Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you very much.
Honourable members, members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Mr. Chairman, good morning.
Thank you for the introduction of my staff. I won't repeat the introductions you've just made.
I'm very pleased to be able to meet with you and talk about the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
The games are a global event and a unique opportunity to showcase linguistic duality as a fundamental Canadian value. It's also an opportunity to celebrate the cultural richness of our anglophone and francophone communities. Your interest in the 2010 Games could not be more timely. With the games less than a year away, progress has been made towards ensuring linguistic duality. However, there is still work to be done.
In my opinion, three important aspects must be considered: the broadcasting of the games in English and French; the preparedness of both the Vancouver Organizing Committee and the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Federal Secretariat; as well as the delivery of services by federal institutions during the games.
Broadcasting the games will enable Canadians who cannot travel to Vancouver or Whistler to experience the various events taking place there and to take part in the celebrations. As the opening and closing ceremonies will be broadcast worldwide, this is a unique opportunity to showcase Canada's linguistic duality.
For 2010, the English-language broadcasting rights in Canada were awarded to a consortium comprised of Bell Globe Media and Rogers Media, while the French-language broadcasting rights were awarded to TQS, RDS and RIS. The commercial contract is exclusively between the International Olympic Committee and the broadcasters. Neither my Office, the CRTC nor VANOC has any power to intervene in this contract.
The TQS, RDS and RIS networks are not all part of the basic cable channels available across Canada. For this reason, francophones and francophiles in many Canadian regions may be deprived of the opportunity to follow the games on television in French, unless they subscribe to additional broadcasting services.
However, the consortium has agreed to grant free access to the TQS/RDS signal to broadcasting distribution undertakings, or BDUs, for the duration of the games. We have learned that the TQS/RDS signal will be unscrambled and accessible one month prior to and during the games, thanks to an agreement between the consortium and the cable distributors. The consortium has also indicated that it would broadcast all competitions directly on its Internet site. While these are very encouraging measures, they are not enough to ensure complete nation-wide coverage. The consortium will have to continue to seek a solution so that all English- and French-speaking Canadians across the country have equal access to the games.
In my report published on December 2, 2008, I highlighted the fact that VANOC has stated its commitment to bilingualism, but that effort is still required in certain areas. Particular attention must be given to communications with the general public, the media and the athletes. My report contains 18 recommendations concerning translation and simultaneous interpretation, the recruitment of bilingual volunteers, signage, the participation of sponsors, the role of the Games Secretariat, cultural activities, and resources allocated to the official languages function.
VANOC has implemented part VII of recommendation 17 by forming an official languages advisory committee. As I recommended, Canadian Heritage will prepare a formal quarterly progress report. I also learned that the Gesca group and VANOC have signed an agreement enabling VANOC to distribute information and advertisements for the games in the chain's newspapers. These signs are very encouraging.
That being said, to ensure that official languages are fully incorporated and present during the games, VANOC and the federal government will need to go beyond implementing the 18 recommendations contained in my report. "Going beyond" means fully integrating official languages in all areas of activity, and at all stages. Respect for linguistic duality must be an early reflex during the planning and execution stages, not an afterthought. The events surrounding the one-year countdown celebrations in February should serve as a warning.
The issue of translation and simultaneous interpretation remains a significant challenge. In fact, the allocated budget seems inadequate to me, given the task to be accomplished. Our study and the information we have led us to believe that VANOC is ill-equipped to ensure adequate delivery of these two services during the 2010 Olympic Games.
Yet we also know that the federal government's expertise in this area (given the work done by the Translation Bureau) is recognized world-wide. Therefore, I expect VANOC and the federal government to address this issue, and as soon as possible. The games should serve as an example of Canada's leadership in language services.
Another issue that concerns me is signage. Visitors will not distinguish between municipal, provincial, VANOC or federal government signage. As I mentioned in my report, the federal government and VANOC must exercise their leadership role with other partners, so that all signage is available in both official languages.
It is also important that VANOC and the federal government not neglect their own bilingual signage obligations.
The Municipality of Whistler is a case in point. This municipality decided of its own accord to ensure that services are provided in both English and French, and that it would offer cultural programming reflecting our linguistic duality. Other municipalities could learn from Whistler's example.
My office has recently launched an awareness campaign among federal institutions. The experience of Canadian and foreign visitors, journalists, and athletes will largely depend on the work done by federal institutions. In addition to our Canadian athletes, foreign athletes, namely those from 30 francophone countries, will arrive in Vancouver, and their Canadian Olympic experience will begin the moment they set foot in the country. This awareness campaign is aimed at intervention at various levels, from deputy ministers as much as from public servants in charge of implementing programs and initiatives related to the games, and in many areas, such as security, transportation, and front-line services to the public.
In terms of best practices and encouraging initiatives, Parks Canada will be preparing a DVD for its employees on “active offer”. Other institutions will be reminding their employees of the importance of active offer, and of measures to take so that members of the public can receive service in the official language of their choice.
Furthermore, my staff have met many highly motivated people who are eager to provide visitors and athletes with a positive experience. To do this, they must not only have resources, but also the knowledge that linguistic duality is a priority for senior management. Willingness on the front lines will not translate into coherent action unless it's supported by strong leadership at the head of every institution.
