Fredericton, December 16, 2020 – Shirley MacLean, the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, tabled her first Annual Report since the beginning of her mandate in January 2020. Covering the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the report summarizes the complaints received during the year, provides a glimpse of the Office of the Commissioner’s recommended amendments for the upcoming review of the Official Languages Act (OLA), and highlights the promotional activities undertaken as part of the 50th anniversary of the OLA in 2019.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we still have a long way to go to achieving real equality between our two official languages in New Brunswick,” said Commissioner MacLean. “In March 2020, during the first month of the pandemic, the Office of the Commissioner received many complaints related to government news briefings on COVID-19. Deeming this situation urgent, our office made recommendations using the alternative resolution process. In times of crisis, it is important to ensure equal treatment of the province’s two official languages. Making one language available through interpretation only is not providing equal treatment of this language compared to the other.”
Between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, the Office of the Commissioner received 133 complaints. Of that number, 62 were admissible, with nine based on lack of service in English and 53 on lack of service in French.
Under the Official Languages Act, the Premier shall initiate a review of the Act, and the review shall be completed no later than December 31, 2021. The 2019-2020 Annual Report contains 12 recommendations to improve the OLA to facilitate advancement towards the equality of New Brunswick’s two official languages and two official language communities. Among other recommendations, the Commissioner suggests:
- clarifying the obligations of police departments,
- legislating the right of provincial public servants to work in the official language of their choice, and
- implementing measures to improve compliance with the OLA, including imposing specific deadlines for replying to investigation reports and authorizing the use of enforcement agreements for institutions that contravene the OLA on a regular basis.
In 2019, New Brunswick celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. The Office of the Commissioner created a series of promotional videos to mark the occasion. The videos highlighted the many benefits of having two official languages as well as the importance of accessing public services in one’s language of choice. The videos also paid tribute to all who put in considerable effort to learn the other official language. Shared online as well as broadcast on television, the videos were viewed over 100,000 times.
“I have learned so much in my first few months as Commissioner of Official Languages,” added Commissioner MacLean. “During the course of my mandate, I wish to not only fulfill my role as protector of the official language rights of all New Brunswickers, but hope to also be able to facilitate many conversations. Because it is through conversation that we will learn to understand each other and foster respect for our two official linguistic communities.”
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll free)