Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 16 - Evidence, June 4, 2007
OTTAWA, Monday, June 4, 2007
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 4 p.m. to study, for purpose of reporting from time to time, the application of the Official Languages Act, and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the act.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chairman) in the chair.
The Chairman: Senators, good day and welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. My name is Maria Chaput. I am the chairman of this committee and I am from Manitoba. Before hearing from our witnesses, I would like to introduce the members of the committee.
To my left, we have Senator Comeau from Nova Scotia, Senator Murray from Ontario, and Senator Keon also from Ontario. To my right, we have Senator Tardif from Alberta and Senator Losier-Cool from New Brunswick.
Today we are hearing from the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser. He is accompanied by Mr. Gérard Finn, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, and Mr. Renald Dussault, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch.
We will first ask you to make your presentation, then we will allow the senators to ask questions. Commissioner, you have the floor.
Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: Madame Chairman, I am pleased to meet with you today to discuss my first annual report, which was tabled on May 15, and to present its highlights to you.
The forward of the annual report summarizes my vision of the importance of our two official languages in Canadian society and the role of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I start from the premise that our two official languages, English and French, belong to all Canadians. We live in a country where people speak 150 languages, some of which were spoken well before the Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, the nation-wide dialogue takes place in English and French.
I believe that our two official languages, English and French, belong to all Canadians and are powerful tools for building bridges between us. This notion is based on respect: respect for unilingual citizens, for official language communities, for members of the public who are served by the federal government and for employees who work for the federal government.
Most Canadians wholeheartedly support the official languages policy, despite the fact this application is still misunderstood. The roles of my mandate, in relation to education and promotion, are therefore essential. It should not be forgotten that these two key activities complement my responsibilities to defend language rights and assess the government's performance.
Since the current administration took office, it has sent positive signals with regard to Canada's linguistic duality. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who frequently starts his speeches in French, sets an eloquent example in terms of his respect for linguistic duality. Furthermore, the minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages, Josée Verner has stated on several occasions that the government has no intention of providing less than is set out in the Action Plan for Official Languages.
While these messages are positive, they are marred by actions that significantly diminish their impact. I have noted a considerable gap between the government's words and actions and it is the actions taken over the course of the last year that I want to discuss with you.
The budget cuts announced in September caused an avalanche of complaints to my office from people who thought that some of the measures would have a negative impact on official language communities.
The elimination of the Court Challenges Program in particular delivered a serious blow to Canadians' ability to defend their language rights. The elimination of the Innovation Fund is another prime example of the worrying measures taken last September.
I am sure you have heard about the scope of our draft preliminary investigation report on the Court Challenges Program. As you may have noted, we found that the government did not take into account the impact these cuts would have on official language communities. We will be taking into account comments received from the complainants and the institutions in question in the preparation of our final report.
In addition, we are still awaiting news on how the current government intends to follow up on the Action Plan for Official Languages. The Action Plan forecasted investments of $787 million over five years in several key sectors in order to achieve linguistic duality.
This plan expires next March 31 and there is growing concern among stakeholders who await news on how the government will proceed. A recent announcement of $30 million of funding over two years to support official language communities can hardly replace a plan that resulted in major action in several strategic areas. Unless the government acts rapidly, I feel that the momentum that was given to official languages in 2003 will be lost.
That is why I recommend that the Minister for Official Languages, in cooperation with the communities, provinces and territories, develop an initiative over the coming year that will succeed the Action Plan for Official Languages and consolidate what has been gained.
During the design process, the federal government must carefully consider expanding the scope of the Action Plan to include, in particular, arts and culture, youth initiatives and new measures for promoting linguistic duality.
The federal government has made significant changes to the official languages governance structure. In February 2006, two different roles were assigned to the Minister for Official Languages, namely the coordination of all federal institution activities related to official languages and the management of Canadian Heritage's official languages support programs.
Another important change was the transfer of the Centre of Official Languages Coordination from the Privy Council Office to Canadian Heritage.
Finally, the Committee of Deputy Ministers on Official Languages was dismantled. This committee supported the clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet in his leadership role within the federal administration in order to give concrete expression to the objectives of Canada's language policy. I am concerned that these changes will weaken horizontal governance. I therefore recommend that the Minister for Official Languages review the official languages accountability and coordination framework, taking into account the changes made to official language governance and the new obligations of federal institutions following the legislative amendment of November 2005.
In short, the government's actions, and in certain cases inaction, raise doubts about whether it is truly committed to implementing the amended Part VII of the Official Languages Act. And yet we all remember that the legislation received broad support from the political party that now heads the government. In December 2005, the Clerk of the Privy Council wrote to federal institutions to encourage them to examine the extent to which they carried out their mandates regarding the amended Part VII and to make the necessary improvements. Since then, Canadian Heritage has conducted an awareness tour and published a guide that aims to orient federal government institutions in the performance of their responsibilities concerning the implementation of the government's commitment stated in section 41 of the act.
I congratulate them for taking these steps and encourage them to go further by setting out clear expectations for institutions and by implementing my recommendations.
I recommend that the Minister for Official Languages ensure Canadian Heritage review its accountability mechanisms for the implementation of sections 41 and 42 of the act in order to place more emphasis on results. I also recommend that the Minister for Official Languages ensure Canadian Heritage take a more transparent approach in the implementation of section 41 of the act when determining the institutions that have the most significant impact on communities and on the promotion of linguistic duality.
I am worried about a less rigorous implementation of the Official Languages Act in the federal public service. Without sustained leadership from officials, setbacks are imminent.
In this context, I find the data presented in the annual report on service to the public and language of work to be worrying as the data indicates we are falling behind. If, in addition to losing some of the necessary tools required to provide high-quality service, the public service has reason to doubt the government's commitment to official languages, I fear this backsliding could accelerate.
I therefore recommend deputy heads in federal institutions ensure that front line employees and all agents who respond to client inquiries actively offer services in both official languages at first contact to enhance the use of the public's official language of choice.
I ask the government to review these five recommendations to demonstrate clear leadership and focus its activities on initiatives that deliver results.
Before concluding, I also want to discuss briefly the findings of our audit on the CRTC's implementation of section 41 of the Official Languages Act. I believe the CRTC has an important role to play in supporting the development of official language communities and promoting the full recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society. Linguistic duality is one of the fundamental principles of the Canadian broadcasting policy. Because of the major role that it plays in this respect, the CRTC must adopt a policy and a set of guidelines to ensure uniform implementation of the Official Languages Act as part of its mandate.
