The Chair (Mr. Steven Blaney (Lévis—Bellechasse, CPC)):
Hello and welcome to this 11th meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
Without further ado, I would like to welcome a new member to our committee, Mr. Brent St. Denis.
Mr. St. Denis, we wish you well on our committee as you replace Madame Folco. Welcome to the committee.
We have a special guest this morning.
We are very pleased to have with us this morning the Commissioner for Official Languages, who came before the committee last November to present his most recent report on the Action Plan for Official Languages. He is with us again this morning because that is the subject of our considerations. We are discussing bilingualism within the federal public service more specifically.
I would now like to turn over the floor to Mr. Graham Fraser, Commissioner for Official Languages, as well as to the three officials who are accompanying him today: Ms. Dominique Lemieux, Director General, Compliance Assurance Branch; Ms. Scott, Director General, Policy and Communications Branch; and Ms. Tremblay, Director, Legal Affairs Branch.
Mr. Fraser, welcome to the committee. You are always welcome. You have the floor. Thank you for this flexibility you have shown in coming to meet with us this morning.
Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I should start by apologizing, as I have a cold. If I have to stop from time to time or if I'm not as quick as I would ordinarily be, I apologize.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my assessment of the action plan for official languages, which ends in March 2008. As Commissioner of Official Languages, I will also offer my suggestions for the new phase of the action plan.
The 2003 plan had three main goals: to advance linguistic duality in Canada, to improve the government’s delivery of services in our two official languages, and to foster the development of official language minority communities.
The 2006 census data reveal a decrease in the demographic weight of francophones in Canada, in percentage terms, even though their numbers are holding steady. They also show that Quebec’s English-speaking community has increased, despite its many challenges. There may be an increase in bilingualism throughout the Canadian population, but there is also a noticeable hesitancy among youth to learn a second official language.
In recent Statistics Canada examination of the vitality of French-speaking communities outside Quebec demonstrated different attitudes and behaviours regarding the use of language in health care, child care, post-secondary education and government services, among other areas. The data clearly show a desire among francophones to be part of communities that are dynamic both economically and socially.
The study results confirm the relevance of the areas targeted by the first action plan: education, health, immigration, community development and government services.
Progress is most obvious in the health sector. The initiatives implemented focused on training health professionals in the language of the minority, as well as recruitment and networking. I know that the exemplary cooperation between Health Canada and community organizations was a determining factor in the success of action plan initiatives.
There was also considerable progress in immigration. Action plan investments targeted the recruitment, reception and retention of French-speaking immigrant. Allocated funds led to various initiatives such as the strategic plan launched in September 2006 and a system for integrating new Canadians into the Franco-Manitoban community. The federal government's work undoubtedly facilitated the review already underway in French-speaking communities on the role of immigration and strategies to foster the integration of new Canadians.
I was happy to hear the government reiterate its support, in the Speech from the Throne on October 17, 2007, for linguistic duality in Canada as well as for the action plan for official languages.
I applauded the appointment of Bernard Lord as a special advisor and I look forward to reading his report following the consultations he has held, as requested by the government. Although they differ, I see our two roles as complimentary; his as an advisor to the Prime Minister and mine as an officer of Parliament. But what is important is not Mr. Lord's recommendations but the government's actions. I will be pleased to share with you my assessment of this initiative.
The 2003 action plan will have demonstrated how a concerted effort among several departments according to well-defined objectives can bring positive and concrete results. It also confirm the government's commitment to linguistic duality.
That said, there is room to improve the current plan, particularly in light of an important element identified by the Statistics Canada study: a global and strategic approach involving several key actors is required to foster the vitality of French-speaking communities and to strengthen linguistic duality.
I believe the new action plan should focus on four elements: the promotion of linguistic duality, official language education, community development, and public service renewal.
Given the increased diversity of the Canadian population, the new action plan should place much more emphasis on opportunities for Canadians to benefit from linguistic duality, regardless of their country of birth or ethnic origin. Given our evolving demographics, we need to look more closely at the relationship between our official languages and multiculturalism policies as we forge a shared Canadian identity.
