THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
OTTAWA, Monday, November 14, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5:00 p.m. to examine the use of the Internet, new media and social media and the respect for Canadians’ language rights, and to study Air Canada’s obligations under the Official Languages Act.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) is in the chair.
The Chair: I see that we have quorum, so I call the meeting to order.
I would like to welcome you to the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput from Manitoba, and I am the committee chair.
Before introducing the witnesses who are appearing today, I would like to invite the committee members to introduce themselves.
Senator Champagne: Good afternoon. Andrée Champagne from Quebec.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis from Quebec.
Senator Tardif: Claudette Tardif, senator from Alberta.
Senator Losier-Cool: Rose-Marie Losier-Cool, senator from New Brunswick.
The Chair: Thank you. The committee has begun an in-depth study on the use of the Internet, new media and social media, and the respect for Canadians’ language rights. It is also looking at the obligations of Air Canada under the Official Languages Act.
Today, the committee is welcoming representatives from official language minority communities to discuss these issues.
First, we will hear from representatives from the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. They will be followed by the Quebec Community Groups Network.
The FCFA was founded in 1975 and includes 22 organizations. Its role is to defend and promote the rights and interests of francophones outside Quebec.
We are pleased to welcome Ms. Diane Côté, director of government and community relations, and Mr. Serge Quinty, director of communications.
Thank you both for agreeing to appear today. The committee members are eager to hear what you have to say on the two studies and, following your presentation, there will be a question period. The floor is yours.
Diane Côté, Director of Government and Community Relations, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) du Canada: Thank you. Honourable senators, it is with great pleasure that the FCFA of Canada responds to your invitation to appear.
I would like to begin by passing on the regrets of the president and the director general, who could unfortunately not be here this evening.
You are currently studying two topics that we feel are so important that they each deserve specific treatment. Given the fact that the government’s bill regarding Air Canada and its subsidiaries is still under review, we would be pleased to come back at a future date to discuss that matter in more detail. We would like to devote our time today to the second topic that, and you will not be surprised to hear me say it, is crucial for the current and future vitality of our communities.
The revolution in the information technologies that has been going on for the past decade and is picking up more and more speed directly affects the way our communities communicate, get information, get entertainment and receive services in their own language.
This tidal wave certainly presents opportunities for our communities. The FCFA and a growing number of member organizations and even their members are currently active and followed on Facebook and Twitter, because these are extraordinary ways of reaching citizens, informing francophones about the activities taking place at home, engaging Canadians in the issue of the francophonie and linguistic duality, and promoting everything our communities are contributing to Canada’s rapid expansion.
Social media enable community organizations and institutions to reach out to and mobilize people like never before. Our network has recognized this opportunity for its true value, and we have decided to occupy that space.
That being said, not only are there opportunities, but also major challenges. Let us address the issue first from the point of view of the user. It is true that the Web offers unprecedented opportunities in terms of video and audio content in French, and sites where you can order cultural products in French.
But these days, the vast majority of Web applications require a high-speed connection that is not accessible to everyone in our communities. So we were very pleased to hear the Honourable Tony Clement, the Treasury Board President, speak before this committee about the program implemented when he was Minister of Industry, to extend broadband access to 98 per cent of the Canadian population by 2012.
Although major progress has been made in the past two years to improve broadband coverage in rural areas, there are still francophone regions that are poorly served. I am thinking of the Port au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland, which is home to a large part of the province’s francophone community. I could also mention the West Prince region in Prince Edward Island, as well as rural regions in southern Manitoba. For those francophones, who often still use a 56 K connection, as they did 10 years ago, access is the basis for everything. It is fine to be sitting in the driver’s seat, but if you do not have the key, you will go nowhere.
As part of its program to improve broadband access, Industry Canada could make it a priority to target the official language minority communities. That would be a very positive measure under Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
But when we talk about access, we are not just talking about the Web. More and more Canadians, particularly young people, are using their iPhones or iPads to obtain content through mobile applications that are less costly than consulting only websites.
What about the reflection of our communities on that platform? A few players have made remarkable advances. For example, TFO offers a good number of applications, including a mini-TFO application for children aged two to six. However, our community media are not in a position to do the same. The major French- and English-language private broadcasters are already there, but not our community radio stations because they lack resources and capacity.
This brings us to address the issue from the point of view of the content producer. In our communities, when we talk about the web and interactive applications, there are plenty of ideas. The missing ingredient is capacity and resources. For community organizations and institutions, whether we are talking about the provincial francophone association or the local theatre, being in the virtual world requires an investment of time, energy, money and knowledge. But there is very little support.
Until it was abolished in 2008, Industry Canada’s Francommunautés Virtuelles program supported the development of web content by francophone and Acadian communities. When you are on the Internet, you can still find sites here and there that were developed with support from that program. The infrastructures are old, from five or six years ago, and in many cases they have not been updated because of a lack of means or know-how.
And that is precisely where the primary need for our communities exists when it comes to support for being part of the virtual world. A program like Francommunautés Virtuelles is still relevant. But the development of websites that will end up becoming obsolete is not what we need.
Instead, we need to invest in improving the skills and know-how of content producers in the communities with respect to the various aspects of the Web 2.0 universe. There is also a need for investment in the development of online services that reach francophone citizens and of mobile applications that reflect our culture on the platforms of tomorrow, not yesterday.
Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was introduced, academics were already talking about issues related to access and to the ability to produce content in the virtual world. People spoke about it in terms of a danger of a divide between the information rich and the information poor. In terms of access to content in French and the ability to produce that content, the communities are currently more on the side of the information poor. The willingness and original ideas will not be enough on their own to put them on the side of the information rich.
The last point I would like to address in the time we have left has to do with the communications and services of federal institutions on the Internet through social media. The language requirements set out in the Official Languages Act are clear, and the medium being used makes no difference: either you are in compliance or you are not.
Having said that, extending those obligations to the Web universe clearly shows that the Official Languages Regulations — Communications with and Services to the Public are obsolete. As you know, these regulations date back to 1991, a time when the Internet did not exist. When the concept of a designed office was introduced, we did not expect that, 20 years later, we would no longer be able to talk about offices dealing with a target audience. On the Web, they are dealing with a global audience, and they are the ambassadors of the Canadian linguistic duality.