In closing, I believe there's still a lot of work to be done between now and February 2010. I will continue to closely follow the preparations, and I intend to produce a follow-up to our study. This follow-up report will be released in the fall, so that last-minute adjustments can be made, if necessary.
The government must show leadership and usher Canada's linguistic duality into the global limelight. I hope that all partners will rise to the occasion and that Canada will continue to be perceived as an international leader in linguistic duality.
Thank you all for your attention. I would like to take the remaining time to answer your questions.
Mr. Richard Nadeau (Gatineau, BQ):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to all of you.
On March 31 of this year, we had witnesses from the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, as well as an assistant deputy minister, and we discussed the Vancouver Olympic Games of 2010. During your presentation, Mr. Fraser, you spoke of the cultural wealth of our communities. Ms. Bossé, of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, pointed out how her organization is unhappy. I will read you the passage in question and I would like to hear your reaction to it:
||We were rather displeased to hear that the French language component for the February 12 countdown to the Olympics show consisted of one musician who himself admitted that he had probably been chosen because of his francophone name. [...] Among the participants there is the Quebec-based group Beast, which sings in English, Bell Orchestre which is a Quebec instrumental group that has a unilingual English website and the Manitoba Métis Music and Dance group which we've heard present a video of Louis Riel over the course of its performance.
That is all there was that was even slightly francophone. We heard there was a choreographer whose work was shown. My colleague, Ms. Guay, responded to that by saying: “By the way, Madam, French is not a choreography but a language.”
This happened with VANOC on February 12, 2009; it's quite recent. It is therefore one year before the games as such. This is where we are at in terms of the quality of French, culturally speaking.
I would like to hear your comments on this and know how we can send a clear message to VANOC to tell them that we are not satisfied with their way of viewing French cultural expression for all of Canada.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
The other subject is Tourism British Columbia. What appears on their Web site is regrettable.
I really find this totally unacceptable. I don't know if Tourism British Columbia is listening today, but we have two official languages in our country.
It's so sad to see on their Internet site the different countries with different languages. They have Australia. And Canada is there, but when you press “Canada”, the site is only in English. They have Mexico, which, for sure, probably will not be in French. And they have the United States and the United Kingdom, and everything there except French, whereas we have over a million francophone people outside of Quebec, across the country. In British Columbia there have been big numbers of francophones.
This is an international site. What about France, which will be a participant in our Olympics?
I find it very sad that they have not fixed it yet, or believe or say they're not covered by the law and don't have to do it. Yet it's the B.C. tourist site that is promoting the Olympics for our country.
Mr. Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):
Thank you very much.
Good morning, Mr. Fraser, and welcome to your team. This morning we welcome you as our committee's favourite commissioner, as was stated earlier.
I would like to start we a preamble to be sure of the tenure of your recommendations. I would draw your attention to the document you prepared so that committee members may see how things have evolved thus far.
First of all, the committee's goal is to notice problems, point them out to you and, perhaps, help you rectify them. If everything was perfect, we would not need a committee. It is precisely because there are problems that we are trying our best to address them. As Mr. Godin said earlier, there are problems. We are here precisely to raise them with you.
I would like to draw your attention to the first recommendation you made in your document. I will read it and then refer to another recommendation, which I would appreciate your views on. The recommendation reads as follows “That, in future agreements, Canadian Heritage strengthen provisions pertaining to services provided by third parties...” I stopped at the words “third parties”. Based on our discussion this may mean television, Tourism British Columbia, individuals who do not necessarily report to government but to whom the Official Languages Act applies.
Your recommendation 13 reads as follows:
||That VANOC add language clauses to agreements with future sponsors and, with the support of the Federal Games Secretariat, strongly encourage existing sponsors to use both official languages in their advertising activities.
There are major sponsors like Samsung, Coca-Cola, etc. Have you received or seen what they are preparing? At the very least, have you made recommendations to them? If we are striving for the acceptance, support and promotion of linguistic duality and certain sponsors, for instance Air Canada, are not, then we have a problem.
Given that it is your first recommendation, have you looked into third parties? You seem to be fixated on third parties which seem to be dragging their heels, if I may. I would like to hear your explanations. What have you noticed so far and what can you recommend to them? As a committee what can we do? We could, for instance, issue a requirement for third parties to respect the Official Languages Act in its entirety.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Yes, that's Tourism BC.
In appendix A of an agreement reached between the federal government, the Province of British Columbia, the City of Vancouver, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, VANOC, the Canada Paralympic Committee and the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, Canada's official language requirements are outlined.
If it is not covered, could it be a voluntary omission? I can't imagine such a thing. Canada has two official languages and the Government of Canada is spending some $26 million on advertising for the Olympic Games. But despite all this, an agency that belongs to British Columbia has no official language obligation. The Olympic Games do not only represent Vancouver, but all of Canada. All the languages are there but French.
Sometimes we wonder why we have to pass legislation to ensure that the judges on the Supreme Court are bilingual. Maybe we should pass a law to ensure that in future, the Olympic Games are presented in both official languages.
I would like to hear your comments on this subject.