Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Honourable members, members of the standing committee, good morning.
This is probably the last opportunity we will have to discuss the preparations for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games as they relate to the question of Canadian linguistic duality. I believe immediate attention must be devoted to the measures that still need to be taken.
I would like to take this time to underscore the impact of the committee's work in this area. I'd like to thank all the members for the work they have done. I think it's been very important and I thank you all.
The task is of paramount importance in fostering both respect for Canadians' language rights and the country's image on the international stage. There are only 66 days, a little more than two months, until the opening ceremonies, and the Olympic organization is hard at work on final preparations. The Olympic torch relay has begun, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has taken possession of the athlete's village, and the Vancouver 2010 official souvenir program has been printed and is now on sale.
I see that some of the recommendations contained in the follow-up report I presented last September have been taken into consideration by the organizations in question. VANOC, Canadian Heritage and other federal institutions have already acted and I commend them for it.
However, it remains to be seen whether those initiatives will produce concrete results for the athletes, media and visitors who will be attending the Games. The additional $7.7 million from the Canadian government should help resolve issues such as translation, signage at Olympic venues, permanent signage and the medal ceremonies. Mr. Jacques Gauthier, the federal government representative on the VANOC board of directors, has described this grant as “very satisfactory”.
I am relieved to learn that VANOC and the Translation Bureau have just signed an agreement of understanding. For weeks now, it was said to be on the verge of being signed. In fact, it happened last night. I hope that work can begin as soon as possible.
According to information shared by Public Works and Government Services Canada yesterday, the Translation Bureau will invest significant resources in support of the Games. VANOC has informed us that the problems pertaining to the full transmission of comments by francophone athletes through the Info2010 intranet system will be resolved. Temporary signage models seem adequate for effectively directing athletes and visitors in both official languages of Canada and of the Games. Nevertheless, signage must be judiciously placed in order to effectively direct visitors, regardless of municipal or provincial jurisdictional boundaries.
One recommendation put forward in the follow-up I released last September specifically referred to the deployment of bilingual volunteers. I have been assured that the volunteer deployment plan effectively places the 3,500 individuals in bilingual positions. I have been assured as well that the plan provides for rapid access to someone who speaks English and French in emergency and unforeseen situations. Unfortunately, we have neither seen nor been able to comment on the plan. Consequently, as with so many other matters surrounding the Games, VANOC and Canadian Heritage will have to be evaluated on this aspect based on the results obtained during the Olympic celebrations themselves.
I am aware of your keen interest in the main signage for the Richmond Olympic Oval, which has come to symbolize the difficulties between VANOC and its municipal partners. I have been told that the issue is no longer whether the name will appear on the building in both languages, but rather how it will actually be done. Once again, we cannot be content until “Anneau olympique de Richmond” appears side by side with “Richmond Olympic Oval” on the front of the building.
Let us not forget that the bar is high, since English and French are the official languages of both our country and the Olympic movement. I am pleased to see that VANOC is fully aware of that fact. When he appeared before you a year and a half ago, on April 29, 2008, John Furlong told you that VANOC was far surpassing the obligations under the Multiparty Agreement. He mentioned VANOC's desire, and I quote, “to really seize the opportunity... to really showcase the unique linguistic duality of Canada in the most prolific way, and of course, especially while the world is watching us”. Mr. Furlong said “we will have no difficulty in meeting our obligations in respect to signage. It would all be bilingual. It is now.”
He went on to say that Vancouver International Airport is what he called a mission-critical facility for the games, and described the experience visitors would have:
||When you land at the Vancouver International Airport, you will land in an Olympic venue. It will be like landing right in the middle of the Olympic Games. You will be met by bilingual signage, with all the proper sounds and announcements in both languages. There will be volunteers and staff who speak both languages fluently. The message will be that you're in Canada, that this duality is here.
I could not have expressed my hopes for the Olympics and for the Vancouver International Airport better myself. Mr. Furlong expressed the standard by which the games will be judged.
This fall, VANOC's campaign to promote bilingualism is a clear signal to members of the public that they can expect to receive services in both official languages throughout the celebrations. According to VANOC, the public can also expect celebrations that reflect Canada's linguistic duality. My expectation is that VANOC will fulfill its commitments and implement its obligations.
