Fredericton (December 11, 2023) — The 2022–2023 fiscal year saw a great deal of discussion on the subject of language rights, mainly due to the revision of the Official Languages Act (OLA) and the results of the 2021 Census.
“New Brunswick’s official languages are an integral part of our society. Whether in the Legislative Assembly, in the news or in our communities, there have been many discussions on this subject over the past year,” said Commissioner MacLean. “The province missed an opportunity to make real progress towards the equality of the two official language communities with the revision of the Official Languages Act. Progress was even more crucial at this time, however, since the results of the 2021 Census confirmed some worrying trends for the official linguistic minority, in particular the decline in their demographic weight.”
New Brunswick was not the only jurisdiction that undertook such a review process. The federal government also held a review of the OLA of Canada, which saw significant enhancements as a result.
“In New Brunswick, we had the same opportunity to enhance and strengthen our Official Languages Act, but we did not take advantage of it,” added Commissioner MacLean.
Between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023, the Office of the Commissioner received 160 complaints. Of these, 97 were admissible, 87 alleging a lack of service in French and 10 alleging a lack of service in English. In addition, 109 requests for information were submitted to our office. This represents an increase of almost 40 requests for information over the previous year.
In her annual report, the Commissioner summarizes some of the complaints handled during the fiscal year. One particular investigation summarized in the report demonstrates the importance of official languages, as well as the vulnerability of patients in medical situations.
“My office received complaints relating to seven incidents, at various Horizon and Vitalité health establishments, where a patient was unable to receive forms issued under the Mental Health Act in the official language of their choice,” said Commissioner MacLean. “Our investigation allowed me to conclude that tribunals constituted under the Mental Health Act are administrative tribunals and therefore fit into the definition of ‘court’ under the Official Languages Act.”
A summary of the investigation, the resulting recommendations, and an update on the work carried out since the conclusion of the investigation can be read on pages 34 and 35 of the annual report. The Commissioner commends the ongoing commitment of the institutions involved, and their willingness to accept and implement the recommendations.
“The key to harmony between our two linguistic communities lies in respecting, valuing and truly upholding the principle of equality of English and French. We must all remain steadfast in our efforts to achieve true linguistic equality in New Brunswick—a goal I am convinced we can achieve together,” concluded Commissioner MacLean.