So it would be inconceivable that, in 2011, an office designated bilingual or not would publish something on the Web in only one language. In our opinion, that is an additional argument for an overhaul of the regulations, a recommendation that we made previously in 2009 in our brief entitled The Implementation of the Official Languages Act; A New Approach - A New Vision. Thank you. We are ready to take your questions.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Côté. Senator Fortin-Duplessis will ask the first question.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you both for appearing before our committee and giving us your point of view. I listened carefully to your opening statement. This reflects the testimonies we have already heard. We can say that we are well aware that not all the minority communities have access to high-speed Internet. Acadians still cannot use the new media and social media in French because they live in remote areas. This comes back to what you were saying.
Do you think the social media and new media that the government is using are adequate?
Serge Quinty, Director of Communications, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA) du Canada: It is important to say that, so far, social media are still something new that the communities are investing in, both from the point of view of community organizations and of the citizens themselves. To some extent, the issue is making members of the community and the organizations aware that federal institutions, for example, are using social media and that services and information about services are available.
I am not sure to what extent people are aware that federal institutions are present and active in both official languages.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Would you say that, no matter where people are, in New Brunswick, in Acadia, they can go and find information about the various federal government departments if they knew they could?
Mr. Quinty: There are a number of institutions that are currently present on the Internet that do this in both official languages in many cases. But this is not something we have explored, meaning that we have not necessarily done a survey of social media to see who is there, what services are being offered to our communities and what visibility these institutions have with the members of our communities. But it is certainly something that we could look at more closely and return at a later date with more information. We would be pleased to.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: That is very interesting. Harvard University is not kind toward the Internet service offered in Canada. Based on a study by the university in 2009, Canada has one of the poorest systems in the developed world. According to Harvard, Canada is not an example to be followed when it comes to the policies concerning high-speed Internet and wireless access. The university also says that Canada ranks 22nd out of 30 countries by the survey of the Howard H. Baker Centre for Internet and society. Canada ranks 16th in terms of adopting high-speed, 20th in terms of speed and capacity, and 25th in terms of price.
Several years ago, about 12 years ago, the telephone and Internet companies were authorized to charge a little bit more to implement services in cities so that services could be installed in rural areas and so that proper service could be provided there. But we know that never happened.
Do you think that the governments should have been stricter and ensured that the companies offered high-speed Internet to the regions of New Brunswick?
Mr. Quinty: To answer your question, I would go even further than New Brunswick; I would go as far as the entire country. The CRTC did a study two years ago on the broadcasting services available to the communities. When we, the FCFA, as well as other organizations in our network, appeared, we were asked: when it came to community reflection and to the access of communities to television content in French, for example, whether the Internet could be a solution. We had presented that problem to them at the time and, in its report published on March 31, 2009, the CRTC strongly recommended that the government take action in that area to extend broadband access to official language communities across the country. In light of that, was government action necessary and is it still? The FCFA’s answer remains a very clear "yes".
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you very much.
Senator Tardif: Welcome. You said in your presentation that one of the main issues for francophone communities has to do with improving the know-how and developing content for producers, and that it is a major issue. You also said that there used to be the Francommunautés Virtuelles program, which gave financial support to projects aimed at meeting the specific needs of official language minority communities. Now, if I understand correctly, that program was not renewed under the 2008 to 2013 roadmap.
Was that program successful for your francophone minority communities?
Ms. Côté: Yes, it definitely was a success at the time. When re-examining the program, we had to review the goals a bit. Initially, our intention was to put Canadian francophones on the Web. We managed this successfully. Significant opportunities were provided to the communities and the community organizations. But what was missing, and we did not know it at the time, was the training to ensure that people were then equipped to continue to update their websites and improve the content. That is what we would like to put emphasis on in a new program of this type. We think that it is important and necessary for the future.
Senator Tardif: Do you know why the program was cancelled?
Mr. Quinty: The program was on a ten-year cycle. It was in place from 1998 to 2008. As I understand it, in the last five years, a large part of the funding for the program came from the Action Plan for Official Languages, which ended on March 31, 2008. The roadmap was focused on other priorities. Therefore, the funding ended on March 31.
Senator Tardif: Do you know if there is another program that supports the development of content online in French?
Mr. Quinty: There is one, but it is aimed at a different audience. The Canada Interactive Fund focuses on the development of cultural content in very advanced Web 2.0 applications. Things like virtual communities like Second Life, for example, and interactive online games. We are not necessarily talking about websites or social media for the general public.
Senator Tardif: So you would like federal government funding to support technological training and to improve the know-how in the area of new media?
Mr. Quinty: We would definitely make that recommendation to your committee.
We are talking about improving skills. When the Francommunautés Virtuelles program was in place seven or eight years ago, websites were built differently. At the time, we would entrust the project to someone who would build the website. The process is more flexible now. There are many application models available online to build a very flexible website on your own. But our communities do not have the know-how to do this kind of work.
Senator Losier-Cool: I want to be sure that I have fully understood your answer to Senator Tardif’s question about the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality. Is there a program under the roadmap that supports the communities that wish to take part in the new technologies?
Mr. Quinty: Not specifically, as far as we know. Actually, there is nothing similar to the Francommunautés Virtuelles program or that would meet those goals.
Senator Poirier: My question touches on the same thing. First I would like to thank you for being here today.
Has the possibility of offering this training in the various provinces through the community colleges that have programs on website creation been considered? Do our communities have access to training through the community colleges? We have community colleges in New Brunswick. I assume these kinds of institutions exist across Canada.
Ms. Côté: Perhaps we are not talking about the same type of training. We realize that community colleges can provide training on building websites or producing computer technicians. This is not what the communities need. Often in our communities, there may be one or two people working for an organization. Those people need to have the necessary resources. These skills did not exist previously. We did not need them five, seven or ten years ago. These are new skills.
These skills are necessary for updating or upgrading websites. This is very often what people need. College training does not necessarily teach these skills, but instead the skills are gained through support or vocational training. We used the word "training", but that may not be the right term. Rather, we are talking about mentoring or development work for new approaches in relation to the capacity of the communities and new media.
Senator Poirier: By "training" I did not mean building websites either. I think there are places that provide training, once the website has been built, to continue to update and add content. I think that this training was provided through the community colleges in some communities, through night courses, access centres or local businesses. So that was my question.
Ms. Côté: Yes, that exists.
The Chair: Let us compare the need for that kind of training a few years ago with the need today. If the federal government offered a new program to support this type of initiative, would the training needed in 2012 be the same as five or six years ago?