However, the shortfalls observed in the visible portion of the preparations, such as the torch's arrival in Canada, leave me skeptical as to whether the entire Olympic organization has developed a linguistic duality reflex. With the few days remaining before the games, is it safe to assume they will get there? Having failed to fully incorporate linguistic duality into every planning activity, VANOC and its partners will need to be all the more vigilant to ensure quality service for athletes, their escorts, and the general public.
The organization of the Games aside, the many visitors converging on Vancouver will receive services from a number of federal institutions. The quality of their experience will depend in large part on interactions with federal public servants, their contract workers and their partners. Many federal institutions recognize that they do not have the necessary staff on hand to provide quality service in both official languages. Some have taken measures to move bilingual staff to their points of service, as I mentioned in my report. Other institutions have not shown the same level of commitment. Members of my staff have been urging these institutions to show creativity to optimize the resources at their disposal.
It is important to note that the language obligations of airports and their commercial tenants are far from new. If airport authorities had given this problem all the attention it deserves earlier, they would probably find themselves in a better position today to face this enhanced need for services in both official languages.
That being said, many of the coordination meetings I recommended have taken place. The Vancouver Airport Authority and the institutions that operate within the airport met in October to share their needs and best practices with one another. We have been told that some measures will be implemented, and I hope to see results from this collaboration during the Games.
The Vancouver and Toronto airport authorities have reminded their commercial tenants that travellers must be offered services in French as well as in English. Toronto's Pearson Airport invited my office to meet with the National Retail Tenants Association to underscore the importance of offering services in both languages, and I also met recently with the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Lloyd McCoomb.
However, as I have already mentioned, the work of these institutions can only be evaluated through results from the field, and I am concerned about the results the institutions will obtain once the games begin.
A number of institutions have pointed out that they provide their staff with language training or they draw on the best practices of other institutions to create their own training materials. I have also noted that a good number of institutions have set up workshops or training on active offer. In this regard, Air Canada plans to use a video on active offer in January 2010 to train its employees on the importance of greeting the public in both official languages, much as Parks Canada has done.
I also see that institutions have begun collaborating with one another and that there are regular contacts among them. These exchanges must continue and their synergy must be translated into concrete results for Canadians at the games.
I hope the various federal institutions with a role to play in the staging of this event will pursue their efforts to provide better bilingual service long after the last athlete from the Games has left the country. Offering the Canadian public and visitors services in both official languages will continue to be equally as important after the Olympic Games.
In conclusion, I would like to clarify one last thing. The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games belong to all Canadians, and it is essential that the Games reflect Canadian values, including linguistic duality. I am pleased to see the progress made, but I am still worried given the lack of certainty that certain key elements will be in place. Everyone involved must act now and must act quickly for the final sprint.
Thank you. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Mr. Yvon Godin (Acadie—Bathurst, NDP):
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Fraser, and welcome to your team.
Let us hope that it will not just be about Quebec and Africa. Let us not forget that the Acadians were the first to arrive in Canada. I constantly remind people that we celebrated our 400th anniversary four years before the others did.
It is disappointing to hear what you said about the RCMP, but I am not surprised. In New Brunswick, we had to go to court when we wanted bilingual services from the RCMP. And it took many years of fighting to force them to comply with the Official Languages Act. So I am not at all surprised that the RCMP would be the last to comply. I would even add that it has passed the deadlines you set. I will not ask you any questions about it, because you have already addressed the issue. Nonetheless, I will share my comments and opinion. I am not at all surprised. It is regrettable that a federal institution that has a duty to uphold justice and the law should be the worst offender when it comes to the Official Languages Act. It is very regrettable.
A number of questions have been asked about the Vancouver airport. There has been a lot of talk about the volunteers. I have already said that the Olympic Games are the Olympic Games and that, before we can show off our bilingualism to other countries, we have to show respect for the language here in Canada. Are you not afraid that, despite all of those volunteers, once the Games have come and gone, it will evaporate, there will be no more bilingualism and we will back to square one?
Mr. Jean-Claude D'Amours (Madawaska—Restigouche, Lib.):
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank you for being here with us.
Earlier, Commissioner, you said that you were still worried. I will admit that I do hope that is the case, because I am more than worried.
You have told us today that the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada, for example, have not even made the effort to provide you with a direct, formal response. That raises serious questions. There are real things we have to consider; and I am not only talking about the francophonie.
There are a number of real life considerations with regard to health care. The agency is not even able to provide a formal response to the question of whether services will be offered in French. And yet, people may experience all kinds of health problems wherever they are travelling. This, today, points to a potentially dangerous situation; the danger being that some people might not be attended to in their own language.