There are many activities that could accomplish this. For example, we could encourage more youth and teacher exchanges at the secondary and post-secondary levels to foster second-language learning and understanding of each other’s cultures. We could promote Canada’s bilingual image abroad, and we could communicate our linguistic duality to immigrants.
The government must maintain its goal of doubling the number of young bilingual Canadians by 2013 and reinforce its efforts with the provinces and territories to do so.
To accomplish this, we need to increase awareness among Canadians, particularly parents, about the importance of learning a second language and of asking for stronger French programs in schools. Also, universities need to contribute by training bilingual graduates and providing options for students who are graduating from immersion programs. Young bilingual graduates need to see that there are real and numerous career opportunities that require their second official language.
In addition to these efforts, we need to continue investing in minority community school systems to make education in the minority language more accessible and adapted to their situation.
To continue supporting community development, all aspects of the current action plan must be renewed and new elements added: for example, arts and culture, early childhood development (especially daycare and pre-school), and post-secondary education for minority communities.
The outcome of the Sommet des communautés francophones et acadiennes, held in June 2007, should also be considered. Participants of that summit found that community growth, better infrastructure, French services and activities, and full respect for linguistic rights and true equality were among the areas requiring priority action.
Mr. Lord has already indicated he would take the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Official Languages into account.
We must continue researching the status of official languages, as these only observations and recommendations can contribute to the vitality of official language minority communities. In the next action plan, the government should include a component promoting research on community development and the learning of two official languages, among other areas.
Finally, bilingualism must be a pillar of the public service to ensure it remains competitive and a major contributor to Canadian society and Canada's productivity. Bilingualism must be recognized as a key characteristic of leadership in the public service and a crucial element of renewal. The public service must recruit more bilingual employees and promote itself as an employer of choice for young Canadians across the country. Achieving this goal requires cooperation with the post-secondary sector, and it requires that we provide Canadians with fair and equitable access to quality second-language training at all levels of the education system.
Any initiative affecting education, as well as other aspects of a renewed action plan, should encourage the provinces to play a greater role in achieving the goals of the action plan and in coordinating and implementing activities, though the Conférence ministérielle sur la francophonie canadienne, for example.
The health sector is a good example of how much can be accomplished when the provinces are actively involved. At their last annual meeting, francophone affairs ministers indicated they would be willing partners in community development.
While it's important that the federal government respect provincial jurisdictions, it should also encourage governments to offer key services to the official language minority in their provinces. Provincial governments should become major partners in implementing all aspects of a new action plan.
In launching a new phase of the action plan and benefiting from the momentum created by the 2003 plan, the government now has a golden opportunity to demonstrate the strength of its commitment to linguistic duality and official languages.
I would be pleased to answer your questions.
Mr. Richard Nadeau (Gatineau, BQ):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Lemieux, Ms. Scott and Ms. Tremblay.
In speaking about renewing the Action Plan for the Official Languages, the Minister, Ms. Verner, mentioned at one point that existing services would at least be maintained. We will see; we hope this will be true. We are also hoping there will be some improvements.
Generally speaking, Commissioner, we are all working for the common good: namely, allowing people whose mother tongue is French, for example, to still be able to speak it at the end of their lives and to live their whole lives being able to develop in that language and that culture. And this applies to their families and offspring as well. The same goes for people whose mother tongue is English. We all agree on that.
Nevertheless, there are some situations and some expenditures with respect to the public service that give rise to some questions. Let me give you an example. This is a quote from an article that appeared in Le Devoir on January 28, just recently. I will read it to you:
||In her report, Ms. Fraser made particular mention of the case of someone in the commissioner's office who met the language requirements of her position, but who was nonetheless sent to France to take training in French for one month, in July 2006. Ruth McEwen, the Executive Director of Corporate Services, paid for her stay herself and her plane ticket to Bordeaux, but taxpayers picked up the tab for her tuition ($757.61), and for her return flight ($2,358.63).