Mr. Quinty: No, not at all. We have moved to a Web where the user is very important, which was not the case seven or eight years ago. The first websites in the late 1990s were built by experts. Once the website was live, if you wanted to add content, you had to call the expert. You would wait a few days or a few hours and the content was put online.
These days, the content is generated by the user and the process is fast. So the skills that are needed now to be present, active and interest people are important. For example, we know perfectly well that if the FCFA page on Twitter or Facebook is not updated for a week, people get bored and leave. Things are moving quickly now.
These are the kinds of skills our communities need.
Senator Losier-Cool: My question follows somewhat on your comment on the type of training. Are minority schools using the new technology? And if so, to what extent?
Mr. Quinty: The intensity varies across the country. In some places, students come in to class with their iPad 2. The children of the future generation are at that point and are using these technologies more and more. The question is to what extent they are able to find French content on those platforms.
Senator Losier-Cool: That is exactly what I wanted to get at. In other words, are the teachers trained to stay up to date? You can train them in university but, two years later, once they are in the classroom, they are already dated.
What percentage of isolated minority communities does not have access to the Internet?
Mr. Quinty: The percentage is a little difficult to determine at this stage because, in 2007, according to the CRTC study in the review that I just spoke about earlier, only 65 per cent of rural communities had access to high-speed Internet. So, 35 per cent do not have it. The situation has improved somewhat since then.
Having said that, in some places either the Internet is not available at all or it is, but it is very expensive or you have to use the mobile network, which is not always available for cellphones. The answer is not simple.
Senator Losier-Cool: The data is not simple either. Do the schools reflect the community data? Are the anglophone communities different from the minority communities?
Ms. Côté: The QCGN could give you a better answer. Do you mean the anglophone majority in our communities?
Senator Losier-Cool: Yes, in the country.
Ms. Côté: No. If there is a rural community, whether it is anglophone or francophone, the community does not have access. It is a fact. The reality is that, traditionally, our communities are much more often located in rural areas and so the penalty, if you will, is greater because of that in terms of proportion.
Mr. Quinty: As for the teachers and their capacity to use these new technologies, some applications are available in French, including the Mini-TFO application. Applications for our communities are still somewhat rare, but the question is still to what extent teachers can find a significant number of applications in French for their students in the classroom.
Senator Losier-Cool: That is it. They will find them in English.
The Chair: I have a further question. There is no doubt that there is an access problem. Not everyone has equal access if we are talking about francophone and Acadian communities in Canada. In remote, rural areas, there is no high-speed Internet or broadband, and so on.
If all the francophone and Acadian communities in Canada had equal access, what would the next step be? Would it be to develop content so that French and English, and I am still talking only about francophone and Acadian communities, would be of equal quality or that the content would be equal?
Mr. Quinty: It would definitely be content production. The major media outlets, the large television and radio stations already have mobile applications, for example. Our community radio stations do not because they do not have the means. Their major challenge is being able to be on the platforms that our young people — more and more young people — are using. My colleague has a two-year-old granddaughter who is already playing with her father’s iPad. That is where we need to be and where we need to produce content for our young people, and we are not there yet.
The Chair: How would this French content be created for our young people? And who could do it?
Mr. Quinty: Our artists, our musicians, our community media outlets would produce the content. We have plenty of people in our communities who have ideas, but who do not necessarily have the resources to compete with everything that is being produced in the private sector and not always in French.
The Chair: So first there would be access and then content?
Mr. Quinty: Yes.
The Chair: In a world where the economy is weaker, when we have to choose, perhaps it might be access and content over training.
Mr. Quinty: Content and training go hand-in-hand, in the sense that people in our communities need to be equipped to transform their ideas so that they can reach out to young people, to people who are on these platforms in reality, in their application, in their presence on the web, in their presence on social media.
Ms. Côté: Ten years ago, when we started playing on the Web, people had the feeling that you took your writing and stuck it on the Web. It was like a new book. We learned that the Web was a different medium and that we had to use it differently. It needed to be made it interactive. We needed to be able to allow a different quality of content, meaning that you do not turn the pages like you would with a book. We are now at Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 and we have gone even further than just a website or an interactive website. We have moved into applications for mobile devices and into many other things. That is where our young people are, and that is where we need to interact with them. In that sense, it is important to do both.
Artists perform their work on the stage, but they can use mobile applications to make their work better known.
The Chair: Our community radio stations and our community newspapers would have a big role to play, would they not? Right now, they might not even have access.
Mr. Quinty: In a previous life, when I worked with the Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada, statistics showed that since community radio stations were put in place in New Brunswick, the music industry has experienced an incredible growth. Within a period of three years, 29 to 30 albums have been produced in Acadia. So if the community radio stations can have such an impact by being on the air, imagine what we can do with the new platforms that the young people are using. This is getting very interesting.
The Chair: Before we start the second round of questions, are there any senators who have not asked any questions and would like to?
Senator Mockler: Madam Chair, I liked it when you said that it was fine to be in the driver’s seat, but if you do not have the key, you will not be going anywhere.
Certainly we want to obtain greater penetration. You were just talking about a report from 2007 that said that only 65 per cent of rural communities have access to high-speed Internet. Do you know if the percentage is still the same? What would you recommend to the government to speed up the broadband and high-speed Internet process in northwestern New Brunswick and in the Acadian peninsula, as well as in other regions such as Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and even in western Canada?
Mr. Quinty: That is a very good question. I would say that, in general, since the francophone communities are often in rural areas, we need to focus on those communities and find innovative ways of providing the service. We could put incentives in place for private companies. We are aware that the relationship with private companies in this initiative is essential. Perhaps incentives could be given to bring broadband to the rural areas.
We are currently in a period of economic recovery, and the recovery will depend greatly on two things: Canadians acquiring knowledge, and the revitalization of rural areas. I think these two things happen when rural areas have broadband.
Senator Mockler: You spoke about incentives. You are the representatives of our communities and, as we say at home, you are "in the field". Do you have any examples of incentives that could be used?
Mr. Quinty: I will be very honest with you. Right now, we do not. But this is not necessarily something that has been explored with private companies in mind.