The RCMP has asked for an extension. I wonder what it actually means. Truth be told, we have seen that the RCMP reacts after the fact. It seems that they are having difficulties being proactive. We saw some examples of that yesterday in Parliament. Today, you are telling us that the RCMP has asked for an extension to provide you with a response on how it will ensure its bilingual responsibilities as part of its work.
If you recall, I had told you not so long ago that I foresaw many complaints being filed after the Olympic Games, because some people will not have taken seriously the work we asked them to accomplish. Take for example Ottawa. People will be coming through Ottawa before heading to Vancouver. The director of the Ottawa airport seemed to say that few people would pass through Ottawa on their way to Vancouver, but I am convinced that people will be passing through Ottawa.
I am sure you have read the documents. As for retail merchants, things are so complicated. In today's retail industry, staff turnover and bilingual requirements make a complicated mix. For all intents and purposes, it is difficult to set any objectives. There are obligations, but reasons are given from the outset as to why they cannot be fulfilled. Ultimately, justifications are given for why others cannot do their work. A true leader should tell people to do their work.
As my colleague Rodriguez pointed out earlier, there has been talk about bilingualism at the Vancouver airport for some decades, but official results have to be shown. There are 11 or 12 weeks to go before the games. I cannot imagine that a decades-old problem will be resolved within a few weeks and that everything will be fine and dandy at the Vancouver airport.
Commissioner, it is a pleasure to invite you here. We should perhaps have had you come on a daily basis. That might have gotten the organizers to produce daily results. We shall see. If we called you to appear tomorrow, perhaps the RCMP would provide you with an official response. That is deplorable. As I have said, I really feel that complaints will have to be filed, but then the games will already have come and gone.
It is a fact that having people appear before us has produced results. However, is it our job to have people appear in order to obtain results? Things would be so much better if witnesses told us how much things are improving. We always have people appear before the Standing Committee on Official Languages for them to talk about such things as the Olympic Games, but it is to remind them of the work they should be doing in terms of official languages. The official languages are just as much for Quebec anglophones as they are for francophones outside Quebec.
I do not know whether you want to add anything to what I just said. My concerns are even greater when I think about future results for the Vancouver airport. We will have to sit down around the table in March and point out that things did not go as they should have. I would prefer hearing the opposite, but I am more concerned about that today than ever before.
Ms. Monique Guay (Rivière-du-Nord, BQ):
Mr. Fraser, despite all my admiration for you, I think that you are getting a little carried away. In fact, if I were to be searched by CATSA officials, I still would not understand anything if they used a menu numbered from 1 to 100.
Some voices: Oh, oh!
Ms. Monique Guay: We have met with officials from CATSA, the RCMP and the airports, and they all left us with the same concern: they will not be ready and they are not really taking this seriously. That worries me.
I am also very concerned because Ottawa airport officials have only one person who can offer services in French. And yet I know that people will be visiting the national capital, and will want to visit Parliament during their stay in Canada because it will probably be their only visit here. There will be a lot of people everywhere. We have to be prepared for that eventuality. We should not make people wait. If only a single person is qualified to conduct searches, then imagine if an Air France plane arrives with 300 passengers: she will have a nervous breakdown before she finishes the job. That does not make sense. Those services should be available, and I repeat that they will not be because that is what we were told, and that is of concern.
As for the City of Richmond, that is also worrisome. We see that there is no true will, even if it is only to affix three letters in French outside the oval. That has yet to be done, 12 weeks before the Olympic Games. We are being made fun of. How will they welcome francophones to their city? That is very concerning, Mr. Fraser, especially since they are not even willing to affix three letters in French to the oval and refuse to pay the extra cost. That raises significant concerns.
I have one more question for you. There is not much time left. You stated the following:
||Other institutions have not shown the same level of commitment. Members of my staff have been urging these institutions to show creativity to optimize the resources at their disposal.
Which institutions are you referring to? I would like you to name each one of those institutions so that we can apply some pressure on them. We are coming to the end, there is not much time left.
What concerns me is that Canada become the laughing stock of the Olympic Games. That is exactly what might happen, and that would not be a nice position to be in.
Hon. Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills, CPC):
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Fraser.
I think the fundamental problem we're facing here is quite simply the fact that the games are taking place in a province where only 7.3% of the population is francophone or has knowledge of French. This is something that obviously contributes hugely, if not entirely, to the problem that VANOC is facing.
