June 22, 2017

Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick tables fourth Annual Report

June 22, 2017 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Katherine d’Entremont, today tabled her fourth Annual Report. Bilingualism among senior public servants is one of the central themes of the document.

Study on the use of French in communications between Francophone organizations and municipalities and senior management of government departments and agencies

Commissioner d’Entremont presents the results of a study done by the Office of the Commissioner on the use of French in communications between Francophone organizations and municipalities and senior management of government departments and agencies. A survey of representatives of Francophone organizations and municipalities done as part of the study shows that only 4 respondents in 21 said that French was always used at meetings with senior public servants.

Commissioner d’Entremont considers these results unacceptable in the only officially bilingual province in Canada. Ms. d’Entremont is therefore urging the provincial government to act on her 2015 recommendations that bilingualism be a requirement for new appointments to senior management positions.

Legislative Officers

The 2016-2017 annual report of the Office of the Commissioner presents a summary of an investigation carried out as a follow-up to a complaint regarding the absence of a bilingualism requirement in three competition advertisements for legislative officer positions, including the Chief Electoral Officer.

The Commissioner’s analysis of the roles and responsibilities of these officers confirms the absolute necessity that those appointed to these positions be bilingual. The Commissioner points out that the responses provided by the provincial government to justify the absence of a bilingualism requirement are equivalent to denying the principle of equality of the two official languages and the two linguistic communities of New Brunswick.

To ensure the appointment of a bilingual person to a legislative officer position, Commissioner d’Entremont recommends a measure similar to the one put in place by the Parliament of Canada in 2013, namely, the adoption of an act requiring knowledge of English and French to be appointed to a legislative officer position. (It should be noted that this investigation did not pertain to the results of the recruitment process. The Commissioner therefore did not seek to determine the bilingual capacity of the individuals appointed to these positions.)

Linguistic obligations of cities, municipalities, and regional service commissions

The cities of New Brunswick, as well as eight municipalities and eight regional service commissions have linguistic obligations under the Official Languages Act.

The 2016-2017 annual report of the Office of the Commissioner outlines the results of the very first comprehensive audit of their compliance with the Act.

Despite a few failures to obtain service in English and French, the results of the audit tend to show that the public can generally obtain municipal or regional services in the official language of their choice. However, service in English is often better than service in French.

Commissioner d’Entremont makes five recommendations to improve and expand municipal and regional services in both official languages.

Chronic underfunding of the Office of the Commissioner

In her annual report, Commissioner d’Entremont highlights that the budget of the Office of the Commissioner has increased by 3.6% over the past 15 years while that of the Legislative Assembly has increased by 52.4%. In this regard, Ms. d’Entremont deplores the fact that the broadening of the Commissioner’s investigation mandate to include some 40 professional associations has not been accompanied by an increase in the operating budget.

For Commissioner d’Entremont, the chronic underfunding of the Office of the Commissioner compromises the protection of the language rights of all New Brunswickers.

Concerted approach to Francophone immigration

In the report, Commissioner d’Entremont highlights the recent signing of a Canada – New Brunswick immigration agreement that includes an annex on Francophone immigration, the first of its kind. The annex outlines how Canada and New Brunswick will work together to attract and retain French-speaking immigrants to maintain the linguistic makeup of the province. 

Commissioner d’Entremont, who has been recommending such a measure for a number of years, is pleased with the signing of the Francophone immigration annex.

Complaints received by the Office of the Commissioner

Between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, the Office of the Commissioner received 346 complaints. Of that number, 114 were admissible, with 92 based on lack of service in French and 22 on lack of service in English. There was an increase of 81% in admissible complaints over last year.

For further information:

Hugues Beaulieu
Director of Public Affairs and Research
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444
Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca

***

About the Commissioner of Official Languages

The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislature. Her role is to protect the language rights of the members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.

 

Highlights of the 2016-2017 Annual Report of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

Highlights of the study on the use of French in communications between Francophone organizations and municipalities and senior management of government departments and agencies

Use of French

  • The vast majority of survey respondents, i.e., 17 out of 21, said they wished French was used more at meetings with senior public servants. That wish is not surprising given that only four respondents said French was always used at meetings with senior management.
     
  • There is some bilingual capacity within the senior public service. Half of the respondents said that French was used most of the time, whereas a quarter indicated that French was often or sometimes used during meetings with senior public servants.