At the time our audit was conducted, linguistic duality was not systematically integrated into the organization. For example, the CRTC's 2004-05 action plan could have been more detailed and contained directives. In addition, the telecommunications sector is not part of the action plan and the plan does not identify any activities relating to the implementation of the second component of section 41 of the act, namely fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
In the context of Part VII of the Official Languages Act, this audit gives the CRTC an opportunity to review its policies and procedures and to be a leader among federal government departments, agencies and Crown corporations by developing a Part VII reflex. According to the amendments to the act, positive measures must be taken to ensure the development of official languages communities and to promote the two official languages.
In closing, I would like to congratulate you on your report on the relocation of the head offices of federal institutions. Rest assured that we will implement the recommendations that you have given to us.
We will evaluate the impact of the transfer of Official Languages Secretariat from the Privy Council Office to Canadian Heritage on the management of the official languages program. We will advise the government on our recommendations for improving the horizontal coordination of government action on official languages.
I would be happy to answer any questions.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Fraser. The first question will be asked by the deputy chair of our committee, Senator Keon.
Senator Keon: Mr. Commissioner, you mentioned in passing and at the press conference the other day the role of culture in the promotion of official languages. We have discussed this matter here briefly. In particular, Senator Losier-Cool presented this idea to the committee and we have been groping with how we could utilize culture to promote, for example, the enjoyment of French culture across the country.
What are your thoughts on it?
Mr. Fraser: The question is vast. We are beginning some of our reflections. We have started research projects to look into more specific areas.
One way of analyzing the importance of culture is to imagine someone living in a minority community and think of how it is possible for that person to live in a linguistic environment. Obviously, there are institutional ways in which they can access services, but beyond that, do they see their community reflected on radio and television? Do they have access to films, theatre and books? What kinds of books are available in local libraries? Are libraries available in their children's schools? To what extent is the community able to be a visible reflection of the language and culture that they are part of?
I often think of the experience I had living in Quebec City for seven years when we were able to go to English movies. I worked for an English-language newspaper that we subscribed to. My children had access, not only to schools but also to health services. Despite the fact that there were only 15,000 anglophones in a community of some 850,000 people, we had access to English-language culture.
Obviously, we cannot expect that a minority community will have the same kind of access to theatre they would have in Montreal or Toronto. If we look at ways in which a family or community can have access to cultural resources and that they can be assured that they are not isolated, the language and the culture that they live is not only something that happens around the kitchen table but is reflected more broadly and there is a way to do that. The importance that CBC and Radio-Canada play can never be underestimated in terms of making it possible for people to continue to have access to their culture in their language across the country.
I have driven a rented car across Saskatchewan listening to Radio-Canada. One should never underestimate the importance that access has for families. It is not necessarily a visible community but they are able to have access to their culture.
Senator Keon: Back in the Pearson years there seemed a much more active promotion of cultural exchanges than we have now. Is that correct or is it only my impression?
Mr. Fraser: It is mixed. One thing that first made me interested as a high school student in Toronto in learning about and coming to understand something of Quebec culture was a Gilles Vigneault concert I went to at the University of Toronto in 1964. There was a period when Quebec performers and artists made a significant effort to reach out. Gilles Vigneault did not play only at the University of Toronto but also at the Mariposa Folk Festival. There was more of a reciprocal interest across language lines. Budget cuts have occurred for those kinds of programs. We have seen the recent elimination of funding for culture diplomacy. That elimination has had an impact and reduced the possibility for artists to travel abroad and meet other Canadian artists from different language groups.
Also, it is harder for artists to obtain funding than it was at various stages in the past. However, I cannot make a direct comparison.
On the other hand, some programs have improved. There is some interesting funding for francophone minority artists to tour francophone Ontario communities, but I am not sure to what degree that funding crosses language lines. In the 1960s, there was a kind of mutual curiosity in finding out about the other language group and I sometimes wonder whether that curiosity is as intense as it was then.
Senator Tardif: First, I want to thank you for your annual report, Commissioner. I would also like to congratulate you for the excellent speech that you gave during the Sommet des communautés francophones et acadiennes. Everyone seemed quite pleased with it. Your comments and your commitment were spoken of highly.
My question concerns Bill S-3. The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages has committed, over the next year, to studying the implementation of amendments made to Part VII of the Official Languages Act and, in particular, Bill S-3.
In your annual report, you define the term "positive measures," a definition that I find extremely interesting. Could you give us this definition and tell us the positive measures that have been implemented over the past year with regard to federal institutions?
Mr. Fraser: With all due respect to the Senate, I try to no longer refer to it as Bill S-3. I believe that by so doing, this opens the door to the idea it is separate or distinct from the act. I do not want to create such a perception.
The act was amended. Consequently, people must comply with this legislation as amended, as they did in the past.
At one time, these amendments were known as Bill S-3. Now however, I force myself not to use that term because we are simply talking about the act.
Perhaps it is just a question of style or obsession on my part, but I do not want to minimize the importance of such amendments by creating the perception that this is separate from the act. This is part of the act.
Senator Tardif: You are correct.
Mr. Fraser: Furthermore, we must remember that there was always a transition period, once when the bill was introduced in 1969-70, again when it was amended for the first time in 1988 and then again a second time in 2005. It takes time to understand the new obligations.
We are now in the midst of a transition period. The institutions are adapting to these new obligations. There are still no regulations to define exactly what constitutes a positive measure, and I continue to believe that this is a good thing. This opens the door to innovation and the imagination. The institutions are invited to implement positive measures in different ways in different regions of the country.
Positive measures can be very simple and inexpensive initiatives. It might be something implemented by a manager, in a particular region, who thought of something.
For example, in the annual report I referred to Parks Canada, in Jasper, which offered the francophone community in that region the opportunity to create free office space in exchange for language training. I thought this was an excellent initiative. Someone recognized this opportunity and came up with an initiative. Instead of talking about obligations, people are talking about opportunities in figuring out ways to give a community something that might be useful for everyone. This is in keeping with the spirit of Part VII. We refer to it as a reflex but it is also a spirit.
In many provinces, I have been struck by the openness between federal advisors, communities and universities. A lot of effort is being made. Some public servants are very open to doing things in new ways.
This morning, I met with the chairman of the board of VIA Rail, who has discussions with FCFA representatives. He told me that FCFA executive members found that the active offer is in it of itself a positive measure. Complying with the legislation constitutes a positive measure. And even besides the lack of obvious positive measures in some communities, VIA Rail sponsored the summit.
This truly illustrates the fact that an institution, though its activities, can help communities despite the lack of special programs.
Those are two examples: the first was extremely practical; the second concerned an institution whose board decided to provide financial support to an organization by providing it with funding so that it might take part in the summit.
Senator Tardif: I have recently had the opportunity to speak with Senator Gauthier. He told me that a positive measure was not a negative measure. So, that says it all.
Groups came to testify before the committee. They told us that, often, public servants, unfortunately, did nothing because there was no clear definition of the term "positive measures." So, lack of a clear definition of "positive measures" has created an atmosphere in offices that encourages people to do nothing.