My colleague said that, in Saskatchewan, the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise decided to take the bull by the horns and created a small business that provides Internet services to the citizens of an entire rural francophone village. As you know, community organizations do a lot of development work, often with fairly limited funds. If we want an example of a good effort in leveraging government investments when it comes to official languages, this is one that had an impact on its community members. But still, with the resources the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise has right now, it clearly remains limited. So there might be a few things we can explore to determine what we can do that would also involve the communities in finding local solutions to local problems.
Senator Mockler: Interesting.
Senator Losier-Cool: I want to add to the question asked by Senator Mockler, for the sake of finding new paths to explore. Should we not go further than just calling for Internet access for all communities? We are no longer talking about just the Internet, but also about smart phones, and Facebook and Twitter on those phones.
This is similar to what happened in Africa. Over there, they had no telephones. They skipped that step and went straight to cellular phones. So maybe we could ask for more than just Internet access; maybe we could ask for smart phone access. I am not smart enough to understand how smart phones work, but my grandchildren are! And they will need them too.
Mr. Quinty: We are now getting to the tower issue. It goes without saying that, when I get a G3 signal on my BlackBerry or you get one on your iPhone, there is a tower not too far away. A few weeks ago, my colleague went to visit some of her family in Coaticook, Quebec, and she could not get any reception on her cell phone because there was no coverage.
The Chair: We have work to do!
Senator Losier-Cool: Things are moving so fast!
Senator Tardif: I want to shift the focus of our conversation a bit. In your report, you said that the current legislative and regulatory framework does not meet the needs and does not take into account the use of new technology, social media, and so on. You even suggested that the regulations be revised. In one of your reports, you also suggested that a new regulatory framework be implemented and the regulations be revised. Is that right?
Mr. Quinty: Yes, it is.
Senator Tardif: The President of the Treasury Board was here a few weeks ago, and he told us that his organization was developing new guidelines on new media and social media. As representatives of French-speaking communities, were you consulted about those guidelines?
Ms. Côté: The Treasury Board Secretariat consulted us a few times about the development of their new policies on official languages and the related guidelines. Policy renewal is one step, but it does not solve the fundamental problem we identified in the document we referred to. That document talks about the new approach and vision in terms of official languages.
Senator Tardif: Could you remind us what the fundamental problem is?
Ms. Côté: The current approach when it comes to the Official Languages Act and the regulations is a silo approach. There is Part IV, Part V, Part VI and Part VII. We are arguing that the Official Languages Act has objectives, and they are meant to lend a certain direction to the act as a whole. With that in mind, we had suggested that the regulations be revised to include the spirit and the objectives of the Official Languages Act. Therefore, they would cover all parts of the act, not just a small portion.
Senator Tardif: If we take things a bit further, how would your vision — as you have developed and presented it — now apply to all matters related to social media and new media?
Ms. Côté: As we said in our presentation, I do not think it makes much sense to talk about new media and social media, while at the same time talking about unilingual offices. All Internet or new media content is available to the global, not just regional, population. Therefore, unless we want to create limited-access niches, such as the Intranet, or something similar, everything the federal government publishes on the Web in Canada should be available in both official languages. That should apply to the Web, new media or anything else because we cannot predict the future in two years. New platforms will surely come along.
Senator Tardif: Do you feel that is not currently the case?
Ms. Côté: At this point, I have not examined new media, Twitter or Facebook. I know that institutions are telling us that they are publishing content in both official languages simultaneously. That is okay, but the principles still apply when a niche is concerned. Part IV of the act and language availability are taken into account.
The fact that, for instance, employees have the right to work in French in some parts of the country is not considered. Does that include Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools? I think other considerations need to be taken into account at the same time.
Mr. Quinty: If I may, I would add that, from such a perspective, where legislation is seen as a whole, the regulations become a whole as well. A regional office that communicates information is also covered by Part VII, the advancement of English and French, as it automatically becomes an ambassador of Canada’s linguistic duality to a global Internet audience. We are then no longer talking about just Part IV.
The Chair: I believe that it was one of the Treasury Board of Canada’s officials who said that most, if not all, federal organizations’ websites provided information in both official languages. That is a reality.
Are you satisfied? Have you had the opportunity to study the information provided and the quality of the language used? Do you feel that it is of equal quality? Is the French version written well enough?
Ms. Côté: Not always.
The Chair: Are you not sure?
Ms. Côté: No, I am saying that the French is not always of equal quality. There may be exceptions. Generally, I must recognize that an effort is being made. However, there are still some issues, and the commissioner brings them to light in his audits. Francophone clients who have access to the Web and use it to seek information can still manage to find it on most federal websites.
The Chair: If most federal websites provide information in both official languages, such information may be available virtually across Canada, with the exception perhaps of the most remote regions. Therefore, if the service is already available, it could be provided without necessarily saying it is only in a designated or non-designated region.
Ms. Côté: Exactly. I think the reality is more advanced than what is currently set out in the regulations, and that limits some federal organizations’ ability to act.
While trying to adopt a policy for broadening access to the other official language, Service Canada — following last spring’s incidents — asked people from unilingual offices to offer to call clients or to mention on the Internet what kind of access people can have in the other official language.
Some things are being done, but they go against current regulations. That is why I say that the regulations should be modernized.
The Chair: Are there any other questions?
Senator Tardif: My question may be slightly off topic. A few weeks ago, you issued a press release saying that you noted an alarming trend when it came to the role of French in the government.
I think that press release reflects your concern over some recently made decisions in terms of the prominence of French in the government. Do you want to comment on that?
Ms. Côté: I think the releases speak for themselves. Some concerns were voiced regarding appointments. I feel that our politicians have the responsibility of commenting on that, and I would rather they answer next time they appear before you.
The Chair: Thank you very much for meeting with us. I wish you success in your work.
As mentioned at the start of the meeting, the committee is currently studying the use of the Internet, the new media, social media and respect for Canadians' language rights, as well as Air Canada's obligations under the Official Languages Act. Today we are hearing from representatives of official language minority communities on those matters.
The committee will now hear from the Quebec Community Groups Network, which comprises 38 English-language community groups from across Quebec and has permission to develop, support and enhance the vitality of English-speaking minority communities.
On behalf of the committee, I am pleased to welcome Madam Sylvia Martin-Laforge, Director General, and Mr. Stephen Thompson, Director of Policy, Research and Public Affairs. I thank both of you for accepting to appear before us today. You now have the floor, and senators will follow with questions.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, Director General, Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN): Good evening, Senator Chaput, Senator Champagne and honourable members of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. We are pleased to be here to assist you with your work. I bring greetings from the whole QCGN board and Interim President Noel Burke.