I know you are not responsible for that, but how could the action plan be focused—I know it has a number of components—to avoid a recurrence of situations of this type?
Before turning the floor over to you, I would also mention the case of a francophone in Aylmer who wanted to improve his English at the end of his career. He was not allowed to do this because his skills were considered good enough. So you see the type of inconsistencies that occur. I would like to hear your comments.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
We'll check this together.
In the Dion action plan, that the Liberals are bragging about, it says:
||In addition to these two funds, the Minister of Canadian Heritage will renew the framework agreement and federal-provincial-territorial agreements under the official languages and education program at current funding levels.
When it talks about “current funding levels” the plan would provide a surplus, if I understand correctly.
This is referred to in our report of May 2007 on page 165. It says that with regard to minority language education, that is the funding from kindergarten to grade 2 in francophone schools outside Quebec, progress has been continuous, but it cannot be attributed to investments under the action plan. It says that indeed, these significant investments were offset by a reduction that was almost equivalent to investments in the regular program.
According to the information we received from the Library of Parliament, in 2002-2003, the regular program received an investment of $144,819 million. In reality, in 2003-2004, only $122 million was spent. So the regular program was cut by about $20 million and the government only spent $9 million under the action plan.
Since it was saying that it would invest in the action plan to improve minority language education, there was a shortfall. I could continue, but I don't want to waste too much time, we only have seven minutes. Every year under the Liberal reign, there was supposed to be $144 million invested under the current program, in addition to the action plan. In 2004-2005, only $116 million were invested. With regard to the action plan, it was supposed to be $43 million and that's the amount that was invested.
These amounts continue to decline, but let's examine the figures for 2006-2007. The actual investment forecast was $144 million, but it was reduced to $99 million. However, the investment under the action plan was supposed to be $44 million and was raised to $67 million. If you do the math, in a real plan, the government should have spend $724 million but it only spent $544 million. In addition, in the action plan which provided for spending $209 million, $256 million was spent. It's all very well to say that $50 million extra was put in the action plan. The Conservatives can brag about having put $50 million more in the action plan but in reality, every year, there was a net loss of $132 million.
In your opinion, Commissioner, how did the action plan work with a shortfall of $132 million earmarked for education for our young people in order to ensure that they don't lose their language, for instance in St-John New Brunswick or in Hearst, Ontario or in Prince George, B.C.? The government says it has an action plan that should work, and that it has invested the necessary funds. In fact, $132 million were stolen from the action plan, a theft committed by both governments, because the figures speak for themselves.
I'd like to hear your views on this.
Hon. Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Commissioner.
Today, I would like to ask a few questions about second language education, because that is the most important part of the official languages policy. Other parts deal with the protection of rights, but in my opinion, the most important thing is second language education.
In your report, you said that public support for bilingualism remains high in Canada, which is encouraging, but that support for French language instruction has waned in some parts of the country. At the last meeting, we had officials here from Canadian Heritage who told us that enrolment for French immersion has slightly increased in the country. So can you explain the apparent contradiction between those two points and maybe explain what actually is the case?
We were told at the last meeting that there are approximately 2.4 million students in Canadian schools, and out of that number, there are approximately 300,000 students in French immersion. The officials told us that number has slightly increased, particularly in Ontario, in recent years. Yet you say that French language instruction has waned in some parts of the country, so maybe you could explain that.
Mr. Jean-Claude D'Amours (Madawaska—Restigouche, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would also like to thank the commissioner and his accompanying staff.
Commissioner, you said earlier that you discussed the recent French-language service shortcomings, including those that occurred in Halifax, with the CEO of Air Canada. It's all well and good for the company to express a willingness to make progress, but as you mentioned on several occasions, it takes concrete action for things to actually get done.
I don't know whether I've already told you this, but I myself had a problem, albeit minor, which was quite unfortunate and insulting for francophone communities. And it's not the first time I've seen this kind of thing. In the last two weeks, in an Air Canada plane, I have seen a notice in French on the cockpit door which translated reads “Do Not Smoke The Toilet”. And don't worry, the English version was correct. I didn't have my camera, which was a pity. But, upon reflection, I may have been arrested had I taken a photo.