Have you noted, within federal institutions, this tendency to do nothing with regard to this amendment? You are completely correct in saying that we have to stop talking about Bill S-3. It was amending legislation.
Mr. Fraser: Sometimes I fear that there has been a minimalist interpretation and a tendency to follow the advice of lawyers, who recommend caution, in order to avoid creating difficult precedents by waiting to see how the courts themselves will interpret the act.
I think this is unfortunate. Instead, I think that this is an opportunity for the government, its agencies, institutions and departments to open the door. This is the message I am trying to get across. Public servants in some provinces or regions are extremely open to this idea. This can be seen in efforts already made. Other public servants are trying to hide behind this kind of legal advice to avoid establishing precedents leading to future obligations.
Senator Tardif: Would the commissioner have any suggestions to give us from federal institutions that might be useful in our study of the amendments to the legislation?
Mr. Fraser: A positive measure is created in cooperation with minority communities. I interpret this amendment in the same way that I did the obligation to conduct an environmental assessment. This does not mean that the government cannot take action. It has the obligation to conduct an environmental assessment in some cases, while still taking action that would have an impact on minority communities. When plans are developed, they should be developed in cooperation with minority communities, similar to the obligation to conduct an environmental assessment when infrastructure is being considered for environmentally sensitive areas.
We know that minority communities are fragile. Government initiatives can have an extremely positive impact. As former Senator Gauthier said: a positive measure is not a negative measure.
The Chair: With regard to positive measures, do you not think that it would be good for minority francophone Acadian communities to be able to provide their own definition as to what constitutes a positive measure to ensure their development and success? Because if that is the case and we are waiting for a definition from the government, in spite of all the best intentions, would it not be possible to end up with two completely opposing definitions?
Mr. Fraser: I agree completely. Each time I meet with groups, I take the time to tell them that they have to think about what it means for them. First, it is dangerous to wait and, second, there is no such thing as one size fits all.
A long time ago, I monitored a group of Toronto citizens lobbying in relation to a community redevelopment plan. It was thanks to pressure from that community that the Housing Act was amended by Parliament here in Ottawa.
The problem is that they tried to amend the legislation in a way that would apply to the entire country. As a result, that amendment was not really useful for the community that pressured for the change. When that community complained, they were told that the legislation could not be amended just for them, but that it would have to apply coast to coast.
It is extremely important for communities to think about this, because each community has different needs, a different relationship with different institutions. What Canada Post does in one rural community may mean something completely different in Toronto or Moncton. The door is open to flexibility. This will not happen if the communities do not get directly involved to say: Here is what we need in our community; here is how your plan could be amended so as to make a difference for us.
The Chair: For example, Commissioner, a number of us took part in the Sommet des communautés francophones et acadienne last weekend. Following a debate, the 750 participants adopted a document that had been signed by the leaders of community groups. Would this document not be a good start in identifying positive ways to support communities such as ours?
Mr. Fraser: Yes. I did not attend the entire summit. However, representatives of my office attended all stages of the summit. I had very good reports on the presentations made, among other things. It is clear, in reading the supporting documentation, that a lot of work was done to prepare for the summit. I am awaiting the final documents.
Senator Losier-Cool: I would like to talk about Radio-Canada and the CRTC. You say in your report that the CRTC could do more. Would it be a positive measure if the Société nationale de l'Acadie were to conduct a fairly in-depth study on all Radio-Canada's programs for minority communities? If I understand correctly, the CRTC cannot influence Radio-Canada's programming. The CRTC has said that it has nothing to say about programming itself. What do you think?
Mr. Fraser: I would like to come back to the SNA's report. I had a very interesting meeting with the president last week. I found that it was not only a good report but it took a very useful approach to start discussions. I added, however, that we had gotten a complaint about this report serving as a foundation. We will consider this report in the context of a formal complaint that we received. Once a formal complaint has been filed, I can no longer make any comments without compromising the complaint. However, we are in discussions with Radio-Canada about its responsibilities under Part VII of the act. There is a legal disagreement. Radio-Canada's position is that we have no business interfering with its mandate and that programming comes under their exclusive jurisdiction. We have no role to play. We are continuing our discussions with the SNA.
The report prepared by the SNA shows that we have a lot to learn about programming, not by interfering in the newsroom, but simply by taking a close look at what is being broadcast.
We are looking at this complaint very seriously and reflecting on exactly how to deal with it.
Senator Losier-Cool: Radio-Canada's programming is dependent on Radio-Canada's administration and not on the CRTC?
Mr. Fraser: I will answer by saying yes and no. As with any other broadcaster, Radio-Canada's licence has to be approved by the CRTC for a five-year period. Unless I am mistaken, this licence is scheduled to be renewed next year. As with all other broadcasters, Radio-Canada will appear before the CRTC, which can then appraise Radio-Canada of its commitments and obligations.
The issue of CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate is also at issue. The CRTC acts as a monitor and must see whether, in fact, CBC/Radio-Canada is fulfilling its mandate. The licensing conditions are defined and upheld by the CRTC.
Senator Losier-Cool: This is what makes communities more fragile, as you noted. Radio-Canada, when it fails to fulfil that role, is making them more fragile. Francophones in this country watch Radio-Canada. However, it focuses solely on what happens in Montreal. So they change the station and watch English TV. This phenomenon has occurred in many regions. This is not addressed in Radio-Canada's objectives or mandate.
Mr. Fraser: I would be saying nothing new by telling you that Radio-Canada has responded to that allegation by talking about financial constraints that dictate to some extent its behaviour. We respond to them with your argument. And the discussion is ongoing.
In fact, the CRTC is responsible for determining whether Radio-Canada's policies and programs meet its obligations under the licence that it was granted.
Senator Losier-Cool: Our committee will also continue its work.
Senator Murray: I have been thinking about your report in the context of what this committee ought to do. I am concerned that we do not spread ourselves too thin. We completed a study on the Vancouver Olympics. We completed one on the agencies that were relocated to various regions. We have one underway now on francophone culture and so on. All these causes are worthy. We completed a good study, I say with due modesty because I was only here for a small part of it, on minority education.
Meanwhile, I must say, to my considerable surprise as one who thinks he has been following these matters, we have been losing ground. We have been sliding back seriously in some areas on language of service. What is more fundamental than that? Active offer of service — I thought we crossed that bridge 20-odd years ago. I thought that was settled policy, well understood by everybody, in the system.