We would like to begin by offering on behalf of Canada's English linguistic minority communities, the English-speaking community of Quebec, our deep appreciation to this committee for its report The Vitality of Quebec's English-speaking Communities: From Myth to Reality. Your foresight in embarking on this historic study last year, your personal commitment to the project, your perseverance in ensuring the report would be used to the benefit of the community and, most of all, the wisdom and experience you imparted in the report's recommendations make this remarkable piece of work practical, profound and personal. For this, our board and our community thank you.
The study not only provides a superb descriptive source of information on our community but prescriptive recommendations arriving at a time of reflection on the Government of Canada's official languages strategy and planning for the government's continuing support to our two official languages and minority linguistic communities.
The QCGN has been invited to appear today to provide our views on two studies being undertaken by the committee, one on the use of the Internet, new media and social media and respect for Canadians' language rights, and the other on Air Canada's obligations under the Official Languages Act. In preparation for our appearance today, we reviewed, amongst other things, the evidence of the committee's meetings of October 24, 27 and 31 and relevant reports and audits of the Commissioner of Official Languages. We have been in contact with Air Canada's General Manager of Linguistic Affairs and reviewed Air Canada's Linguistic Action Plan. We have also received input from the English Language Arts Network, who you heard from during the study last year.
We will now share our thoughts on Air Canada's obligations under the Official Languages Act. We know that under section 10 of the Air Canada Public Participation Act, the Official Languages Act applies to that corporation. The QCGN notes that the focus of Air Canada's performance meeting its statutory obligations under the Official Languages Act has been on Part IV, communications with and services to the public, and Part V, language of work. We understand the impetus for this focus, of course. We also firmly and completely support the right of Canadians to be served and to work in official languages of their choice by and within federal institutions where provided by law and regulation.
The QCGN knows of no evidence that Air Canada fails to live up to Part IV and V obligations relating to the English language, I assure you. For our community, the issue is not language, the focus of Parts IV and V, but the vitality and sustainability of our communities.
The QCGN's concern with Air Canada's obligations under the Official Languages Act therefore relates to Part VII, the advancement of English and French. As we here all know, Air Canada has a duty to ensure that positive measures are taken to enhance the vitality of Canada's English linguistic minority communities in our province, supporting and assisting their development. There does not seem to be an understanding on Air Canada's part that this obligation exists. For example, Air Canada, in its response to Recommendation 11 of the Commissioner of Official Languages' Audit of Service Delivery in English and French to Air Canada Passengers, offered the following:
Air Canada consults and participates with the language minority communities for special occasions or events such as the Vancouver Olympic Games, la Place de la Francophonie, les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie and le Festival du Voyageur. It also consults with minority communities for recruiting activities. Air Canada is sensitive to community members' needs and is constantly looking at improving its service and meeting the needs of customers.
The QCGN is not aware of an occasion where Air Canada has consulted with the English-speaking community of Quebec. Our Director of Policy, Mr. Thompson, who is with me this evening, sent a message to Air Canada to verify this. I would like to quote from the reply received from Air Canada:
Air Canada had not yet planned to meet with the Quebec English Communities as our focus is mainly with the French minorities groups outside Quebec. The reason for this decision is mainly due to our challenge to provide an equal service to the French speaking population in general.
Again, this is Part IV and V.
We are pleased to say that Air Canada has agreed to meet with the QCGN and explore how they could better serve and meet the needs of the Quebec English community. The QCGN believes that Air Canada's consultation with the English-speaking community of Quebec will be a mutually beneficial process. Recall that ours — and for those of you who came, you heard firsthand — is the most diverse of Canada's linguistic minority communities. Half of Montreal's anglophone population was born outside of Quebec, and tourism is a major economic engine for Quebec's regional English-speaking communities. We are confident that ways can be found to help Air Canada fulfill its Part VII commitments in a positive and mutually reinforcing way. We would be happy to provide the committee with an update on this matter.
We would now like to offer observations on the committee's study on the use of the Internet, new media and social media, and respect for Canadians' language rights. To be clear, we understand the issue to be framed in terms of the constitutional language rights of Canadians and constitutional provisions for official language "equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and the Government of Canada."
We believe the President of the Treasury Board and the senior staff who briefed this committee made clear the Government of Canada's commitment to ensuring that access to government programs and services in both official languages would be ensured using the new communication tools available through Web 2.0. We are confident, based on the Government of Canada's current practices and stated intentions, that this will be done.
We also noted the discussion on October 31 that Web 2.0 promises to ensure increased access to services in both official languages and increase the ability to work in the official language of one's choice no matter where a Canadian is geographically located. This promise, however, raises questions for us.
How, for example, will information or communications specific to a region be managed? Will a federal office operating in Rouyn-Noranda be allowed to have its own Twitter or Facebook account? If not, how will flexibility and regionally specific information and service be provided within this emerging medium? If so, will the service be available in French and English? If not, because the numbers do not warrant it, then French services will be specific and regionally relevant and English services, provided from Montreal or Ottawa, will be general and provided by someone without local perspective. This is already the case. Individual members of our community and the community sector operating outside of Montreal have told us that this is the case. Does this violate the substantive equality provisions of DesRochers v. Canada?
Finally, we are interested in discussing the role that government plays as a partner in using the tools available to us through modern digital communication networks. This committee is familiar with the community learning centres that serve our communities. These CLCs are linked through a video conferencing network that has allowed our young people from remote areas to connect with the most remarkable places, including space. It permits community workers and volunteers to share ideas, work collaboratively on projects, and participate in wider community discussions and consultations.
Federal support maintains the QCGN website, Facebook page and Twitter account. Through these tools, our leaders and stakeholders remain connected, and we are able to outreach to new audiences and innovate in our own communications. Sometimes these platforms are the best way to communicate with some of our stakeholders, promote our next big event or get on the media and politicians' radar screen.
Another very important point for our communities is that social networks are available to all organizations, which allows us to better promote our members' activities and support our regions.
An electronic clipping service specific to the English-speaking community of Quebec and official languages in general is produced for the QCGN daily. I think some senators are on that daily briefing, as we call it. It is distributed to over 800 clients, many of whom, not only senators, are government stakeholders, both provincial and federal. In fact, we receive frequent requests from our government stakeholders to publish information on their departments on these news clippings. We have become a clearing house for information that goes out to the communities.