It's awful. A company which says it wants to make an effort is asking us to not smoke the toilet. Air Canada needs to ensure that the translations are acceptable. Now, don't worry, I have no desire whatsoever to smoke the toilet. I know what the sign means, but the problem is that these people are supposed to offer bilingual services. I'm sure someone from Air Canada is listening today. And if not, when you have an opportunity to speak to the CEO, tell him to make good on his good intentions by taking the kind of concrete action, albeit small, which will curb the frustration felt by francophones when it comes to services in French.
Having said that, on page 2 of your document, you said the following:
||I was pleased to hear the government reiterate its support for linguistic duality in Canada in the Speech from the Throne on October 17, 2007 [...]
Once again, it's concrete action which is important. The Conservative government says many things, but we have seen recently how things have backfired. The government is reiterating its support for linguistic duality but at the same time has relieved National Defence, among others, of its obligation to staff certain positions with bilingual individuals. In other words, candidates no longer have to be bilingual in order to obtain these positions, which has the effect of eroding away linguistic duality. Isn't that behaviour contradictory?
I'd like to hear what you have to say on the matter.
Mr. Richard Nadeau:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I hope that Ms. Lemieux will accept my sincere apologies. Ms. Lemieux, earlier, I gave you the wrong title. I hope that you will forgive me.
Those of you who do not know what I am talking about should read the "blues".
Now that that is out of the way, Commissioner, you spoke about education in the language of the minority. There is what we call FL1, French as a first language, and FL2, French as second language. Under the action plan, the goal is to increase enrolment in minority official language community schools so that, by 2013, 80% of eligible children are enrolled. I do hope that we achieve 100%.
In the late 1990s, when I left Saskatchewan where I taught at the École canadienne-française de Saskatoon, there was a 10% enrolment rate even though Saskatoon is the most populous city in the province. We had our work cut out for us and there were hurdles. I am going to speak to you frankly and I am going to tell you what those hurdles were. We met with Canadian Parents for French and told them that it is all well and good to have immersion students, but that rights holders, in other words those young people whose mother tongue was French, should be in our schools. They agreed, but they said that these students were role models for their own children. So that kind of discussion went on. It was a problem. It was quite clearly a case of recruitment.
What is more, these school divisions or school boards did not want to lose these children because at the time the provincial budget allocated $5,400 per child. In addition to that, the Department of Education did not want to promote our schools, which accounted for one of the seven categories of schools of the Fransaskois School Board of Saskatchewan.
The purpose of the action plan is to meet the community's needs, that much we agree on. Can you shed some light on the matter and tell us how to successfully reach this goal of 80%? Can you answer that question and can you tell us what is currently happening? Earlier you referred to Edmonton. I assume that the Edmonton School Board had shown willingness to move forward on this.
I would like to speak to that issue.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To begin with, I'd like to set the record straight on a few matters, especially in relation to what Mr. Godin said. I don't know what he was huffing and puffing about, but it was quite a challenge following his argument.
As far as the action plan is concerned, I should point out that the Liberal government announced a $751 million plan. In March 2008, $810 million will have been spent. In other words, our government increased spending under this plan. Other initiatives have been added. For example, we announced a $30 million envelope specifically for minority official language communities, and the communities were grateful for this. There is a $1 billion agreement between the federal government and the provinces for education, and to promote both languages. There's also $30 million which went to Canadian Heritage for official language francophone festivals.
So, Mr. Godin, you need to be more rigorous in speaking about this issue. We need to set the record straight as far as what Mr. Godin said earlier.
On the matter of education, I was involved in a number of meetings with stakeholders from the education community, especially representatives from immersion programs targeting anglophones who want to learn French and programs for francophones wishing to improve their own language skills.
We're interested in primary and secondary education, and that's why I mentioned our $1 billion agreement, in cooperation with the provinces and territories. But post-secondary education is also really important, especially after grade 12. What is really available to them in their own mother tongue? We've undertaken a number of initiatives in this regard also.