My mind goes back to the early 1980s when the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages was first set up, and Eymard Corbin and I were co-chairs. We tackled language of service, language of work and equitable representation of the two official language groups at all levels of the federal public service. We had the President of the Treasury Board, who had the public service language requirements to answer for, and the Secretary of State, as he was then known, responsible for minority language education programs and second language education programs, as well as the Minister of Justice. More often than not, we did not call ministers. We had deputy ministers and heads of agencies. We took them through the requirements, especially on language of service. I do not think it was the most agreeable part of their week to appear before our committee because we had the commissioner's report card. We quizzed them on what they were doing to improve their performance. At the end of the meeting, the Commissioner of Official Languages, your predecessor, Max Yalden would then comment on the testimony of that deputy minister or agency head.
I think it had a salutary effect and I wonder if the time has not come for us to go back to first cases and do again for a while what we did then if that is what it takes to bring people up to speed. We have lost ground, as you point out, in some areas.
With regard to Part VII of the Official Languages Act, this is our baby. One of our colleagues took that through Parliament a while ago.
Mr. Fraser: I mean no disrespect in saying I no longer refer to it as Bill S-3.
Senator Murray: I know it is the law now. It will take a while to realize the potential of those amendments. If you tell the average engineer in the Department of Transport the engineer must make an active offer of service in both languages and must to be able to provide services in both languages, that engineer will know what to do to gear up for that. If you say, you must take positive measures to promote minority language communities, the engineer may well respond by stating this is not part of his or her frame of reference. They all need a lot of coaching. I am happy with what you told us about what they did at Parks Canada and, please God, this will be repeated elsewhere but it will take leadership, coaching and imagination. If someone at the Department of Transport came to me and asked what they must do to promote official languages minority communities — what are these positive measures — I would have to say I will get back to them on that. It will take a while. We should, as a committee, stay on top of this issue. It is more important for us to ensure that the government is geared up to provide the coaching these people will need.
We should not expect them to deliver more than they can from government departments. We identified other problems when we were studying minority education in minority language communities. Perhaps half or 60 per cent of these "ayant droits" take advantage of the opportunity.
Government policies ought to be brought to bear to try to improve that situation but frankly, parts of the puzzle are completely outside of our capacity to solve — they must be solved by the people themselves.
I perhaps do not want to push too fast or too prematurely on Part VII, but I am concerned to work on the service issue and put some people's feet to the fire, as we used to do — find a way to improve performance markedly and quickly, as it must be. I am surprised by what you found in your report on that issue. Perhaps I should not be.
Mr. Fraser: I must say I was disappointed.
It was interesting going around to different government departments explaining what was in the report and giving them a heads up. I became aware that the leadership of some departments is strongly supportive and in others, there is much less interest in the issue.
One thing that I was pleasantly surprised by was that I was talking to a deputy minister about the important role that the action plan had played in his area and how important I thought it was that the plan be renewed. He said quickly, "Do you say that in your report?" I said, "Absolutely; we devote a chapter to it." He said how important it was that I do so.
I realized that for the allies of official languages in government, the pressures that come from the commissioner, from your committee and from the House committee are not seen as harassment. They are seen as valuable pressure. For those who think this issue is not important, that it is a burden, it is not the happiest part of their week if they must appear.
One thing that has happened — one of my discoveries, if you like, in the seven and a half months that I have been in the job — is that there is a natural tendency in any bureaucracy to transform values into burdens. Therefore, the value of transparency becomes the burden of access to information; the value of responsible handling of taxpayers' dollars becomes the burden of additional auditing; and the value of linguistic duality becomes the burden of classification, training, testing and reclassification.
There is this tendency on the part of public service leadership to think of this issue less as a value, less as something that is front and centre in terms of the public face of government, and more as a set of boxes that are ticked off. Part of what I am trying to do is to move the issue out of the burden category and back into the value category.
I have also been conscious of how important leadership is in this regard. If the Prime Minister, the clerk of the PCO, the deputy minister or the head of the agency says this is something they think is really important, then all of a sudden, the echoes go down through the department. This is one reason why, in the annual reports, I raised concerns about the transfer of the coordinating responsibility from Privy Council Office to Canadian Heritage.
The people responsible for this area — in some cases, they are the same people and they were moved from the Langevin Block to the other side of the river — are as committed and devoted, but I think it is human nature in any organization to take the message more seriously that comes from upstairs than those that come sideways from a colleague department. I am concerned at the unintentional messages that may have been sent by saying that a deputy ministers' committee will not handle this area any more: It will be handled by an assistant deputy ministers' committee. Also, it will not be handled by the Privy Council Office; we will send it to a department. I am sure there were all kinds of important streamlining, efficiency reasons for this change, but the effect was to send the signal that this area is only another set of boxes to be ticked.
Senator Murray: I am sure you are right. In the run-up to the 1988 act, starting in the Trudeau years, Prime Minister Trudeau appointed a committee headed by Gérard Veilleux, who was then at the Privy Council Office or Federal Provincial Relations Office, to head up a committee of mostly deputy ministers. Mr. Mulroney kept that committee going when he took office. Then, when we made up our mind to draft a new act or to amend the act considerably, that committee and a group of four ministers took on the task.
Things happen because of inattention. At some point during the Chrétien years, one morning someone woke up and asked if we knew that the number of francophone deputy ministers had fallen way down below — I will not say record low levels because I think we know what the record low is — recent levels. It was not because anyone decided to heck with this value, let us appoint a bunch of unilingual deputies: it happened only as a result of an accumulation of things. It was corrected in short order, because it had to be corrected.
However, while it is nice and important for a committee like this one to take the longer term view, I think we need to ride herd on the situation in the three areas I mentioned — language of service, language of work and equitable representation. I make the point to be taken into account when we consider future business. We do not need to do it exactly the way it was done in the early 1980s; to think that is a sin of old people.
Mr. Fraser: I think you could play a useful role in that regard. One thing that I have become conscious of is the degree to which this area requires a cultural change in the federal government's view of service. If this change becomes a first order of business — that this is the public face of Canada and this is how we define the public face of Canada — that message must be sent from the leadership of the public sector.
One thing that makes the change harder is this anomaly that senior levels of the public service must meet language requirements until they become a deputy minister. Then, all of a sudden, those language requirements are no longer applied. I have had some deputy ministers who have expressed relief that now they are deputy ministers, they do not have to take those damn tests anymore. I feel that sends its own signal.
Senator Murray: Most of them are surely bilingual.
Mr. Fraser: Absolutely: Our figures show that 85 per cent of the positions that are designated bilingual are filled with people who are bilingual.
Senator Murray: At the senior levels, tell me that most of the deputies are bilingual.
Mr. Fraser: We do not know that because we have no way of knowing. You can do your own calculation by looking at the names or by knowing whether their French was good when they were an assistant deputy minister and were required to pass the test. However, I know there are a certain number of deputies who would find it uncomfortable to go to their Quebec branch and give a speech in French. I am speculating.
I know some who are unilingual and others who are bilingual, but because they do not need to meet the requirement, there are no statistics on how bilingual the deputy ministers are.
