Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Honourable members, members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Mr. Chairman, good morning.
It is a pleasure to talk to you about my follow-up report on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which was just recently released.
Your committee adopted a motion on April 28, 2009, asking me to provide regular updates on respect and promotion for linguistic duality at the Vancouver Games. In July, I provided you with my first update. My follow-up report is a second update.
My presence here today gives me an opportunity to share with you the most recent developments in this file. Your committee's interest in this issue has contributed significantly to the progress made in this important area.
In December 2008, I published a report on the significant official languages shortfalls of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, VANOC, and of Canadian Heritage. I highlighted not only VANOC's goodwill and commitment but also the many challenges that still had to be overcome in order to make the 2010 winter Olympics an event that reflects Canada's identity and linguistic duality.
I noted that several federal institutions did not realize that the games are an important test of their capacity to serve the public in both official languages. My staff therefore launched an awareness campaign for federal institutions last winter. Now, five months before the games begin, I see that significant progress has been made. VANOC has accomplished a great deal, and some federal institutions have launched innovative initiatives to provide the public with an Olympic-calibre performance that is also authentically Canadian.
However, the follow-up report that I have published also highlights many important areas for improvement. If these shortcomings are not addressed soon, they could compromise the success of the games where official languages are concerned. The deadline is looming and it's time for an extra push. There are only 113 days until the opening ceremonies. To be fully prepared when the flame is lit, VANOC, Canadian Heritage, and the various federal institutions that will be providing services to Canadians and visitors during the games must take decisive action in the coming weeks.
My follow-up report contains 11 recommendations. Some are for VANOC, others are for Canadian Heritage in its coordination capacity, and a number of others are for federal institutions, especially those present in Canada's major airports.
Most of the recommendations for VANOC deal with recruiting and training volunteers, signage, translation and the delivery of services to the public.
I was pleased to learn that the federal government announced an additional $7.7 million for translation, signage at Olympic venues, permanent signage and the medal ceremonies.
Given the urgency and importance of this issue, VANOC and Canadian Heritage needed to find a solution to the problem as soon as possible. This announcement was certainly a positive one. VANOC is now fully equipped to succeed and to ensure that all clauses of Annex A of the Multiparty Agreement are respected. My expectation is for these additional funds to produce concrete results that will enable athletes, media representatives and Canadians to have a positive experience of the Games.
That being said, the other challenges identified in my report should not be ignored.
Recent changes to the model that VANOC plans to use for outdoor signage are very encouraging. However, I am still concerned that VANOC's municipal and provincial partners have not shown enough urgency in this respect. The Olympic oval in Richmond is a symptom of a larger problem. The additional funds for signage should help prevent this type of situation from occurring in the future.
Regarding volunteers, the follow-up report notes that the assessment of their levels of bilingualism is adequate. In addition, VANOC seems to be on its way to reaching its objective of having 3,500 bilingual volunteers out of the total 25,000 volunteers. However, this 14% proportion leaves very little room to manoeuvre in cases where personnel may need to be moved or replaced. The volunteer deployment plan should include provisions for posting bilingual volunteers wherever they are required, at any time.
As many of you have already noted, I also found the countdown ceremony to be very disappointing in how it reflected the country's francophonie. The quality of the cultural festivities surrounding the games should be much higher in order to reflect all Canadians and provide a complete image of Canada's cultural richness. This is especially true for the games' opening and closing ceremonies, which will be watched around the world.
This is, in sum, what my report says about elements that are under the responsibility of VANOC. There have been some changes since my report was published, which I can respond to if you have questions.
For most people who will travel to Vancouver to celebrate the event, work at the Games or participate in the competitions, the Olympic experience will start at the airport and in other places where federal institutions will be in contact with the public. This is why my report examines in detail the measures taken by these institutions.
We have also made a series of in-person observations on the availability of service in numerous locations. I am highly concerned about the results of our study. Our analyses of on-site observations show that, despite efforts made by some institutions to improve their results, there is still no instinctive reflex to actively offer service in English and in French, despite the efforts made my some institutions to improve the result.
In general, the airports are not prepared to welcome visitors in both official languages. There is often a complete lack of French-language service. And when it is present, employees still tend to make initial contact with visitors in English only. At Vancouver Airport, the gateway to the Games-security screenings, Air Canada and even the airport authorities obtained particularly alarming results, including a score of zero for bilingual greetings by commercial tenants at the Vancouver Airport.
As host airport and official supplier for the Vancouver 2010 Games, the Vancouver International Airport will be welcoming thousands of travellers. If the observation results are any indication, a business-as-usual approach is clearly insufficient. The situation is also far from perfect at Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport, which is Canada's largest airport as well as a major hub. A large number of visitors will be passing through Pearson while travelling to the 2010 Games.
On a more positive note, I should stress that the employees of Parks Canada and Service Canada can provide bilingual services in nearly all cases. However, these institutions need to ensure that all their employees greet visitors in both official languages to let them know that bilingual services are available. To achieve this, Parks Canada has developed a video for its employees on the active offer of services in both official languages. It has been quite successful and has been used by many other institutions since then.
I really want to underline the value of that video, which I found to be very impressive. For its part, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which administers the important Granville Island site, also seems to be able to provide bilingual services, but has the same issues with bilingual greetings.
Some institutions have already reacted positively to my report since it was published. We met the retail tenants' association of the Lester B. Pearson International Airport and had a productive discussion. Last week I was invited to speak to close to 300 employees of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority about my report and the importance of bilingualism at the Vancouver games. I am encouraged to see that it's already had an impact.