We also observe that more and more people have an interest in what we do from the sections of our website they visit the most or from keyword searches.
We mention all of this to demonstrate that we as a community and our government stakeholders are already deeply invested in the Internet, new media and social media in support of our language rights.
Thank you again for the opportunity for us to be here today. We look forward to your questions. I have to tell you that my colleague Mr. Thompson is much more savvy in these kinds of Web 2.0 things. He is still teaching me how to use my iPhone. Some of the questions will certainly be better answered by him.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I heard you say that you use social media and that you are on Facebook as well as Twitter. I would like to know more about that. What is happening? How do you do it? Is it with the community or the governments?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: We have someone in our office who is dedicated to work on our Facebook and Twitter. I think we have statistics here, Mr. Thompson.
Stephen D. Thompson, Director of Policy, Research and Public Affairs, Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN): We have 1,300 unique visitors to our website every month. On our Twitter account we have 357 followers, which include the Senate, politicians' organizations, like our members, government institutions, departments and agencies that have also implemented Twitter accounts.
We follow 221 Twitter accounts, including politicians' organizations and the committee here, government institutions, departments and agencies that have been linked to our account.
We mainly post news related to the English-speaking community of Quebec and Canadian politics, the politics of Quebec and news from our members.
We have 147 people who like the QCGN Facebook page; they subscribe to it.
Ms. Martin-Laforge: We have friends.
Mr. Thompson: We have 147 friends. Following us are community members, such as other community sector organizations that are not QCGN members, and also QCGN members themselves, politicians, people interested in Canada's official languages minority communities, partners and stakeholders.
To give you an example of how this can be helpful to us, one member of the Parti Québécois, François Rebello, has contacted us through our Facebook account. He has educated himself about the QCGN through our Web 2.0 tools and has asked for a meeting with us. It is a way for us to reach out and get to know political figures as well.
The Chair: Is it like a promotion?
Mr. Thompson: Yes.
Ms. Martin-Laforge: Our whole website is in both languages. Contrary to our members who do not have the capacity or do not have the resources — I guess it is all about resources — to translate their website, we feel that the QCGN, because of its place in Quebec society, has to have completely translated material on the site and we try to maintain that. Of course, we cannot do that on Twitter, but on our site we are very conscious of linguistic duality with everything we do.
The Chair: Do the English-language community groups you represent across Quebec have access to the website?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: Many of our groups have Internet sites. Some do not because they do not have the capacity or the resources to do so. Sometimes it is not even about money; it is having the young people to set up the Twitter account and to keep it going.
As our colleagues from Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada said earlier, we have to keep it up. There is no point starting it up if you have not got a long-term commitment to keep it up.
The Chair: If the federal government came out with some kind of a program to help, what would be the two main needs of your community? Would it be access?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: Before we attacked our website about two years ago and made it more visually attractive and interactive and started giving it a real look every day, we were not getting the number of people coming to the website. That took resources.
In our community, just setting up a website and keeping it fresh and organized is one thing. For our members who have core funding, websites are not acceptable as core funding any longer. We have examined a couple of ways to perhaps go to the province to get translation. Some of them have their websites in English but not in French. For the same reasons that I believe our website should be in both languages in Quebec, I would like to be able to help our members get access to translated material for their websites.
Refreshing the websites, making them more convivial and translating them are important. The translation is ongoing as well because as soon as you get new content, you have to keep it up. It is a business. It is important to keep it going.
Access, capacity-building and content are important. We often create the content. We just have to translate the content.
The Chair: Do your schools have access to the web and social media?
Mr. Thompson: We do not know. We could not talk about that. The people to address that to would be the Quebec English School Boards Association.
In terms of general access to broadband, I draw the committee's attention to the ongoing Broadband Canada: Connecting Rural Canadians program that was announced by Minister Clement in 2010 when he was Minister of Industry. Minister Paradis provided an update last year. As Minister Paradis said in January 2011, Quebecers living in the regions should have the same opportunities as their fellow citizens in big cities. We know the Government of Canada has programs as part of the Economic Action Plan to extend broadband services to all Canadians living in rural settings.
In terms of content, there is an assumption made, which the committee saw last year, that all content in English is relevant to our community, and it is not.
An English sitcom that is based in Los Angeles and based on American characters has as much relevance to me as it does to you. It does not. Just because it is English does not necessarily make it relevant to our community.
Content must be produced specifically, reflecting the voice of our community. That is important.
Senator Mockler: What percentage of our community in Quebec in rural areas would have the most impact when you look at the percentage of high-speed Internet?
Mr. Thompson: On the program I mentioned there are maps that you can reference. There is a map of Quebec that shows the communities that do and do not have broadband access.
In terms of our communities, the ones most at risk of not having broadband access would be in the far east of the province, the Lower North Shore, the Magdalen Islands, the Gaspé, and then areas of the townships, just because of the geography of the townships. Once you get out of the Sherbrooke CMA and down closer to the American border, broadband is always a problem.
Senator MacDonald: What percentage is it?
Mr. Thompson: I do not know.
Senator Mockler: Is there any way to find out?
Mr. Thompson: Yes, there is. It would be by consulting the broadband access maps on the Broadband Canada: Connecting Rural Canadians website. I just did it on my iPhone when Mr. Quinty was talking about it, so I know that those maps exist and that they are updated.
Senator Mockler: They are updated.
Mr. Thompson: Yes, sir.
Senator Mockler: For your community now, you do not have that information?
Mr. Thompson: I can tell you now that 90 per cent of our community lives in urban settings. Therefore, 90 per cent of the members of the English-speaking community of Quebec live in census metropolitan areas. We are principally an urban community, not a rural community. Having said that, there are important and vital pockets of the English-speaking community of Quebec that do live in rural or remote areas, for example, the Magdalen Islands, Gaspé, and the Lower North Shore.
Ms. Martin-Laforge: We often hear from our communities that the people living there are some of the most vulnerable individuals in those communities. That is important. For example, if there is one place where the success rates for schools are lower, it might be in the Gaspé. I think you heard about that during your report as well. Sometimes when you go outside, even though it is not a large pocket, they are very vulnerable. The less they have, the more vulnerable they become.
We hear about the road map.