Senator Murray: We can find out when we have them before the committee.
Senator Losier-Cool: Each one of them!
Mr. Fraser: Another thing, I think, also speaks to the question of leadership. I have been thinking about language requirements for public servants. Two things occur to me. One is the famous C level for oral interaction. That is the one everyone complains about and says is so difficult.
The criteria for achieving the C level in oral interaction are the ability to persuade and intervene in a conflict, the ability to give advice to a colleague or to a subordinate and, the formula that someone gave me at Public Service Commission, the ability to appear in court or to give a course. Those criteria are not language criteria: They are leadership criteria.
If they cannot do that, how can they expect to lead an organization where they have large numbers of people who have the right to work in their own language, and other people who are not obliged to be bilingual? Every government department has employees in Quebec who are in areas where they have the right to work in French, and they do so.
I think this requirement must be conceived as not only a language skill and a box that is ticked off — in the same way that we say we will no longer hire people who do not have a university degree — but as a critical component of leadership.
Another element had not occurred to me before. I have heard many people say, "I do not have any problem with the reading or writing requirement: my problem is understanding people when they talk." I have become sceptical about whether that claim is true. Certain people can read well enough to pass a test, but will they read a memo that is written in French as carefully and with as much comprehension as they will read that same memo if it were written in English?
If someone is writing a memo for their director, their director general or their ADM, are they sure that they will be understood if they write it in the language in which they are most comfortable? Will the nuances be grasped or will that document be one that someone puts at the bottom of a pile to skim and read the executive summary rather than actually grasp it?
In terms of oral interaction, I have talked to francophones who said, at least if I am at a meeting and I say something in French, I can tell whether I am understood, whereas if I press "send" on the computer, I have no idea whether the document I have written will be read.
That sense of treating what is written in French as seriously as what is written in English is important because there is a confidence problem for public servants whose first language is French to really know they will be understood if they write in French.
Senator Comeau: In your presentation, you made a comment to the effect that the elimination of the Court Challenges Program was a major blow to the ability of Canadians to defend their linguistic rights. This program had produced very positive results for communities such as mine. However, I have always had trouble understanding the approach taken when it came to applying for funding under that program. I know that you are extremely diplomatic and that you will not want to jump to conclusions regarding the investigation you are conducting, but I would like to understand how this program works. If I understand correctly, this program was not only for communities, but for anyone who had problems with the Charter?
Mr. Fraser: Correct. That is my understanding. An institution called the Court Challenges Program had been created, which led to some confusion. There was this institution and the program, but it was an organization with a CEO responsible for managing funding.
Senator Comeau: Approximately $4 million per year?
Mr. Fraser: Approximately 5 million.
Senator Comeau: In relation to the federal budget, this is not very much. People may think that 4 million dollars is a lot of money, but it is not really when you are talking about the budget.
Let us come back to the process. The funds were granted by someone in the government and allocated to someone. How does this work? In your investigation, no doubt you looked at the Court Challenges Program. Perhaps you could help us understand it.
Mr. Fraser: This program was created as an institution by the government with a president and a board that heard and assessed requests for funding and that funded a certain percentage of those funds. Mr. Dussault might be able to reply in greater detail.
Ronald Dussault, Assistant Commissioner, Compliance Assurance Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: This organization received funding based on various criteria. As you said, in the context of this committee, we are talking about official languages minority communities, but it also applied to many other groups. So, there was a series of criteria that the organization used in allocating funding.
Senator Comeau: When the government abolished the program, did it also abolish the institution administering the program?
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Comeau: In your investigation, are you looking at the way decisions were made or are you conducting a superficial investigation? In other words, is it the institution and program that were good or the purpose for which these funds were used?
Mr. Fraser: During our investigation, we analyzed the decision-making process in relation to the budget cuts. We included the Court Challenges Program and, in this analysis, we found that approximately one third of the money transferred from Canadian Heritage to the Court Challenges Program went to linguistic rights.
Senator Comeau: So one third went to linguistic minorities?
Mr. Fraser: According to the figures that I have, $525,000 went to linguistic rights in 2006, $1,575,000 for equality rights and the remaining $650,000 for administration.
Senator Comeau: In your investigation, did you look at the purpose for which the requests were made or did you look solely at the impact on linguistic minorities?
Mr. Fraser: We simply looked at the impact on linguistic minorities and we investigated to see whether the statutory obligations were upheld during the decision-making process.
Senator Comeau: So you looked at the impact on linguistic minorities. In short, you looked at one aspect of the program.
Mr. Fraser: That is our mandate. We do not have the mandate to look at the impact on other groups. This is the basis on which the complaints were made.
Senator Comeau: Your recommendation concerns linguistic minorities only?
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Comeau: Now I have a slightly better understanding of the process. With regard to the funds, you are saying that Canadian Heritage provided a specific amount.
Mr. Fraser: Yes, Canadian Heritage.
Senator Comeau: We are talking about issues relating to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mr. Fraser: Yes. In our assessment, we noted that, during the 2006 expenditure review, the Court Challenges Program received $2,075,000 from Canadian Heritage under a contribution agreement. Of that amount, $525,000 went to linguistic rights.
Senator Comeau: Have you met, or will you meet, the program administrators so that you can find out whether they feel that the program was working well?
I am trying to understand what happened when someone turned to the program, had a problem with regard to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in order to obtain funding so as to hire a lawyer and stand up for their rights. Was just anyone entitled to use this program? Was it groups? Were program administrators able to grant or deny funding, to make an apology or provide an answer?
Mr. Fraser: If I understand correctly, the program included members of the organization, who dealt with applications for funding. There was no guarantee that any particular request would be granted. Certain criteria had to be met, including one which assessed the importance of the right affected.
Let us take the example of the Supreme Court ruling, two years ago, in the Solski case. Children had been educated in immersion programs outside Quebec. The family then moved to Quebec. The Quebec government then decided that the parents were not entitled to send their children to immersion, because, in Quebec, immersion programs apply to education in English. Because the children had been educated in an immersion program outside Quebec, they had been educated in French. The Supreme Court then had to rule in consideration of the community aspect. It concluded that even if the children had been educated in French in Manitoba in an immersion program, they were members of the anglophone community and the parents were entitled to send their children to an immersion program in Quebec.
It was a defined fundamental right, and it had to be defined by the Supreme Court. This entire process was funded by the Court Challenges Program.
Senator Comeau: You have given an excellent example, which demonstrates that a decision had to be taken at the very beginning. Nearly all these decisions are made after the funding has been granted. People have to realize that the cases can go all the way up to the Supreme Court, and so that means enormous amounts of money.
Who belonged to this group? Were the people appointed by the government or chosen by public servants?
Mr. Fraser: I believe they were appointed by the government, even though it was only a panel. I think that they were appointed by order in council. Some of these appointments are made following recommendations from the public service, from the Prime Minister's Office or from a minister's office.
