Fredericton, November 15, 2004 – The first Commissioner of Official Languages, Michel Carrier, has submitted his first annual report, for 2003-2004, to the Legislative Assembly, in accordance with the new Official Languages Act (OLA).
In the annual report, which covers the first year of operation of his office, the Commissioner discusses the evolution of official languages in New Brunswick, his mandate and role, the setting up of his office, the establishment of a procedure for filing and handling complaints, and the complaints received.
Although the Commissioner’s first annual report is rather general in scope, it nonetheless devotes space to making the provincial government aware of deficiencies with regard to the active offer of services in both official languages. “Active offer” refers to the obligation that a provincial government institution has under section 28.1 of the OLA to “ensure that appropriate measures are taken to make it known to members of the public that its services are available in the official language of their choice.”
The Commissioner notes that, despite the progress that has been made in the province in the area of official languages, much remains to be done: “There is still work to be done: an active offer of services in both official languages is not automatic in all government institutions, including health care institutions; members of the public do not automatically have access to services in the language of their choice in all hospitals in the province, particularly in the regions with an Anglophone majority; and Francophones hired for public service positions in the province still cannot take it for granted that they will be able to work in their language.”
The Commissioner opened 204 files during his office’s first year of operation, including 74 admissible complaints, 69 inadmissible complaints, 29 complaints referred to other appropriate institutions, and 32 requests for information. The admissible complaints fall into the categories of in-person services and communications with the public. He notes that the absolute number of complaints received by an institution does not necessarily indicate the relative importance of those complaints. He cites the 11 complaints received concerning the provincial election. “Although the number of complaints is minimal in absolute terms, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everything went off without a hitch in the last provincial election,” he said. “It is reasonable to conclude that, since complainants reported that no active offer was made at some polling stations at certain times of day, then all the other people who went to that polling station on that day did not have access to the services required under the OLA.”
Mr. Carrier sees himself as a sort of gatekeeper on the public’s behalf regarding compliance with the OLA and says that he alone cannot play the role of agent of change with respect to the promotion of English and French in the province. He expresses his conviction that all citizens must do their part to advance the equality of both official languages but stresses the fact that the Legislative Assembly and the government are primarily responsible for that advancement.
More specifically, the Official Languages Act “confirms our collective values of equality and equal opportunity for all. It is intended to change our individual and collective attitudes and behaviours such that the principles of equality of status and equal rights and privileges become a reality. That is the challenge presented by the Act.”
Role of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an officer of the Legislature. He investigates complaints and makes recommendations with respect to compliance with the Official Languages Act. The Commissioner communicates the results of the investigation and any recommendations, including any opinion and the reasons for the recommendations, to the Premier, the deputy minister or other administrative head of the institution concerned and the complainant. The Commissioner can investigate pursuant to a complaint he receives or on his own initiative.
The Commissioner is mandated to receive and investigate complaints regarding government institutions as they are defined under the OLA.
For more information, please contact Giselle Goguen, Director of Public Affairs and Strategic Planning, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, at (506) 444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444.