Use of both official languages

  • Eleven respondents out of 21 reported meetings with senior public servants at which English and French were used often or sometimes. However, only four respondents have attended bilingual meetings where simultaneous interpretation was available.
  • In the absence of simultaneous interpretation, various practices were used. In some cases, the respondents would express themselves in French, and the senior public servants would reply in English. In other cases, a bilingual public servant would translate what the participants said into the other language (generally English). Some respondents said they would repeat in English what they had first said in French. Others spoke partly in English when the conversation pertained to technical matters.
     
  • The use of both languages at a meeting where simultaneous interpretation was not available was often a prelude to a meeting that would ultimately take place in English only. It was not unusual for the respondents to switch to English because the use of both languages slows down communications since anything said in French has to be translated into English.

Use of English

  • Nearly half the respondents said that English was often or sometimes the only language used at meetings with senior public servants.

Communication that is not clear

  • A number of respondents expressed concerns about the clarity of their exchanges with senior public servants. These concerns arise from two findings: first, some senior public servants who say they are bilingual are clearly not sufficiently proficient in French; second, a number of respondents were aware that the use of English limits their ability to express themselves with all the subtlety required by the complexity of the issues they are dealing with.

Obstacles to the use of French

  • The unilingualism of a senior public servant or a minister is definitely the main obstacle to the use of French at meetings with senior management. However, it is not the only one. Half of the respondents said that the level of French-language proficiency among bilingual senior public servants was not sufficient for in-depth discussions in French, which would result in their using English. Furthermore, a quarter of the respondents said that the use of French could result in the exclusion from meetings of senior public servants responsible for a particular issue, thus affecting discussion quality. In some cases, despite the presence of bilingual senior public servants, the presence of other unilingual Anglophone stakeholders (e.g., experts in a particular field) would prompt the group, often a working group, to use English.

Bilingualism among senior public servants

  • The respondents established a direct link between unilingualism among senior public servants and the inability to use French at meetings. Language training and a bilingualism requirement for senior management positions were the main means suggested for increasing the use of French.
     
  • Most respondents did not expect ministers to be bilingual. However, according to them, a minister’s unilingualism should not prevent the representatives of organizations from expressing themselves in French.

 

Highlights of the findings of the compliance audit of cities, municipalities and regional service commissions (RSCs) with the Official Languages Act

Audit of the delivery of services in person, by telephone and by email
(In total, 15 audits were done with each city and municipality in each language; 5 audits were done with each commission in each language.) 

  • The auditors usually obtained service in the official language of their choice. However, the service in English was often superior to the service in French in terms of the time it took to obtain service, the quality of written communications (emails), the frequency of failures to receive service, and the level of service delivery. 
     
  • The number of failures to receive service in the auditors’ choice of official language was low. In total, there were five failures during the 240 audits conducted in French with cities and municipalities. Two failures occurred during an audit in person at the city halls of Fredericton (1) and Miramichi (1), two failures occurred during a telephone call to the Saint John city hall (1) and the Rexton town hall (1), and one failure occurred during an audit conducted by email with the city of Moncton (1). 
     
  • There was only one failure to receive service in English, which occurred during an audit in person at the Atholville town hall.
     
  • No failures occurred during the audits of the regional service commissions (RSCs).
     
  • The active offer of service, i.e., greeting extended to the public in both official languages, is not a widespread practice. In fact, during the audits in person, the auditors were greeted in both official languages less than once out of every two times.

Audit of websites and social media

  • All of the cities, municipalities and RSCs respect the obligation to post information in both official languages on their websites.  However, major problems with respect to similarity of content between English and French web pages were noted for three cities (Edmundston, Miramichi and Saint John), one municipality (Eel River Crossing), and two RSCs (Greater Miramichi and Fundy).
     
  • With respect to posts on social media (Facebook and Twitter), the rate of posts in both official languages was relatively high. However, a number of cities, municipalities and RSCs had not published all of the posts audited in English and French.

Audit of official documents adopted or published between November 21, 2015 and November 21, 2016

  • All of the cities, except Miramichi, and all of the municipalities, except Charlo, have perfect (100%) or very high (95%) scores for the translation of official documents adopted or published during the audit period.
     
  • All of the RSCs, except the Fundy, Northwest and Greater Miramichi RSCs, had perfect (100%) or very high (98%) scores for the translation of official documents adopted or published during the audit period.