Senator Comeau: In your report, you also mention the issue of regional offices being moved from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia.
Mr. Fraser: Yes.
Senator Comeau: You seem to have some concerns about this, particularly about the impact stemming from Part V of the Official Languages Act. I share your concerns. We would like to see regional offices in Nova Scotia, in a region that is less bilingual. I do not necessarily want the transfers to put New Brunswick at a disadvantage. However, I am concerned when you say that the regional offices should go to a bilingual province. There will never be any progress in unilingual regions if we refuse to move the government's regional offices there. I am telling you about my concern. Can you offer me any reassurance?
Mr. Fraser: In your report that recently came out, I did see your comments about the benefits of transferring institutions out to the regions. I had not looked at the issue from that perspective.
At a regional meeting of public servants from the Maritimes, one public servant told me that, when their regional office was in New Brunswick, it was easier to meet their language requirements, because there were more bilingual people there. The anglophones who had moved there were happy to learn French. Now that the office is located in Halifax, apparently the situation is more difficult. It is harder to attract people who speak French. The anglophones, who have already learned French, are starting to lose it. These people no longer have the right to work in French.
I was more aware of the challenge for the institutions that had been transferred.
Senator Comeau: We should be careful about how we express our concerns. The last thing we want is to end up with only three bilingual regions in Canada, namely Ottawa, Montreal and New Brunswick, a situation caused by the difficulty in the other provinces, or in Halifax, to guarantee the language of work.
Mr. Fraser: It is not a difficulty, it is an impossibility. The right to work in French in Halifax does not exist. Let us not fool ourselves.
Senator Comeau: I understand. However, if we discourage locating regional offices in a region other than these three, we would not want these regions to be excluded.
If we send the message that only three regions in Canada have regional offices where public servants can work in their own language, these regions may not attach as more importance to offering services in both official languages.
Mr. Fraser: I agree that it is important for us to be careful when we make recommendations. When I raised these issues, I did not want to do away with — We must recognize that there is a very strong link between the vitality of communities, the right to work in French, and the capacity to provide service in both official languages. It is a triangle.
Senator Comeau: But people should not lose out. You have a critical mass in Montreal, in Ottawa and in New Brunswick. You cannot tell other communities, where there is no critical mass but people are willing to work day after day to maintain their francophone heritage within their community, that they cannot go to Halifax, Nova Scotia, because it is not francophone enough. So we should have offices in Moncton where people can work in French.
When Ms. Adam was the Commissioner for Official Languages, I remember a new officer had been hired. This person had moved to Moncton because it was easier for her to live in French there. I was given the excuse that there were fewer complaints in Nova Scotia. Of course if there are no officers there, there are fewer complaints. We see that the commissioner and the government are very interested in maintaining bilingualism where it is already established and much easier to strengthen.
Mr. Fraser: You raise an important issue. Indeed, I am increasingly aware that the presence of federal institutions in unilingual regions can play a very important role in supporting these communities. I was aware of that point that you raised in your report.
You studied the Canadian Tourism Commission in your report. I have already appeared before you to talk about the Olympic Games. I have visited Vancouver twice, and I was impressed by the efforts that the commission and VANOC have made to find bilingual people and establish ties with the minority community in Vancouver, which is very dynamic. You raise an interesting point.
Another point that you raised in your report — and I would like to stress it as well — is the importance of guaranteeing that when people are transferred, they do not lose their right to work in French. If people are entitled to work in French in a federal institution and a move occurs, they should be able to keep this right. This requires a great deal of adjustment. When I mentioned the triangle between the right to work in one's own language, the vitality of the community and the capacity to provide a service, it was at a meeting in Halifax, with the federal council. A public servant approached me after the meeting and told me that at Justice Canada, there are places where they needed lawyers who could practice in both languages, which requires considerable language capacities, higher than the CBC rating. He said that he knew exactly where to find these people: in Montreal.
But the problem is that they move with their families, and there is not enough culture and vitality in the community, and after two years, they go back to Montreal, and then they have to hire someone new all over again.
Everything is linked in a way. It goes back to the issue of culture that Senator Keon raised at the beginning of the meeting. If there is no access to culture, it is very difficult for the community to retain this vitality; if there is no vitality in the community, it becomes difficult for the federal government to keep its employees; and if the federal government does not keep its employees, it is difficult to provide the service. In a way, everything is related.
Senator Comeau: But we have to be careful in the way we make recommendations.
Mr. Fraser: I do not think I have been careless.
Senator Murray: I have two brief observations to make, one of them on that question. We all know about New Brunswick and where the large concentrations of francophones are, but you should look at Saint John and Fredericton. Those cities are large English cities with, I think, a critical mass of francophones who have the Centre scolaire-communautaire and so on. They are worth looking at.
Mr. Fraser: And Halifax.
Senator Murray: Yes; we know where the francophones are concentrated in Nova Scotia also, but I think the largest number of francophones is in Halifax-Dartmouth. They are a minority there, but I think there is a critical mass. Francophones have their schools, and it would be interesting to see how they function. We were there a couple of years ago. It is a success story to some extent. It is a work in progress, but the francophone minorities in those big agglomerations are a success story.
I have a second observation. On the Court Challenges program — someone will correct my recitation of the history if I am wrong — my recollection is that the program was set up after Bill 101 went through the Quebec national assembly. Mr. Trudeau was not comfortable with that provincial legislation and made no secret of it.
A lot of pressure was on him to invoke the federal power of disallowance. He said "No" — that the recourse should be political solutions and court solutions, whereupon he created the Court Challenges program. A lot of people at the time saw the creation of that program as a response to Bill 101. Indeed, while we know that the program has been used in some of the most famous cases involving francophone minorities, in the early going, it was the Anglo-Quebecers who used it to good effect.
Mr. Fraser: I think you are right.
Senator Murray: Senator Keon and I talked about whether the program was adopted and mostly used by francophone minorities. I think it probably was but it was set up for the anglophones and was used by them in the early going of Bill 101.
Mr. Fraser: That is a good point.
To come back to your question about the vitality of the francophone community in Halifax, one thing we need to be cognizant of is the changing dynamics of francophone minority communities. The tendency is to assume that they are the descendents of pioneers. While that is true, I was fascinated to discover that in British Columbia, 90 per cent of the francophones in that province come from somewhere else.
We see the same kind of numbers in Alberta. There has always been a fair amount of mobility with francophones in Canada. A million left Quebec to go to the United States at the end of the 19th century. This phenomenon is not sudden or new. The difference now is that the schools exist and the programs exist. The francophones that I met in Vancouver are there because they want to be there. There is an energy, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a determination that they will have the services they need and the schools they want. There is a kind of enthusiasm that is encouraging. However, the community is different from the community that existed 40 years ago.