As parliamentary secretary, I went to Timmins to announce the allocation of a federal fund for Boréal College, Mr. Godin.
I'd like to hear your opinion about the post-secondary network and resources available across Canada.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll try and speak more softly: it seems to disturb Mr. Lemieux otherwise. His hearing is too good and it hurts his ears. So I won't speak as loudly.
Let us use Mr. Lemieux's figures. Let's suppose for a moment that I accept them at face value. He said that the government has spent $810 million. However, $933 million was earmarked. Now even if we were to accept the figures put forward by Mr. Lemieux, there is a shortfall of $123 million. I'd be more inclined to believe the figures provided by our research analysts, but Mr. Lemieux then goes on with that piece on festivals. We'd have to check the extent to which their budgets were cut before they got the $30 million he referred to. Last year, the festivals didn't get any money, and they had to fight at the House of Commons. There is nothing to boast about.
For my part, I'm talking about teaching in the language of the minority. That is where the cutbacks were made, and that is where there was projected spending of $933 million. Action plan and regular program expenditures totalled $933 million, and yet the government spent $810 million. Now I'm not talking about festivals, that's something else. I'm talking about educating our young schoolchildren.
Mr. Fraser, you were clear when you spoke about the institutions. You referred to the Boréal College. I went to Sudbury, and I met the principals. Mr. Lemieux came with us, I think, when we went there. I think that he was part of the official languages committee at the time. He was able to observe the positive impact the college has on Sudbury and the surrounding areas, and how it's benefited Hearst, Kapuskasing, Timmins, and all of the northern Ontario region. All this was achieved because of these institutions.
Let me use your words. You said that francophones might be wondering whether or not to send their child to a school where he or she can't play sports, where there may be no library, laboratories, and where there aren't enough classes, etc. The reason why the action plan worked from a health care standpoint is that there was enough money set aside. The reason why it hasn't worked in the area of education is perhaps due to a lack of money, in fact a shortfall of $132 million.
I'd like to hear your reaction to this.
Mr. Brent St. Denis (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Lib.):
I will be sharing my time with Mr. Mauril Bélanger.
First of all, thank you for your words of welcome, Mr. Chairman. I represent a large riding in northern Ontario that includes the Highway 11 corridor, which runs through cities like Hearst, Kapuskasing, and Smooth Rock Falls. It is a very hospitable, welcoming and innovative region.
I would like to raise a problem as my friend, Mr. Godin, did.
During the last redistribution, we faced a situation in northern Ontario where communities of interest, when it came to French minority language speakers, became an important problem. I know that Monsieur Godin faced that in New Brunswick. The process of the redistribution did not really permit very effectively the francophone leaders an opportunity to make sure their communities were protected.
I know this committee has engaged itself in the issue of the boundaries of ridings vis-à-vis francophone communities, and I believe your predecessor as well was engaged in that. I am just wondering if you could make a comment on the measures that you see...and thank you for being here, by the way, with your team. Just quickly, so that my friend Mauril has time as well, I'm wondering what measures, more proactive possibly, can be taken in the future to prevent.... We won't find a perfect solution, because there will always be winners and losers, sadly, but are there better ways to approach the next redistribution that will arrive on our doorsteps in the next few years?
Hon. Mauril Bélanger:
I want to thank my colleague for sharing his time with me.
Commissioner, I would like to make two suggestions, if you want to take note of them. They are important issues for official language communities, and the first deals with early childhood and day cares.
As you will recall, the Conservative government, even before swearing in its cabinet, had stated that it would cancel the day care agreements signed with the provinces. These agreements contained linguistic clauses and, for the most part, communities were happy with them. My suggestion is as follows: since the $250 million set aside by the Government of Canada to encourage the private sector to create day care spaces has not produced results, you could perhaps suggest that the government consider giving this sum of money to the official language communities to set up day cares. We are well aware that the work starts in the early years. We would perhaps be more successful if this sum of money were transferred to the provinces so that it could be used by the official language communities. That is my suggestion. A word to the wise!