In the Vancouver Airport Authorities submission to you, as you've summarized it, they note that:
||As a locally-based organization in a province where only 7.3% of the population has knowledge of French and English, the pool of Francophones and French-speakers for Vancouver Airport Authority to draw on is limited.
Clearly this is the root cause, and I think it speaks to the fact that our education system once again is not producing the graduates or the personnel we need to staff not only federal institutions but events such as VANOC 2010.
I know from past research that the number two language group in British Columbia is Chinese. It's also important to point out, before we blame newcomers to Canada for a lack of knowledge of the second language, that a recent article noted that in the Vancouver Lower Mainland it's Canadians of Chinese descent, Chinese immigrants, who are sustaining the French language. There was an interview with Erica Tao, the president of Alliance française in Vancouver. She noted that 80% of all the students who enrol in Alliance française courses are Canadians of Chinese descent, which far exceeds their proportion of the population.
Obviously Canada is changing quickly. It's interesting to note that newcomers to this country are picking up French as a second language more quickly than those who have been here for some time. Once again, I think it points to the fact that our education system is not producing the kinds of graduates we need. Indeed, if students are being forced to go to Alliance française to learn French, it's indicative that the public school system is not filling that need.
I want to ask you one broad question. What can our government do in the short time that remains before the commencement of the games? We are facing a situation where we have to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying problem, which is a lack of francophones and bilingual persons in British Columbia. In the short time that remains, perhaps we can better address some of the symptoms you've identified in your report to our committee. What can we do?
The Senate committee recommended that the Privy Council Office intervene to ensure that the games are fully bilingual. What can we do as a government, beyond what we've already done, to ensure that these games are fully bilingual?
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Guay said that she would not want to be searched according to a menu numbered from 1 to 100. Air Canada has even tried putting photos in its menu. In late October, I pointed to the food I wanted to order, but the flight attendant still told me that “I don't speak French”. Numbers are all well and good, but a picture should be enough, what with it being worth 1,000 words. There was a picture of my sandwich, and I pointed to it saying that that was the one I wanted, and she still did not understand. I say it is a lack of will. People can come up with all the excuses in the world.
Marie-France Kenny, who is the president of the FCFA, said that her organization recognized that the act was created 40 years ago, but people were still not very comfortable with it. We have still not made it to where we should be. There is a lack of respect toward our official languages. Nevertheless, people can come up with all the excuses in the world. For example, an organization might claim that it has no bilingual staff. But there are no excuses for the Vancouver airport officials when they come and tell us that their website is not translated. The same applies to Toronto, but their excuse is that things are just as bad in English as they are in French. That was an even more farfetched excuse in their defence. People who will be coming to Canada and want to consult the website, which they are now doing, will notice that there are no services in French at the Toronto airport.
I would like to know your thoughts about that and what you intend to do. This is not just for the short term, for the Olympic Games, it is also for the long term. If they are violating the law, it is because the government has tolerated their actions for all these years. It is not only up to the Commissioner of Official Languages to do his work, the government also has responsibilities. Parliament has passed legislation that should be upheld.
When you look at the posters in British Columbia and consult Tourism B.C., which has six websites, you find an absence of French. Our work is not done, we are not out of the woods yet.
Madam Chair, I would suggest that we call the RCMP to the Standing Committee on Official Languages in January, at the earliest possible date. The RCMP is one of the organizations that has yet to appear. That is disappointing; I find that regrettable.
I would like to hear your views, Commissioner, on the comments I have just made.
Mr. Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Fraser and welcome to your team.
On page 5 of your presentation, you state "I am still worried given the lack of certainty that certain key elements will be in place". This is the most important line in your presentation, I believe, as it summarizes your thoughts on the matter.
The word "key" is what you've chosen. In French it is used to refer to very important things. You are being alarmist and pessimistic, and I understand.
You also say, on page 2 "Once again, we cannot be content until 'Anneau olympique de Richmond' appears side-by-side with 'Richmond Olympic Oval' on the front of the building."
I am quite surprised and I will tell you why. If we look to the events that took place here yesterday, all you have to do is call representatives from Greenpeace and they will set up a French sign for you in less than an hour. So, I still cannot understand why after three months there would be such resistance. All you have to do is call Greenpeace and you will have all the signage you need. I am being facetious, but you see that I am upset because I do not understand. Fundamentally, as a francophone and a member of the governing party, I do not understand. In fact, I am very disappointed, quite disappointed.