In 1965, Jean Lesage toured Western Canada. In one of his speeches, he compared the case of an engineer in Vancouver moving to Montreal and the reverse. Both of them were receiving promotions, but while one faced the prospect of continuing to have education for their children, the other faced the prospect of losing their culture and language. That situation simply is not true any more. The engineer who moves to Vancouver can send their children to French school, can listen to radio and television in French and have a range of services that were unthinkable 40 years ago.
Senator Tardif: I would like to return to a point that Senator Comeau raised regarding the relocation of government agencies' headquarters. He is concerned that if too much emphasis is placed on respecting an employee's right to work in French or the need to offer bilingual services, regions that cannot offer this kind of work environment may suffer discrimination.
However, in order to solve the problem, could we perhaps require the government to ensure that when headquarters are moved from a bilingual region to a unilingual region, the regulation is enforced so as to respect Part V of the Official Languages Act with regard to working in French, as well as Part IV, which has to do with offering bilingual services to the public, and Part VII, which deals with the promotion of minority language communities?
It seems to me that if we were to require this, and if the government had regulations to this effect, we could solve this problem. Do you not think so?
Mr. Fraser: I think that the important thing here is to make a distinction between the possible roles of an agency's headquarters. If it is the headquarters of a federal government institution or an agency, I think there are national obligations, and not just regional obligations. The problem with the regional concentration of transfers from New Brunswick to Halifax is not just that the people are being transferred from one province to another, it is that the responsibilities should be maintained for the French-speaking regions in New Brunswick. When the job or the person is transferred to Halifax, it becomes more difficult for the agency or the department to continue providing services.
For example, we have received complaints from Acadians who have had problems getting weather information because the office was in Halifax and it was more difficult to get bilingual people who could provide the service.
It is a greater challenge for headquarters. We saw what you described so well with the transfer of the Canadian Tourism Commission to Vancouver, but the commission made an extra effort to meet its national obligations.
Senator Tardif: Once again, it is a question of leadership and goodwill. In other cases this may not happen, unless there is a more permanent mechanism for the government to ensure that it will be the case.
I would like to ask you another question, Mr. Fraser. In the past few months, we have heard a great deal about the elimination of the Court Challenges Program and the harmful effects of this decision on the communities.
I do not know whether you can give me an answer, but you provided a very good analysis of this situation in your annual report. However, you did not recommend that the Court Challenges Program be re-established. Could you explain why?
Mr. Fraser: Yes, indeed. I made a very clear distinction in the report, in the decision that I made. The government is entitled to govern, to make decisions, to cut programs, to create other programs; in short, the government is entitled to govern. But the very nature of the act requires a certain process to be followed. What we looked at in our investigation was whether the government respected this process when the decision was made. Did they carry out an impact study? Did they consult?
According to the information that we were able to get, since meetings of cabinet are not public in nature, we did not see evidence that the act had been complied with and we said so. What we are stressing is the government's obligation to comply with the act when it makes a decision.
Senator Comeau is urging me to be careful; perhaps I have tried to follow his advice, though I did not receive it directly. I could have said: "You broke the law; do not do it again." I could have said: "You must reinstate the program." What I chose to say is that there is a process to follow, the government has the right to govern, but within the obligations of the act.
Senator Keon: You referred to the tremendous progress made in Vancouver. There is an enormous opportunity coming up in British Columbia in 2010, the Olympic Games. What pragmatic steps can we take to assist you in ensuring that the francophone presence receives a lot of attention during those games in a linguistic way, but also in a cultural way, which I had raised earlier? I think the Olympic Games is a tremendous opportunity for cultural exposure.
Mr. Fraser: I agree completely. I think there are two separate aspects to the Olympics in terms of official languages. There is the operation of the games itself, and then there is the television coverage of the games. I have had two conversations with senior managers from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, VANOC. I have been impressed by their attitude, openness and their seriousness about the issue. I saw them twice. It was the first trip I made after becoming commissioner in October. I went back six months later and what impressed me even more was during the six months between my first and second visit, they had completed a whole series of smart hires. There were a number of people I wanted to hire inside the public service and outside. There they were in Vancouver working on the Olympics. I thought, good on them, but I had hoped to hire them for myself.
On the other hand, one of the VANOC officials spoke to me about a specific problem during the games themselves. They are putting together, for a short period of time, the needed translation services. They will need a lot of simultaneous interpretation. Those are people they cannot hire now and sometimes it is for specialized vocabulary. I have raised this issue with the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, responsible for the Translation Bureau. The minister will look at ways the Translation Bureau, and possibly Parliament, can make some of those resources available.
The other important issue I would raise is that it is not only the Olympics and the Olympic organization itself that must respond to the demands and requirements, in terms of official languages. Border services, Air Canada and many kinds of other federal institutions will be the public face of the country welcoming the world to Vancouver. It will not be only the Vancouver organizing committee. It will not be only on the Olympic sites. It will be at the airports, stations and border points. Every federal institution must focus on how they can meet the challenge. Anything you can do to remind the federal government that this is not something that will be dealt with only by the Vancouver organizing committee, but rather, every federal government department will have a role to play. I am less concerned about the organizing committee, because of the energy of the bright people I met and their determination, than I am about coverage. They can have totally bilingual games on site. If the television coverage is not balanced, with equal access for francophones to the coverage, then all that effort will not be reflected to the country as a whole. I have already made an appearance before the House committee and with the minister raising some of those concerns.
I know CTV and Rogers are concerned about meeting those responsibilities and we saw some scurrying. The original plan was to send a signal to Montreal and have commentators in Montreal do the commentary on the basis of what they saw on the big screen. That coverage is not equal and balanced. Suddenly, there is scurrying and statements that there will be reporters on site and interviews will be done in French. Those problems have not been worked out entirely. There are still distribution problems to be solved. There are cable companies that are not carrying the channels designated for Olympic coverage. I will be vigilant, and any extra vigilance or extra appearances that you might summon to keep a watchful eye on the preparation of the television coverage would be useful.
Senator Losier-Cool: I first have a comment and then a specific question.
I read somewhere that three things are essential in life to succeed: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone. Those fighting for minority rights need those three things.
In 1965, when there was talk of having French schools across Canada, we were told that we were dreaming in colour. But today there are many French schools. At the end of the summit yesterday, the vision that the participants came up with was about not just surviving in French across Canada, but living in French.
That said, I want to come back to Senator Keon's first question about our next study on culture. To help the committee in its deliberations and recommendations, could you offer some specific suggestions? Could it be about policies or funding? Perhaps we need a national cultural policy like we have a national environment policy?