In my report, I asked each of these institutions to provide me with an assessment of their official languages performance after the Games. I hope that these will be stories of success and innovation, not embarrassing failures.
In conclusion, I would like to clarify one last thing. The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games belong to all Canadians, and it is essential that they reflect Canadian values, including linguistic duality. I do not want visitors to be greeted with "Sorry, I don't speak French." There needs to be a system, a protocol or a method in place where volunteers, VANOC personnel, security officers or other employees can say, "Un instant s'il vous plaît," and refer a visitor to a bilingual colleague.
In western Canada, 600,000 people are fluent in both our official languages, about half of whom live in British Columbia. Many federal institutions prove every day that official languages are an important part of quality service, and for every challenge there is a solution. These solutions may be those developed by the various players themselves or put forward in my report. I am pleased to see the progress made so far, but worried that certain key elements are still not in place.
Everyone involved must act now to give it the necessary push. The games are an international event and a unique opportunity to showcase linguistic duality as a fundamental Canadian value. The international francophonies' expectations for Canada are high.
As pointed out by Mr. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former French Prime Minister and Grand Témoin de la Francophonie at the Beijing Games, ''Since Canada is an officially bilingual country, no one would understand if French were to take a back seat during the Games.''
Thank you. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Mr. Richard Nadeau (Gatineau, BQ):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Ms. Tremblay, Ms. Charlebois and Mr. Fraser.
I was in Vancouver from October 9 to 14. The purpose of that trip was to go and see where preparations were so that Quebeckers and Canadians who want to be served in French can get adequate service. It started off very poorly. I spoke about that at the last meeting. I won't go over it again and you've received my complaint letter. It concerns what happened when I was received at Ottawa Airport.
However, things went well at the Vancouver Airport. When I asked to be served in French, the lady from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority very politely asked me to wait a moment. Another person came and served me in French. It was very good in that respect. I must say I didn't conduct any exhaustive investigations. I didn't spend my day disguising myself and testing everyone. The fact is that the first impression is always important.
I must say that you will be receiving another complaint, this time concerning Air Canada's service. Is the Ottawa-Vancouver route a bilingual route? So I see my complaint is well founded. I was unable to be served in French on Air Canada's flight 186. The letter is in the mail, and Her Majesty's mail will convey it to you.
Having said that, I also met with representatives of the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique. They are project partners, as it were. I also read your report, “Reflecting Canada's Linguistic Duality at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games: A Golden Opportunity,” to make sure I was on the right track and knew what I was about. We are 113 days away from the Games. As I told you earlier, we must not get stuck on sour notes; you have to remember that there is a full orchestra. Unfortunately, sometimes the guy who's off key makes the news. We know how that works.
However, there are still a lot of things to consider. I have a lot of topics, but let's deal with them one by one, and we'll see what we can do in five minutes, or in what's left of it.
I was told that the mayor of Richmond wanted to go back before the municipal council to see whether there would be any services in French during the Games. I find it quite disturbing that people still have so little Canadian pride. Pardon me for pulling a face when I say that. We still have to convince Canadians that the French fact is important in Canada when the International Olympic Committee has awarded us the Winter Olympic Games. I find it troubling that VANOC still has to convince people.
There are also a lot of other questions. Can Tourism Vancouver and Tourism British Columbia provide booths in French, or at least ensure the active offer of French? We know that, once on the ground, that's where people will go, among others, to get information. It's not the only place, but it's an important component.
The Vancouver Cultural Olympiad is also annoying the federation because the list of francophones is very short. We want the francophones of British Columbia, French Canadians, Acadians to have as much room as Quebeckers. It's the total picture and, with the Games not far off, we find this very disturbing.
The question of signage in Richmond is resurfacing. I also saw in your report that that was a problem. Will there be French signage everywhere, and will the legacy remain? It shouldn't be forgotten that the official languages will still be around the day after the Games. Remember that the act has been in existence since 1969, but if some people realize it in 2009, it will always be there.
With regard to all these files, can you give us any news or tell us what you know? I'll hand over to you.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We're going to talk about Vancouver Airport again. It seems that Vancouver Airport is designated bilingual. Once again, it's sad to see that, with 113 days to go until the Olympic Games, we're still wondering about the service that will be provided there.
What else can we do to enforce the Official Languages Act? You already know my opinion; I believe we could discuss that for a long time. It's all well and good to be friendly and nice, to ask and use other similar means, but if a police officer asks me to drive at 100 km/hour and he's nice with me, I may drive at 120 km/hour. When I get a ticket, I'll have to think about it.
In Canada, we have an Official Languages Act. Some institutions take the liberty of violating the act every day. At Vancouver Airport, for example, that didn't start just with the Conservative government. It was being done during the time of the Liberals and before them, during the time of Brian Mulroney's Conservatives. It's been going on for 40 years. I'm talking about a lack of respect for the act. If an institution is designated bilingual and, 40 years after passage of the Official Languages Act, it still has not adjusted, we have a serious problem.
Apart from showing good faith, what do you suggest we do to try to solve this problem? I'm talking about Vancouver, but the situation is the same in Toronto and Ottawa. It's unfortunate to see that our colleague Richard Nadeau returns to Ottawa Airport and can't get service in his language. It's the capital of our country. There's nothing more shameful. In the capital of our country, an officially bilingual country, we can't offer service in both official languages. So what else do you suggest apart from simply holding talks?