Here's my second suggestion. It has become increasingly important—as you yourself pointed out—to examine the issue of immigration. When Ms. Caplan was minister, the caucus of francophones outside Quebec had convinced her to include an amendment in a bill—and the Commissioner of Official Languages of the day supported us—which stipulated that immigration programs must respect the current make-up of Canada, in other words, a ratio of 75% to 25% anglophones and francophones, which is not currently the case. In immigration, it is more like 90% anglophones and 10% francophones. It would perhaps be helpful, Mr. Commissioner, to undertake an in-depth study of past practices and of those that are not used. For example, I know there is a good budget for training newcomers to Canada in English as a second language, but very little for French as a second language. If we really want to have a long-term impact, we must take action. If nothing is done, the phenomenon will intensify in Canada and we will end up with francophones in Quebec primarily, and fewer and fewer anglophones, and the opposite in the rest of the country. This concentration will lead to an untenable situation. So Mr. Commissioner, I believe that it would be helpful to examine the broader issue of immigration.
Thank you very much for your indulgence.
Mr. Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):
Good morning, Mr. Fraser. I am happy to see you again.
I have retained certain aspects of the action plan, because it did not always exist. The official languages acts have not always been applied.
I am going to use the expression "francophones outside Quebec". Censuses by Statistics Canada show that since 1960, the number of francophones who are not necessarily bilingual has gone from 800,000 to 1 million. There are more than 100 schools, 21 colleges and universities, 21 community radio stations, 2 daily newspapers, and 30 weekly papers. In addition, Radio-Canada and the satellites currently broadcast cultural and information-based programs that did not exist in the past.
There seems to be a difference between minority communities in the west and those in the east. That is why we need your help. My children are studying at Collège Saint-Jean, in Alberta. In some fields, the quality of French used in teaching is even superior to what it is in Quebec. Collège Saint-Jean has become a faculty, since it now has a dean. We get the impression that in Alberta, at least in that case, there is a willingness to establish French in all areas, and this is without an official languages act. In Edmonton, you can easily study in French in almost all fields. And no one has had to hold a gun to anyone's head. I am talking about this particular case, because I am linked to the Collège Saint-Jean, which could be called one of the components of the University of Alberta.
I don't see that kind of willingness in the east. The central provinces seem to be lagging behind, and that bothers me. You have visited several groups, and you have been with us for some time now. What are the specific characteristics of the communities in the west and in the east, the anglophone ones in comparison with the francophone ones? How can the government modify its practices to meet their needs? There are places where you almost have to hold a gun to someone's head to get things to change, whereas in other places, it works.
I do not want to get into a power struggle. I am trying to promote the francophone cause, but there are also anglophone communities in Quebec. For example, there are small anglophone minorities in the Gaspé Peninsula that do not have any access to services in their language. There is a disconnect.
Could you elaborate on this question?
Mr. Richard Nadeau:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Petit, perhaps you should take a better look at the history of these communities before saying that that situations occur more often in some places than in others. I think some people will be somewhat disappointed with your remarks. I will leave you to think about that.
Commissioner, I want to go back over some topics that have already been raised, without however doing so in detail. As Mr. Bélanger said, something must be done in the case of Justin Bell, involving the RCMP. It is also a matter of respecting the Contraventions Act. There was the Mercure case, in Saskatchewan; and now we are talking about the Bell case. At some point, it gets a bit ridiculous.
As I said at our last meeting, people are going to start wondering what point there is to learning French, when they cannot be served in French and they are even ridiculed. You are very familiar with the subject.
The case of Mr. Léger involving Air Canada is an example. I commend Mr. Léger for his courage, because people don't always have time to kick up a fuss to be served in their language. When I wanted to register at Elections Canada en 1995 in Saskatchewan, I had to go to the office three times in order to be served in my language. I wanted to register at Elections Canada in French. That is all I will say about it; it even made the newspapers.
It is a good idea to focus your attention on the base in Borden, but you should also consider the Department of National Defence. The representatives of the department are not bad guys, but the official languages file is not doing so well, especially as far as French is concerned.