There is another issue you raised which does not appear in your document but seems to be a concern to you. The RCMP is not responding. I am even more concerned about that. Yesterday, we saw that the RCMP police force was not responding, neither in French nor in English, they are nowhere to be seen, period. I believe that where the issue of French and English is concerned, this shows that there is a problem within this police force. I can assure you, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, who is following this issue closely, that funds have been allocated, a large amount.
Today, I do not understand. I understand your concern and I share it. It is important. That said, there are only 66 days remaining before the opening of the games. You've heard the type of questions we've been asking as parliamentarians. I know what's going to happen in March. I'm going to take vacation time so as to not have to hear questions on how horrible the situation is. The act is 40 years old, the Conservatives have been in power for 4 years, so for 36 years the act was never enforced. It is difficult to enforce. Thanks to people like yourself and Mr. Goldbloom, we manage to enforce it somewhat.
With respect to Minister Moore, it is not because he is Conservative, he was in French immersion, he speaks French well. Further, he went to visit the Toronto Airport to exert pressure on officials so that French services would be offered.
The games will start in 66 days, you've heard the questions we've asked, you're going to see how we will be given a rough time. What I'm concerned about is the lack of will. The act exists, we have the instruments to apply it, we have invested funding, and we've added more funding. There seems to be a lack of will somewhere along the line. This act has been in existence for 40 years and it does not work. There is a lack of will. Can you do something about this?
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Thank you, Madam Chair.
First of all, I would agree that what matters are the results. That said, and I don't mean to offend anyone, we've been waiting for results for 40 years. We're talking about the Olympic Games. It's as though we were expecting results for the Olympic Games when the Vancouver Airport website is not even bilingual yet. You want to wait for the results to come in, but we've been waiting for 40 years, and it should be noted, it is the law.
Second, regarding active offer, I heard the story of the sound recordings on Air Canada flights. When you take a flight, you get a recording telling you what to do, but in an emergency, what language will be used? You know, Commissioner, when you're sitting in your seat, and you ask for something—earlier on, I was referring to the picture of a sandwich—and the person doesn't understand what you want, and they have to disturb everyone and go and get someone who understands what is on the photo, it is humiliating for a francophone.
You are waiting for results. I am too, and I have been waiting for a long time. Unless I'm mistaken, you are the only commissioner mandated by law, not by the Prime Minister, to do your duties, in the same way that the Standing Committee on Official Languages is the only parliamentary committee mandated by law under the Official Languages Act. This is not just a committee that decided to establish itself spontaneously one fine morning. That is not what happened . You do not need the authority of all political parties because this committee is mandated by law. And you are too.
I will conclude by sharing what I saw on television. I went to Prince George a few weeks ago, when the Olympic flame arrived. On French television we saw images of the plane aboard which the flame had been carried, with the door closed, whereas in English the flame was already in a canoe en route to Nanaimo. That is the difference between the two. I am very disappointed and those are the results. As far as I'm concerned, the Olympic Games have already started in Canada. The flame is travelling throughout the country.
Mr. Richard Nadeau:
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Fraser, this will be the last time we get to speak—you, as commissioner, and we, as members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages—before the Games are held, barring unforeseen circumstances.
If there were three things that I would consider important to note, this is what I would say.
First of all, I hope these games will not be politicized. For instance, there have been events like those that took place in Trois-Rivières, where the government introduced everyone who was on stage except the local MP. The same thing happened in B.C. to an NDP member. That is what I call “politicizing the Olympic Games”. I thought the cold war was over, but it is inside our own borders. It is deplorable, and I hope that that is the end of it.
There is another point that needs to be made. We will have to keep our eyes and ears wide open during the games to make sure that when there is a breach, people can lodge complaints. That way we will know exactly who fell short of having the Olympic spirit.
Further, the whole issue of leadership you were referring to earlier on raises some concerns. In my opinion, that is extremely deplorable. Leadership is what allows for any number of things to be put in place, and mountains can be moved, if need be, to ensure the success of an activity or of an event. This time around, the event is international in scope. For six years now, we have known that this event was going to take place, yet some basic elements are still being discussed in a country that considers itself to be bilingual.
Is there anything you would like to tell us? Should we raise some red flags? Earlier on, you referred to organizing staff to ensure active offer and you spoke of leadership. Should some red flags be raised on this front, so that we can make sure that the games are respectful of the French language, the minority language in B.C., and so that we may take certain steps before the beginning of the games?