Cities, Municipalities and RSCs with Language Obligations under the Official Languages Act

Cities

Municipalities

(Municipalities with an official language minority population of at least 20% of the total population)

        Regional Service Commissions (RSCs)

(RSCs with language obligations are those serving an area whose official language minority population is at least 20% of the total population or that include a city or municipality subject to the OLA)

  • Bathurst
  • Campbellton
  • Dieppe
  • Edmundston
  • Fredericton
  • Miramichi
  • Moncton
  • Saint John
  • Atholville
  • Charlo
  • Dalhousie
  • Eel River Crossing
  • Rexton
  • Richibucto
  • Shediac
  • Tide Head
  • Northwest RSC
  • Restigouche RSC
  • Chaleur RSC
  • Greater Miramichi RSC
  • Kent RSC
  • Southeast RSC  
  • Fundy RSC
  • RSC 11  

 

March 31, 2017

Languages commissioners call for concrete measures for Francophone immigration

Moncton, New Brunswick – March 31, 2017 – The Interim Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, Ghislaine Saikaley, along with her New Brunswick counterpart, Katherine d’Entremont, and the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, François Boileau, reiterated today the importance and urgency of implementing concrete measures to foster immigration to Francophone minority communities.

Moncton, New Brunswick – March 31, 2017 – The Interim Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, Ghislaine Saikaley, along with her New Brunswick counterpart, Katherine d’Entremont, and the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, François Boileau, reiterated today the importance and urgency of implementing concrete measures to foster immigration to Francophone minority communities. 

The languages commissioners joined the ministers responsible for the Canadian Francophonie and the ministers responsible for immigration at a federal-provincial-territorial forum on Francophone immigration, organized by the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie, in Moncton on March 30 and 31, 2017.

“It is essential for federal, provincial and territorial governments to step up their efforts to increase immigration to Francophone communities because the time to act is now and results have been slow to materialize. This ministerial forum is a unique opportunity to coordinate federal strategies with those of the provinces and territories,” said Mrs. Saikaley.

Promising initiatives have been introduced since the languages commissioners’ joint interventions in 2014. The implementation of the Mobilité francophone program in June 2016 is a positive step, as is the leadership shown by the provinces and territories last July when the premiers asked the federal government to raise Francophone immigration rates outside Quebec.

“Without implementing concrete action plans and timelines, we will never be able to achieve the national Francophone immigration target, especially in Ontario. It is therefore crucial for the different levels of government to join efforts and immediately clear the way for the development and implementation of pragmatic and measurable solutions,” added Mr. Boileau.

Demographic projections recently published by Statistics Canada on the ethnocultural and linguistic composition of the Canadian population through 2036 show the importance of attaining minority official-language immigration objectives across the country.

“The Anglophone and Francophone communities of New Brunswick have equal constitutional status. Consequently, the immigration policies and programs of both levels of government must ensure the demographic weight of the Francophone community, which makes up one third of the population, is maintained,” said Ms. d’Entremont. “To do this, increased cooperation between both levels of government is essential.”

The languages ombudsmen believe that the four principles set out in 2014 to guide governments’ actions in terms of immigration are still pertinent:

  • Immigration must help maintain, and even increase, the demographic weight of Francophone minority communities in Canada.
  • Federal, provincial and territorial immigration policies and programs must be designed and tailored to address Francophone immigrant recruitment, integration, training and retention needs specific to the different contexts of Francophone minority communities across Canada.
  • Strong federal-provincial-territorial-community partnerships and long-term strategies are needed to ensure that immigration supports the development and vitality of Francophone minority communities.
  • Governments must develop an evaluation and accountability framework to measure progress achieved and ensure attainment of immigration objectives in Francophone minority communities.

The commissioners also took the opportunity provided by this meeting to reiterate that the commitment of all levels of government is essential in this area of shared jurisdiction.

– 30 –

For further information or to schedule an interview with one of the commissioners, please contact:

Nelson Kalil
Manager, Strategic Communications and Media Relations
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Telephone: 819-420-4714
Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368
Cell: 613-324-0999
E-mail: nelson.kalil@clo-ocol.gc.ca
Follow us: @OCOLCanada
www.officiallanguages.gc.ca

Hugues Beaulieu
Director of Public Affairs and Research
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
Telephone: 506-444-4229
Toll-free: 1-888-651-6444 (in New Brunswick only)
E-mail: hugues.beaulieu@gnb.ca
www.officiallanguages.nb.ca

Touria Karim
Lead, Strategic Communications
Office of the French Language Services Commissioner
Telephone: 416-847-1515, ext. 107
Toll-free: 1-866-246-5262
Cell: 416-906-7021
E-mail: touria.karim@flscontario.ca
Follow us: @FLSCOntario
www.flscontario.ca

 

February 20, 2017

Are you bilingual? That depends on the level required…

By Katherine d’Entremont, Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

In this commentary, the Commissioner of Official Languages, Katherine d’Entremont, discusses the topic of second language competency levels. The Commissioner urges the provincial government to publish the required levels of language competency in all job postings for bilingual positions.