You said that Canadian Heritage was looking after the policy and that it was to examine what is happening both in other departments and its own. There is a lack of objectivity—you used that word as well—because the same department is responsible for coordinating, managing and evaluating. That is a rather extraordinary situation.
We know that the Conservatives say they are able to make everything snow white thanks to the Federal Accountability Act proposed by Mr. Baird. Are there any aspects to examine in that regard? I would like you to elaborate on the topic of governance. You also raised the issue.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Since I believe that it is important for us to give you our impressions, Commissioner, I would like to go back to the incident involving Mr. Léger and Air Canada. There was also the case of Mr. Thibodeau, who had asked for a can of 7UP, but couldn't make himself understood. He was arrested by the police and the case went to court. Air Canada fought and was prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court. That is incredible!
In the case of Mr. Léger, Air Canada supported the decisions of its employees in Halifax and felt it was a good thing to have him miss his flight. However, the video shows that Mr. Léger was very calm. That doesn't encourage people to fight for their rights. It sends a dangerous message. If Mr. Léger, who is the director general of the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, was unable to take his plane and a decision was made to make an example of him, imagine how much trouble the ordinary citizen would have!
I raise my hat to Mr. Thibodeau. I raise my hat to Ms. Marie-Claire Paulin who had a bone to pick with the RCMP in New Brunswick. She fought the case in court, and a settlement was finally reached. She had to fight the RCMP to obtain bilingual service in a bilingual province. Imagine that! Canada is bilingual, New Brunswick is a bilingual province, and people still have to fight. That is why we cannot send Mr. Lord too many compliments. He was premier at the time.
The problem is Air Canada's attitude. We can not only blame the employees, but also their supervisors who make the schedules and must ensure that the necessary personnel is on duty to provide the desired service. Air Canada could have blamed its own supervisors and told them that they had forgotten to include bilingual people on those shifts. Air Canada could have apologized to Mr. Léger. I don't know if they can hear me, but I still expect Air Canada to apologize to Mr. Léger and to the population of Canada for the way that francophone minorities have been treated in Halifax.
I don't want to leave out the Moncton airport. Personally, I generally do not go through that airport. One evening, I arrived at the airport and I demanded to be served in French. The woman was forced to bring back someone whose shift was over. She arrived at the counter and she served me in a sweatsuit. She wasn't even wearing her uniform. That shows they were short-staffed.
As commissioner, you have your work cut out for you, especially with institutions that, like Air Canada, continue to fight the system.
Earlier on, Mr. D'Amours talked about the lavatories. Don't smoke the toilet. That is comical. Air Canada could improve little things like that or like the shifts for employees, and it stubbornly refuses to do so. What's more, when an incident occurs, Air Canada takes its employees' side and violates the Official Languages Act.
I wanted to share my feelings and thoughts in this regard with you.
Mr. Graham Fraser:
Mr. Chairman, my answer will also cover some aspects of the questions put by Mr. Nadeau, who mentioned some rather sad cases involving the RCMP. I think there is some common ground in the remarks by both members.
I will say two things. First of all, the aspect that is missing in both of these incidents is the important value underlying all involvement by the Office of the Commissioner and which is at the basis of the act itself. I am talking about respect. When institutions do not show respect to Canadians citizens, incidents occur.
Secondly, I have already noted that certain institutions are caught up in a series of incidents. Complaints are received, investigations are conducted, and reports are produced. Then more complaints are received, more investigations are conducted, and more reports are produced.
We are trying to develop a third way of dealing with institutions with the systemic problems. We are looking at developing the ombudsman role. In addition to dealing with complaints, in addition to notices, we will sit down with the institutions that we can clearly see have a problem. We will try and see how we can establish a new dialogue in order to change their behaviour.
We are currently holding discussions with Air Canada. I have spoken with the Canadian Forces and I have met the new Commissioner of the RCMP.
We are very much aware of the incidents raised by the members of Parliament, and these are very important matters. This is something to follow up on in the annual report.