an increase in demand during the Games.

Other institutions have decided to relocate bilingual employees to increase their bilingual capacity so they can provide services of equal quality in both languages.

Despite these positive initiatives, with the Games less than six months away, our on-site observations have also revealed some serious challenges with service to the public. The Commissioner is particularly concerned by what travellers might experience at the Toronto and Vancouver airports. The poor results observed at Vancouver International Airport and the airport authority’s lack of specific official languages measures for the Games are reason for concern and a business-as-usual approach is clearly insufficient.

Many travellers will pass through the Vancouver International Airport and Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on their way to the Games or when leaving Canada, and it is essential that those attending the Games have a positive experience in the official language of their choice at all points of service in institutions subject to the Official Languages Act, including commercial tenants in the airport terminals. In general, on-site observations conducted by the Commissioner’s Office show that, despite efforts made by some institutions to improve their results, there is still no reflex to actively offer service in English and in French.

To respect the Act in the context of the Games, key federal institutions need to continue to work towards ensuring that the travelling public receives service in both official languages, ensuring that Canada’s linguistic duality is adequately taken into consideration in the coordination of health and security responses at the Games and monitoring official languages performance during the Games and reporting on best practices.

The Commissioner will continue his monitoring activities before, during and after the Games. He would also like the institutions to monitor their own performance in terms of official languages during the Games, and looks forward to receiving reports on their positive experiences and lessons learned after the Games. Determining how official languages were addressed during the Games provides a legacy for the Canadian public in terms of linguistic duality and helps to improve the public’s experience in future international events.


1. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, L’usage de la langue française aux Jeux olympiques de Pékin 2008. Rapport du Grand Témoin de la Francophonie, Paris, Organisation internationale de la francophonie, 2009, p. 36.

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