When a position requires bilingualism, there is a common misconception that it means a complete mastery of English and French. This is not the case. In fact, different positions require different levels of bilingualism. It is the nature of the job and the associated communication tasks that generally determine what is needed (speaking, reading, and writing) as well as the required proficiency levels in one or more of these categories. 

A matter of levels

The New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (PETL) is responsible for evaluating the language proficiency of government employees as well as applicants for government positions. The Department uses a scale comprised of several levels to evaluate oral proficiency in each official language. Following is an overview of the main levels, summarized from government documents (see reference 1).

• At the Basic level (1), the individual can give simple directives and instructions. An office employee will be able to inform a resident that a program officer is absent and suggest another employee who can help.  

• At the Intermediate level (2), the individual can provide simple explanations and talk about past, present, and future events. For example, a manager will be able to explain the process to hire a temporary employee to a co-worker.

• At the Advanced level (3), the individual can provide detailed explanations and descriptions, defend an opinion, convey a point of view or justify an action. At this level, a senior official will be able to present the features of a new program to a group of people and answer their questions.

• Lastly, at the Superior level (4), the individual can persuade and negotiate and is able to use nuance and subtlety when speaking. For example, a lawyer will be able to defend his or her client in a legal proceeding and a director of human resources will be able to direct the bargaining team for a collective agreement. 

What is my level?

In New Brunswick, a person may obtain an evaluation of their second language proficiency by contacting Language Services at PETL (see reference 2). 

The oral proficiency evaluation assesses the general ability to communicate in professional and social situations. The evaluation method is the same whether it be for the evaluation of French or English. It consists of a 20 to 40 minute telephone conversation between the person being evaluated and a certified evaluator. During the conversation, the evaluator gradually increases the level of difficulty of the conversation until the competency level is reached of the person being evaluated. The individual evaluated then receives a certificate indicating the level of proficiency attained. 

Second language proficiency levels for immersion and intensive French students

In the school system, the scale of levels used in the oral proficiency assessment of students enrolled in French immersion and intensive French is very similar to the PETL scale described above.

Following the assessment, each student receives a certificate which specifies the level of second-language proficiency he or she has achieved. In other words, this certificate does not indicate by a simple ‘’yes’’ or ‘’no’’ – if the student is bilingual. 

The second-language proficiency certificate a student receives certainly does not mark the end of their second-language learning. In fact, among high school graduates who go on to pursue their studies, many of them also recognize the importance of continuing to improve their second language proficiency, whether at college, university or through other life pursuits. With a good grounding in their second language acquired in school coupled with continuous learning in the years that follow, they are well positioned to qualify for jobs that require competency in both official languages, in both public and private sectors.  

Bilingual government jobs: how bilingual is bilingual enough?

A few years ago the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick conducted a study on the recruitment of bilingual staff in the provincial public service (see reference 3). At that time, we highlighted that provincial government departments do not publish the required levels of language proficiency in ads for jobs that require bilingualism, while all other essential qualifications are clearly stated in the ads. This practice is perplexing to say the least. By not publishing the level of bilingualism required, applicants are not able to determine for themselves whether they have the required levels of language proficiency. We often hear of candidates who would have the required language proficiency but decide not to apply because they assume, often wrongly, that they are not ‘’bilingual enough’’. Not publishing the level of bilingualism required for bilingual positions is like expecting someone to write an exam without telling them what the pass mark is.

The current practice of not publishing the required levels of bilingualism undermines the transparency of the recruitment process and casts doubt on its fairness. Some may wonder whether the required proficiency levels will be set or adjusted once applications have been received. Others may believe that the language proficiency requirements might be set to suit a particular applicant who satisfies most of the job requirements but does not have the required level of second-language proficiency. 

In the federal public service, the required levels of proficiency in each of the two official languages are clearly stated in job postings. Therefore, the rules are clear. It is high time for the government of New Brunswick to do the same.