On the same matter, we hear about the road map, and you have been consulted on it prior to 2008 when it was announced. With the experience you have now, what could you recommend to the committee if there is a next step or add-on to the road map? What would you recommend?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: That is an interesting question, senator. I think it would require perhaps a blend of initiatives from different departments. I will give you one example out of PWGSC. If there is a place that does translations, for example, in our community it is absolutely important to reach the majority community with your websites to make yourselves known by the majority community. We have asked, and our members have said to us that they would like to translate their websites and keep them active. Therefore, money for the translation of websites makes them available, visible and known, and you can tell your story. We tell our story in English, but we need our stories to be told to the majority community in Quebec. Therefore, that would be best done in French. That would be one initiative. I do not know if it is possible, but I am just checking with my memory of the road map whether that might be one.
I do not know what else could be done out of Industry Canada around broadband. There might be something specific done there.
However, with respect to the road map, maybe we could go to other departments, not just the current departments; there are over 200 departments and agencies. It would be an interesting exercise for us all if we were to look around to see what we could do for not a lot of money or maybe through in-kind contributions that could be helpful to our communities.
Senator Mockler: I think it is fair to say that in 2008-09, when they looked at putting that program in place, it was an offset of previous programs and we did not have the penetration of social networks that we have now. It is moving so fast. I think you are experiencing it, and you are the vehicles. It is part of looking at the next leg because social media plays an important role.
Ms. Martin-Laforge: Perhaps, senator, there could be some innovative thinking and perhaps pilot projects, as there were pilot projects in the last road map.
The previous action plan included pilot projects for verifying and testing. We do not know quite enough about that. We could know a bit more about the true impact on youth. There is no doubt that, if we fail to look at ways to reach our youth, through "twittering" and everything else, they will not explore what the community has to offer.
I think it would be good if someone wants to think about blended opportunities, different departments or a pilot project out of somewhere.
Senator Mockler: Today, I gave a ride to a French teacher coming to Ottawa, and we were talking about social networking. I posed this question earlier to other groups: Are we losing the ability to write French or write English? I know what my sons and daughter do, but it is not real French or English. What do you think about that?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: As I say, I do not know if I have a proper answer to this, but who knew what "LOL" meant 10 years ago? It could be "lots of love"; I do not know.
It is a complicated issue, but if we do not find interesting ways to work with what the youth are doing right now, we have lost our influence on it.
Senator Mockler: Do you mean on the quality of language?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: On the quality maybe, but that is where you need the schools.
Senator Poirier: We see our children playing with iPods, and we spoke about how informed or ready teachers are to get the information they need or to teach it. How realistic do you think it is, with the speed things are advancing, at the earlier ages our children are, for adults to be able to continue at that speed and to offer them the best we can? What is your opinion about that?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: I do not think it is an official languages issue. It is a generational and societal issue.
You are right. I think we have to decide what we are focusing on. In our English-speaking communities we have to find ways to encourage young English-speaking people to stay in Quebec, that what we give them is Quebec content and we make them proud, no matter how they write about it. Whether they say "LOL Quebec," it is not so much how they are writing about it but how they are feeling about it.
It is important for us to have English-speaking youth in Quebec feel connected to content that is not from the U.S. somewhere, but rather that connect to content that is English from Quebec or francophones, but we have to have them connect.
Whatever it takes around our minority community to retain youth in Quebec, make it interesting, make it exciting to be young, English-speaking Quebecers, we have to do that. Whether they use "LOL" or something else I do not think is the issue, it is about the attachment to their minority status, the heritage and the culture of Quebec.
Senator Poirier: I was not really looking at it as a linguistic issue. I was looking at the reality of the speed that young people are taking on a new language completely on their own, which is neither French nor English: It is a media or Twitter or Facebook language. How realistic is it, at the speed it is advancing at a young age, for us, as adults or teachers in schools, to be able to keep up, how realistic is it for the institutions to keep up with the speed of this movement across Canada and the world? It is interesting. Thank you.
Senator Tardif: I would like to come back to official language issues. I asked the question of the previous group, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, about the fact that Treasury Board was putting forward new guidelines in regard to the use of the Internet and social media in their work and if they have consulted with your organization.
Mr. Thompson: Yes, we were consulted by the Treasury Board Secretariat. It was part of an omnibus series of changes to regulations that they are making, and social media was part of that consultation. We provided our input last week.
Senator Tardif: The suggestions that you made, did they have the same focus that you presented to us this evening?
Mr. Thompson: No. For us, the way social media was presented in the regulations was not our focus in the omnibus series of regulations that we were given to review. It was a lengthy document, 70 pages in total that we had to review, and that was not something we focused on.
We are satisfied that the principles that the regulations are written on have not changed. The principles of upholding Canadians' language rights in the federal government and federal institutions, Parliament, that those principles are what is guiding the new regulations we are satisfied.
Senator Tardif: You would therefore not support any change to the regulations that would push, for example, for Part VII to be included?
Mr. Thompson: That is one the concerns we mentioned tonight. We, of course, know of the thought of Parts IV and V and VII being brought together. We support that.
Senator Tardif: You are saying the act as a whole rather than in silos?
Mr. Thompson: Yes. Part VII, as we explained as well, is much more our concern than Parts IV and V under the act.
Senator Tardif: I think we have already covered this, but what recommendations would you make to government in the area of better communications?
Mr. Thompson: In our presentation we posed a series of questions. When we listened to the experts from Treasury Board who testified to the committee on October 31, there was a moment of technological euphoria when there was a realization that Web 2.0 could produce services to all Canadians, no matter where they were, in French and English.
However, it is premised on a model, a very centralized and controlled model of information where the website, and additions to and subtractions from it, are done here in Ottawa or at the national headquarters of whatever institution we are talking about.
The Twitter accounts and Facebook pages are managed centrally. When the President of the Treasury Board is impressed by the fact that tweets are coming out in both languages simultaneously, it can do so because those two individuals are sitting in an office next to each other, here in Ottawa, controlling that information.
What does that mean in terms of regional access to regionally specific information, especially in areas where numbers do not warrant the provision of services in English and French? This is equally applicable to our communities as it is to the francophone communities outside of Quebec.
