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November 19th 2007

Commissioner of Official Languages submits his 2006-2007 Annual Report

The Commissioner of Official Languages Releases Annual Report

Fredericton, November 19, 2007 – The Commissioner of Official Languages, Michel Carrier, has submitted his annual report for, 2006-2007, to the Legislative Assembly, in accordance with New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act (OLA). The Annual Report is also available on-line at www.officiallanguages.nb.ca.

During the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages handled 119 complaints and 26 requests for information. A total of 77 complaints were admissible, with 71 based on a lack of service in French and 6 based on a lack of service in English. Thirty-one complaints were deemed inadmissible because they did not come under the Commissioner’s authority or did not concern an institution within the meaning of the Act. Eleven complaints were referred to other institutions, such as the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission. A summary of complaints resolved during the year is included in the Annual Report.

In addition to descriptions of the complaints resolved during the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the report also includes details on more protracted investigations into the language of court decisions, orders and judgments as well as concerns regarding a lack of bilingual service offered by NB Liquor.

The Commissioner’s annual report contains several recommendations:

  • That the Department of Health conduct an in-depth study in order to clarify its obligations under the Official Languages Act with regard to requests for the translation of medical records into the language of choice and to set out a clear policy for addressing circumstances where medical records must be translated.
  • That the Province of New Brunswick continue to lobby the federal government to have the decision to abolish the Court Challenges Program reversed and the program restored.
  • That the province of New Brunswick commit to negotiate more aggressively with the federal Department of Public Works and Government Services in order to obtain free access to the Termium on-line dictionary for all its employees.

That the government of New Brunswick and the RCMP embark, either separately or cooperatively, on an information campaign to inform New Brunswickers of the RCMP’s obligations pursuant to the Official Languages Act.

The Commissioner’s report also contains a special section on health care delivery, including an overview of health-related files with which he was involved in 2006-2007. While providing New Brunswickers with equal access to health care in their language of choice has been a challenge for some regional health authorities, Mr. Carrier believes that progress is being made. The problem is often that while those in a leadership position seem to understand the legal requirement to serve patients in both official languages, that message is often not being understood and accepted by all staff.

“Quality health care amounts to more than treating a patient’s physical or mental ailments. It also includes an emotional element that addresses the vulnerability everyone feels when they are sick, injured or otherwise in need of medical assistance. When a patient is able to ask questions and get answers in his or her own language, the uneasiness or anxiousness they feel is alleviated somewhat because they don’t have to bear the added weight imposed by the struggle to communicate.”

In his 2004-2005 Annual Report, the Commissioner had made a series of recommendations with regard to a master plan that the Province should develop and adopt in order to best assume its responsibilities under the OLA. A government-wide master plan involving civil service at all levels and providing them with clear guidelines, accurate information, bilingual work tools and positive support would not only provide them with a predictable context in which to operate but would also help the province fulfill its legal obligation to provide New Brunswickers with equal access to services of equal value. As of the end of the 2006-2007 fiscal years, the Commissioner has yet to receive any official response regarding his repeated calls for a master plan.

The Commissioner has also made repeated calls on the province to update its Official Languages Policy, specifically the section that deals with language of work. While he has been assured informally that a draft has finally been completed, the fact that it has taken many years to achieve even this does little to demonstrate the province’s enthusiasm for bilingualism or even willingness to take its legal duties seriously.

The Commissioner believes these two issues are indicative of hesitancy or, worse, lethargy within the government’s higher levels with regard to its official languages obligations. “The province needs to understand that the OLA must be enforced in order to be effective,” said the Commissioner. “It is up to the Premier and the senior staff of all provincial institutions to be proactive within the framework of the OLA. It is only through committed action and meaningful policies that the provincial government can truly deliver on the guarantee of equal access to services of equal value.”

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For more information or to obtain an interview with the Commissioner, please contact Giselle Goguen, Director of Public Affairs and Research, by telephone at 506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 or via e-mail at giselle.goguen@gnb.ca.