 

References

1, 2 Language Testing – Website of the New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour

3 Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, 2013-2014 Annual Report, pages

November 14, 2016

Commissioner of Official Languages’ Role Explained

Commentary by Katherine d’Entremont
Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

In 2002, Members of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick unanimously adopted a new Official Languages Act. This Act created the position of Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, and confers on me as Commissioner a dual mandate. First, I must investigate, report on, and make recommendations with regard to compliance with the Act. Second, I must promote the advancement of both official languages in the province.

This text provides a summary of how the Office of the Commissioner carries out this dual mandate. It also seeks to follow up on the 2013 Report of the Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act in which the Committee expressed hope that “the Commissioner would make greater efforts to improve public awareness of [her] role.”

Compliance with the Act 

Many people describe the Commissioner of Official Languages as the guardian of language rights. They are right. I must report to the Legislative Assembly on the extent to which provincial institutions are living up to their obligations under the Official Languages Act.

The investigations we conduct are our primary means of ensuring that the language rights of New Brunswickers are upheld. Indeed, they enable us to identify the causes of situations of non-compliance with the Act and to recommend measures to avoid their recurrence.

Most investigations are undertaken as a result of public complaints. Last year, about one-third of admissible complaints pertained to a lack of services in English and two-thirds, to a lack of services in French.

We always conduct our investigations in a spirit of collaboration, and as a general rule, institutions cooperate with us and respond positively to our recommendations. However, there are exceptions. Institutions sometimes allow complaints to accumulate or delay in taking corrective action to comply with the Act. That is why, in 2013, MLAs amended the Act to give the Commissioner the authority to publish investigation reports, thereby shining a light on recurring situations of non-compliance with the Act.    

Principle of equality: at the heart of our recommendations

Our investigation reports often include recommendations. It should be noted here that the recommendations we make are always realistic and pragmatic to ensure they can be implemented by institutions. Recommendations made by the Commissioner’s office are aimed at guaranteeing that all citizens are able to receive public services in the official language of their choice. This is the promise of the Official Languages Act, a promise also set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Charter includes a number of provisions specific to New Brunswick. One such provision is the principle of the equality of New Brunswick’s two official languages and two official linguistic communities.

This principle of equality is fundamental. It means that public services must be of equal quality in English and in French. In other words, it is unacceptable to provide members of one of the province’s official linguistic communities with a service of lesser quality.   

All recommendations made by the Commissioner’s office are therefore intended to ensure compliance with the fundamental principle of equality as outlined in the Charter.   

The other key element of our mandate: promotion

As Commissioner, I must “promote the advancement of both official languages.” Advancing towards what? Towards the equality of our two official languages. It should be noted that the Charter affirms “the authority of the Legislature and Government of New Brunswick to advance the status, rights and privileges” of our two languages.  

My promotional mandate therefore falls within the context of advancing towards real equality between our two languages and our two official linguistic communities.

Since becoming Commissioner in 2013, we have carried out many promotional activities. Among other initiatives, we have:

• informed New Brunswickers of their language rights and encouraged them to exercise those rights by producing six fact sheets on language rights;

• shed light on the benefits and economic potential of bilingualism in New Brunswick by publishing the first ever study on this topic: Two Languages: It’s Good for Business;

• highlighted inspiring practices by provincial employees in the delivery of bilingual services in each of our last three annual reports;

• informed political leaders and the public about the status of bilingualism in the province by publishing a study on the evolution of bilingualism in New Brunswick;

• informed the public about official bilingualism by publishing one of the first texts intended to dispel the myths surrounding official languages in all of the province’s daily newspapers;

• given a number of speeches at various pan-Canadian events in order to promote the unique character of New Brunswick as the only officially bilingual province.

Promoting the advancement of our two official languages is something I feel very strongly about. Naturally, our promotional activities are constrained by the financial resources available to us. 

Accountability

As with other officers of the Legislative Assembly, the position I hold is independent of the government. However, I am held accountable for my work. Every year, I must prepare and submit to the Legislative Assembly, a report on the activities of the Commissioner’s office. Also, over the past few years, I have appeared several times before committees of the Legislative Assembly.

A few months ago, I asked to present our office’s 2015-2016 annual report to an open meeting of the legislative committee charged with reviewing the work of legislative officers. That request was granted, and on June 21, 2016, I had the opportunity to discuss a number of issues pertaining to my mandate and respond to questions posed by MLAs from the three political parties. During my appearance at the June meeting, I stated that I wished to have regular meetings with this committee in order to report on my work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 18, 2016

Language obligations of professional associations

Fredericton, October 18, 2016 – As of July 1, 2016, over 40 associations that regulate a profession in New Brunswick must provide their services in English and in French. A new factsheet by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages describes the language rights of people who communicate with these associations.