If I am in an economic development office somewhere in Quebec and I cannot have a Twitter account or a Facebook account because of departmental regulations, the Treasury Board guidelines that are being established envision a centralized control of the information. How do I pass on what I have to say through Web 2.0 to my clients, to the members of the community I serve and to the community sector organizations that rely on me? That is why we posed those questions tonight, because I do not think that has been brought up. We would caution against the technological euphoria, because the tools are only as good as the structure in which they are used. If the structure is a centralized control model of information that is coming from Ottawa, from a national headquarters, then the information that is coming out is generalized, it is not regionally specific and may not be terribly useful to the people on the ground.
Senator Tardif: I am glad that you raised that point because I think you have touched on something very important. I like the example you gave because we often do not realize that if you can have it in both languages that means there is someone sitting there, side by side, offering it in both languages. We often do not think of what that means in terms of infrastructure, in terms of capacity and resources needed. Also, on the other hand, the negative of that is that you lose flexibility and that regional content. How do you balance those needs?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: In another life I worked for the federal government where we did the side by sides, the English and French. There is always someone writing the French and writing the English at the same time. Sometimes you do not use quite exactly the same words in one language or the other because it does not offer the same spirit of commitment of whatever you are saying. You have these very capable people understanding content and language at the same time and putting that on. That is a hard act to follow somewhere in Rouyn-Noranda, for example. I do not want to put down people in Rouyn-Noranda, but it is tough.
Senator Tardif: What solution would you offer to the problems that you have raised?
Mr. Thompson: Where the numbers do not warrant it, I think clients have to be patient. There is a balance to be had. Do you want the service in your official language? If you do, where the numbers do not warrant, are you prepared to wait for it while it is translated? Are you prepared to live with a product that perhaps is not in perfect English or perfect French but is something you can work with?
Governments, like all large organizations, do not like to make mistakes and do not like to be seen making mistakes. I imagine they would be very sensitive to having something produced that is not in perfect English and perfect French. That will hit the news.
Some sort of informality accompanies Web 2.0. Senator Poirier mentions this. The way you and I talked as kids was in an informal vernacular. Web 2.0, in terms of tools, is simply a way to communicate that reflects, and has reflected within it, an informality of speech.
That informality of speech and communication within Web 2.0 does not fit the formal structured type of communications that government expects. To answer a question with a question: How could government accept a degree of risk and informality in communications that naturally attends using these types of tools?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: I would also suggest that if there is this understanding or wanting to decentralize innovative partnerships, either with the community or businesses or some other way, the purpose is to reach the individual Canadian with good and reasonable information. As Mr. Thompson said, what is the standard of service, for example, of getting the information to the person? In terms of partnerships and protocols with standards of service, I do not mean to say devolution, but I think this has to be studied a little more carefully in a kind of implementation perspective. If the goal is to reach the individual Canadian in his or her language, how do we do that and what are the risks?
I am sure someone must have studied this somewhere. The community cannot be expected to study it. We have ideas about it. We have examples on the ground where numbers warrant. We have examples with kiosks and services. We do not have it necessarily with Web 2.0, but I think there needs to be a lot more thought and clarity around what the focus is and how to get there with perhaps some innovative partnerships.
Senator Champagne: Ms. Martin-Laforge, it is a pleasure to see you again. I remember that, last time we met, you talked about the problems faced by some communities far from major centres. If everyone everywhere could easily access the Internet and broadband in their preferred language, things would be easier. I am thinking about health problems, for instance. Let us say a nurse on the Lower North Shore needed advice or information. If she could get it in her language through the Internet from a familiar doctor who is far away, things would be easier. People from different regions could communicate amongst themselves and with people like you.
Mr. Thompson, you said that both Minister Clement and Minister Paradis recently commented that broadband would be available in 2012. Did I hear you correctly, that high-speed Internet would be available all over by 2012?
Mr. Thompson: No. I think I said that that the Broadband Canada: Connecting Rural Canadians was announced in 2010 and it was part of Canada's Economic Action Plan. I am not sure when it ends. I quoted Minister Paradis, who, in January 2011, said that Quebecers living in the regions should have the same opportunities as their fellow citizens in the big cities. At the time, he was announcing the extension of broadband services to 2,300 rural families in Quebec.
Senator Champagne: It is unbelievable to me that, be it in Eastern Quebec, Northern Ontario or New Brunswick, there would still be a problem with being able to get satellite or high-speed Internet and receiving help when you need it, especially if you live in a remote community. It is the only way sometimes. By Internet, with a camera, you can show another doctor what is happening, which you cannot do by telephone.
Mr. Thompson: Some of our more remote communities are using the video conferencing facilities that they have through the community learning centres for those types of health-related services.
Senator Champagne: I am wondering what is more important: that the people who need the help would have it in one language or the other language, or that they would have it at all. Am I wrong?
Ms. Martin-Laforge: I think it will depend, once again. In Quebec, many seniors' French is not good enough to be able to understand and explain well enough to a doctor or nurse what is wrong. Sometimes in person you can at least kind of point.
I think that for some things it is okay, but for other things it is not okay. We have many stories, which you heard. They were streaming down from the Magdalen Islands or from the coasters up in Herrington Harbour. Often access is spotty because the lines are down. Even when they have it, sometimes because of the weather it is not working.
It is a complicated issue. For a number of our communities, the people could make do, just like the majority has to make do, in terms of having access in French. However, for many in our community who are elderly or in vulnerable situations, French will not cut it; they will need the service or the communication in English.
Senator Champagne: I can understand that very well. My father died only a few years ago. If he had to explain to a doctor in English what was ailing him, he would have died much younger than 97. I can understand what you are saying, but somehow having the possibility to get in touch with people, to me that is a very important thing, to ensure that they all have access.
Ms. Martin-Laforge: I agree. In order to fix one of the problems around someone who does not speak French, interpreters would be important. There is no program for interpreters. In Quebec you can have interpreters in other languages, but it is very hard to find interpreters the other way around. There is no formal interpretive program for English-French. You have to rely on a caregiver, and that is a complicated thing. If it is a medical situation, I might not know the terms either.
If you think about interpretation, which does not have to be simultaneous translation, those kinds of supports are important to have access in a language. If there are interpretations, I would agree with you. Those are blended solutions to make life for individual Quebecers and Canadians acceptable.
The Chair: As there are no further questions, I would like to thank Ms. Laforge and Mr. Thompson for appearing before the committee. Thank you for your presentation and your answers.
Honourable senators, the meeting is suspended for a few minutes and will resume in camera.
(The meeting was suspended.)