Mr. Fraser: We are still at the early stages of our thinking on that. One thing that has always concerned me, and even annoyed me, is that Canadian taxpayers make a huge financial contribution to the creation of a film industry in Canada, but they are unable to see the results. I love cinema. I try to watch the Canadian films that are produced each year. The Quebec film industry is dynamic and interesting, but it hardly gets across the Ottawa river. I know that the government had the courage 20 years ago to tackle film distribution. The efforts failed, however, because of pressure from Hollywood and control by the majors. How can we make sure that English-speaking Canadians across the country can have access to films they have contributed to financially and vice-versa, that francophones can see English films, and even French films, which are often not available?
The National Film Board's mandate has changed a bit, and it does not play exactly the same role that it used to. For those who love Canadian cinema, outside Montreal and Toronto, it is very difficult. I do not know how you could address that problem. There has been progress, though, in that I have been able to watch certain Canadian films on Air Canada flights that I have never been able to see in a movie theatre.
Using new technology, Air Canada offers a selection of Canadian movies on some of its flights. In Canada, we produce good films in both languages, and I think it is sad that Canadians have such a hard time seeing them.
Gérard Finn, Assistant Commissioner, Policy and Communications Branch, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: We are currently looking at television production in minority communities, the dissemination of cultural products from communities and, in the fall, we will be producing a report on the basis of our research. That might support your work on culture.
Senator Tardif: If I understand correctly, commissioner — and correct me if I am wrong — your investigation into the elimination of the Court Challenges Program took a similar approach to what we find in the court ruling on the Montfort case, that is, analysis of whether the government's decision-making process complied with the letter and the spirit of the Official Languages Act.
If I've understood what you said, this government has not taken into account the spirit of the Official Languages Act, and has not used the official languages lens in its decision. Is that what you said?
Mr. Fraser: Yes. We looked at the decision-making process to see whether they took into account the obligations under the act, in the strengthened Part VII of the act which now includes legal obligations.
Senator Tardif: That will certainly not be a good thing.
Mr. Fraser: That was our conclusion.
Senator Tardif: In your opinion, would it not be a good thing to require all federal institutions to be accountable for implementation of Part VII, not just the 32 federal institutions that are currently designated?
Mr. Fraser: That is a very good question. Regarding the 32 federal institutions that are currently designated, let us just say that I do not feel entirely comfortable responding directly.
Senator Tardif: You can get back to us on that topic.
Mr. Finn: You must remember that all federal institutions are subject to the act, thus, subject to Part VII like any other part of the act, with a few exceptions.
Thirty-two of these institutions are obliged to draw up a plan. Now that does not mean that the others are not accountable. A selected group must make plans and be accountable each year, but everything that has to do with program accountability and compliance with Part VII applies to all institutions, not just the 32 designated ones.
Senator Tardif: Myself, I wanted to expand the number of designated institutions.
Mr. Finn: There you have it. And in the annual report, the commissioner stated that it is important for the designation of these institutions to be very transparent. He said that the method of designation should ensure that the communities can be consulted too, because some institutions can be very important in one region and not so important in another.
Other institutions believe that it is important to find a method of consultation that ensures that we do not have 250 institutions coming to see us all at the same time. I think we can work with the communities to ensure that our approach is completely transparent.
Mr. Dussault: In performance the report found in the annual report, you obviously evaluate implementation of Part VII, and all the institutions are subject to its requirements even if they are not amongst the 32. I think that we are somewhat on the same wavelength when it comes to implementation of Part VII in all institutions.
Senator Murray: No one will be surprised to hear that I do not have any inside information. I am not in the inner circle, or even in the outer circle. However, it would not surprise me, in light of the controversy following the cancellation of the Courts Challenges Program, if the government was considering how to create a new program — or trying to find another way, in particular for linguistic minorities, to have access to legal aid for the purposes for which they have used it in the past. That would not surprise me and I think we need to encourage that, rather than to demand they reinstate the old program. For anyone who knows much about the way politics, politicians and governments act, perhaps it would be more productive to encourage what they may be doing anyway, which is considering how to go about this matter — at least for language minorities.
The vital matter, it seems to me, is whether the Attorney General of Canada intervenes in linguistic matters, and to what effect the Attorney General intervenes — what position he or she takes in court. Are you aware of any cases that are now before the courts, or are coming before the courts, in which the Attorney General of Canada has intervened or should intervene?
Mr. Fraser: I do not have a list at my fingertips. A number of cases were caught in the pipeline. Some 40 cases were interrupted by the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program. There are a number of those where we have decided to play a more active role.
After the announcement last September, I first wrote a letter and then spoke personally to the minister, saying, "This will interrupt cases that are making their way through the pipeline. Could you suspend the application of this cancellation until those cases have made their way through the courts?"
I did not receive a positive response. There have been a number of cases where we have chosen to play a more active role in assisting some of these cases as they make their way through the courts.
Senator Murray: Are most of these cases ones in which the Attorney General of Canada ought to intervene? If cases are constitutional, should the Attorney General not intervene?
Mr. Fraser: That is a good point. Can I ask the head of the legal department to make a comment on this? Johane Tremblay is my legal adviser on this matter.
Johane Tremblay, General Counsel, Director, Legal Services, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages: What was your question?
Senator Murray: I wonder about languages cases before the courts now, or coming before the courts, on which the Attorney General of Canada should intervene?
Ms. Tremblay: A case is before the court where the Attorney General of Canada is the respondent, involving the RCMP.
Senator Murray: The Attorney General would have intervened in cases such as Mahé.
Ms. Tremblay: Other cases involving section 23 of the Charter — I do not have the list with me — could be of interest to the Attorney General of Canada to intervene. There are 38 cases pending right now where the Attorney General of Canada could have an interest because the cases are based on constitutional rights. We could prepare a list of cases where the Attorney General is not a party right now.
Senator Murray: Could the Attorney General intervene?
Ms. Tremblay: Yes.
Senator Murray: How they intervene, and whether they intervene in favour of a broader, more generous interpretation of the Charter or of the right, is crucial, I think.
Mr. Fraser: To come back to the initial question or observation that you made, I do not have any direct information either, but my sense is that the combination of events that occurred two weeks ago, the coming together that focused a lot of public attention on this issue, had the effect of making members of the government realize that this matter had an urgency and importance that they were not necessarily conscious of before the public attention that this received.
My hope and my sense is that the work that in some cases was already being done will be given more careful attention at more senior levels than might have been the case before.
As I said earlier, official languages as an issue is not without allies inside the government and it is not without people who treat the issue seriously and who work hard to have the issue treated seriously. What I think is important is to support those people in their work and to convey the message to the leaders in the public service how important this issue continues to be.
The Chairman: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the committee members, I would like to thank you very much for your presentation and for taking two hours of your time to answer the senators' questions. We look forward to seeing you again.
Mr. Fraser: I thought this session was very interesting and very useful for me as well.
The committee is adjourned.