“Professional associations play a fundamental role: they protect the public by regulating and supervising the exercise of professions”, said Official Languages Commissioner Katherine d’Entremont. “In a province with two official linguistic communities, professional associations must carry out this role in both official languages. That is why members of the Legislative Assembly decided to subject professional associations to the Official Languages Act.”

The factsheet indicates that association members and the public have the right to communicate with professional associations and to receive services in the official language of their choice. Examples of services provided by professional associations are presented in the factsheet. The document also specifies that associations must inform their members and the public that their services are available in both languages (commonly referred to as the active offer of service).In addition, a person cannot be placed at a disadvantage because he or she chooses one official language rather than the other to satisfy a requirement of a professional association, such as writing an exam.

The factsheet lists 43 professional associations that have language obligations under the Act. These include the New Brunswick Real Estate Association, the Association of New Brunswick Land Surveyors, the New Brunswick College of Dental Hygienists, the Law Society of New Brunswick as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick.

The language obligations of professional associations stem from changes to the Official Languages Act adopted by the Members of the Legislative Assembly in 2013 and 2015, which came into effect this past July. Professional associations therefore had a three-year transition period to prepare for their new language obligations.

With the language obligations of professional associations coming into force on July 1st, 2016, the Commissioner’s mandate was expanded to include oversight of these professional associations. “Anyone who believes that their language rights have not been respected by a body to which the Official Languages Act applies is invited to contact us,” d’Entremont continued. “Our investigations and recommendations help institutions improve their services in both official languages.”

The factsheet on professional associations is the sixth in a series on language rights in New Brunswick. Others on government services, health care, police services, justice, and municipal and regional services are also available on the Office of the Commissioner’s website, section My Rights. This initiative ties in with the Commissioner’s mandate to promote the advancement of both official languages. It also seeks to follow up on the 2013 Report of the Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act in which the Committee expressed hope that “the Commissioner would make greater efforts to improve public awareness of [her] role.”

For more information, please contact:
Hugues Beaulieu
Director of Public Affairs and Research
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444
Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca

About the Commissioner of Official Languages
The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly. The Commissioner’s role is to protect the language rights of the members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.

September 14, 2016

Let’s Set the Record Straight – Myths and Realities about Official Languages in New Brunswick

By Katherine d’Entremont
Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

When it comes to official languages, myths abound. In my work, I often hear these falsehoods which are presented as indisputable facts. Who hasn’t heard one or more of these myths? One example: All government jobs require bilingualism. False.

Why should we be concerned about these myths? Because they distort the purpose of the Official Languages Act. Because they compromise mutual understanding between our two communities. Because they call into question what is at the heart of New Brunswick’s identity: the equality of our two official languages and the equality of our two linguistic communities.

That is why it is important to set the record straight. Here are some of the myths about official languages I hear most often. And here are the facts.

Myth 1
The primary objective of the Official Languages Act is that all citizens be bilingual.

Reality
Official bilingualism means that public bodies must provide their services to the public in both English and French. This bilingualism obligation applies to public bodies, not to individual citizens. Therefore, official bilingualism allows citizens to remain unilingual and receive public services in the official language of their choice.

Myth 2
Official bilingualism prevents unilingual Anglophones from obtaining government jobs.

Reality
To provide the general public with services in English and French, provincial government departments must have a certain number of bilingual and unilingual employees. According to the provincial Department of Human Resources1,
• 50% of employees must be able to speak English,
• 4% must be able to speak either English or French, 
• 41% must be able to speak both official languages and
• 5% must be able to speak French.

Based on these government figures, unilingual English speakers therefore have access to 54% of government jobs (50% + 4%).

Also, since approximately 30%2 of bilingual New Brunswickers have English as their mother tongue, it is clear that Francophones are certainly not the only ones who speak both official languages.

Myth 3
The bilingual requirement for some positions discriminates against unilingual people.

Reality
Consider the following scenario. A hospital is recruiting a nurse specialized in mental health. The job offer specifies that applicants must have a Master’s degree in that speciality area. A person with only a Bachelor of Nursing degree decides to apply. But the application is turned down. Is the hospital discriminating by rejecting this application? No. This candidate simply does not have the educational requirement for the job.

To respect citizens’ rights to receive services in their language of choice, some positions require bilingualism. Knowledge of both English and French then becomes an essential qualification just like the requirements for education and work experience.

In summary, requiring bilingualism for some positions is no different than requiring a particular diploma or a specific number of years of experience. It is therefore not discrimination but rather an essential qualification.

Myth 4
Official bilingualism is not necessary because all Francophones in New Brunswick speak both official languages.

Reality
First of all, close to 30%3 of New Brunswick Francophones are not bilingual. Second, just because someone is bilingual doesn’t mean he or she wishes to be served in English. For instance, in the health sector, bilingual people will often prefer to use their mother tongue, because they want to be sure to be well understood by medical staff. Moreover, Francophones know it’s important to live, work, and play in French to ensure the future of the language. As a result, they will choose to be served in French in order to actively contribute to the vitality of their language.

It is worth noting that the Official Languages Act gives all citizens the right to be served in their preferred official language, whether they speak the other official language or not.

Myth 5
Bilingualism is bad for the economy. 

Reality
The Two languages: It’s good for business4 study clearly demonstrates the many economic advantages of bilingualism. For example, because of its two official languages, New Brunswick has a customer contact centre and back office industry that generates $1.4 billion worth of export revenue annually for the province. Notably, this economic activity benefits unilingual Anglophones more than bilingual people. In fact, companies that came to the province for its bilingual workforce have created two unilingual English jobs for each bilingual position.

Myth 6
People do not expect to receive government services in English in predominantly Francophone regions.

Reality
And yet, they are able to. A comprehensive audit5 conducted recently by our office found that it is possible to obtain a government service in English in all regions of the province, including the Acadian Peninsula and the northwestern part of the province. Such is not the case for services in French. The audit concluded that there were failures in obtaining services in French in four regions of the province.

Myth 7
The French language is not under threat in New Brunswick.

Reality
Most of us have met New Brunswickers whose mother tongue is French, but who hardly or no longer speak the language. By contrast, who has ever met a New Brunswicker whose mother tongue is English and who no longer speaks it?

This observation is not surprising. When two languages coexist in the same territory and one exercises more influence than the other, there is always a risk of assimilation.

The English language exercises a strong influence throughout North America. Francophone educational and cultural institutions are essential for the protection and preservation of the Francophone community6.

Myth 8
Duality divides the two linguistic communities.

Reality
Duality means two. And New Brunswick has two official linguistic communities: one Anglophone, the other Francophone. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that each linguistic community in New Brunswick has the right to its own educational and cultural institutions (e.g., schools).  

Far from being divisive, duality actually promotes unity. Here’s why: To flourish, any linguistic community needs places where its members can live fully in their language. That’s the reason for having distinct cultural and educational institutions. By ensuring the development of each community, these institutions promote the equality of the two groups. And equality fosters unity.  

However, distinct institutions do not prevent dialogue between the two linguistic groups. They come together regularly, in many areas of activity, for example, at work or at play.  

Myth 9
The establishment of two regional health authorities – Horizon and Vitalité – means that we have Anglophone and Francophone hospitals.

Reality
All hospitals in the province must serve the public in both official languages. This is set out in the Official Languages Act. A hospital may adopt an internal working language for its staff, but this in no way changes its obligation to serve members of the public in both English and French.

Myth 10
The Commissioner of Official Languages only handles complaints from Francophones.

Reality
In the last fiscal year, approximately one third7 of admissible complaints handled by the Office of the Commissioner concerned services in English.

New Brunswick has more Anglophones than Francophones. It’s therefore not surprising that being served by government in English poses fewer problems. 

Myth 11
The Commissioner can impose French Immersion programs on all New Brunswick schools.

Reality
The Official Languages Act does not apply to educational institutions. That means that I do not have any jurisdiction over the school system. Therefore, decisions pertaining to French immersion are the sole responsibility of government and district educational councils. Moreover, as Commissioner, I cannot impose anything on any government institution. My power is limited to making recommendations.

Myth 12
The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick sets the rules for official bilingualism in the province.

Reality
Who does what with respect to official languages in New Brunswick is often the subject of confusion. Let’s clarify:

• Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) adopt legislation. Accordingly, MLAs have unanimously adopted the Official Languages Act.
• The Premier of New Brunswick is responsible for the administration of the Act. Section 2 of the Act itself assigns this responsibility to the Premier. The government he leads is responsible for implementing the various elements of the Act.  
• The Commissioner of Official Languages provides oversight over government’s administration of the Act. To do so, I conduct investigations and make recommendations aimed at ensuring compliance with the Act. I have only the power to make recommendations, not to impose measures. The Act also confers on me the role of promoting the advancement of both official languages.
• The courts resolve disputes according to law. Under the Official Languages Act, if a complainant is not satisfied with the conclusions of an investigation conducted by the Office of the Commissioner, he or she may apply to the Court of Queen’s Bench for a remedy.

References
1- As of March 31, 2016, data for Part I, provided by the New Brunswick Department of Human Resources
2- Evolution of Bilingualism in New Brunswick, Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, 
produced in 2014 and published in 2015
3- Statistics Canada, 2011 Census
4- Two languages: It’s good for business, Pierre-Marcel Desjardins and David Campbell, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, 2015
5- Compliance of Part I departments and agencies with the Official Languages Act, 2015-2016 Annual Report of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
6- “When attempts are made to integrate two systems, one of which is weaker than the other, the lack of symmetry in bilateral relations will cause the integration process to weaken even further the weaker of the two parties. It may eventually become assimilated within a structure – in economic, social and cultural terms – not much different from that of the stronger party.”  Reviews of National Policies for Education, Canada, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1976
7- 2015-2016 Annual Report of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

June 21, 2016

Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick tables 2015-2016 Annual Report

June 21, 2016 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Katherine d’Entremont, tabled her third annual report today. The document presents the results of an audit which sought to determine whether government departments and agencies (Part I) offer and provide services in both official languages in all regions of the province.

The in-person and telephone audits reveal relatively high rates of service delivery in both official languages at the provincial level: above 80% for service in French and above 90% for service in English. There was not a single case of failure to obtain service in English in any of the seven regions of the province. However, in four regions, there were failures in obtaining services in French, the highest failure rate being 18.2%.

“After nearly half a century of official bilingualism in New Brunswick, one might expect the delivery of bilingual services to be excellent in all respects, throughout the province. Our audit findings reveal that this is not the case,” Katherine d’Entremont said. “Although the rates of service delivery in both official languages are relatively high, there are failures in various categories, indicating that there are citizens who are not able to be served by government in the official language of their choice.”

The Commissioner emphasized that this audit was conducted with only one group of institutions with obligations under the Official Languages Act (OLA), namely, government departments and agencies (Part I). Public bodies excluded from the audit were mainly the health sector, the courts, police services, Crown corporations as well as municipalities and Regional Service Commissions with obligations under the OLA.

The audit also reveals a very low rate of active offer of service during in-person audits in offices. On average, auditors were greeted in both official languages by employees fewer than one in five times.

“In the absence of an active offer, our auditors were instructed to insist on being served in the audit language, English or French. However, citizens are not auditors, and many of them are reluctant to request service in the official language of their choice if they are greeted only in the other language. Failure to make a verbal active offer will often result in services being provided in the language chosen by the employee rather than in the language that would have been chosen by the citizen.”

Katherine d’Entremont noted that the active offer of service became mandatory when the new OLA was adopted in 2002. “By making the active offer mandatory, legislators wanted to change the dynamics of service delivery. Citizens would no longer have the burden of requesting services in their language; it would be up to the government to offer them a choice.”

To ensure the delivery of quality bilingual services throughout the province, Katherine d’Entremont recommends that the government conduct an in-depth review of its OLA implementation plan, published in July 2015.

“Since 2013, the OLA has required the government to have a plan to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act,” Katherine d’Entremont said. “The Act specifies the objectives and measures that the plan must include. In the context of an investigation, we closely examined the various measures contained in the Plan and concluded that many of them are insufficient to achieve the objectives set out in the OLA. We therefore concluded that important elements of the Plan do not comply with the Act and recommend that government make a number of changes to the Plan.”

During the presentation before the Standing Committee on Procedure, Privileges and Legislative Officers, Commissioner d’Entremont noted that the government has still not acted on fundamental recommendations she made over the past two years. These include recommendations made further to the study on the recruitment of bilingual staff and second-language training for public servants.

“It is doubtful that government could fully comply with the OLA if it does not implement our recommendations,” the Commissioner said. "If it continues along such a path, citizens may have to apply to the courts to have their language rights respected, which would be very costly for the Province. However, legislators created the position of Commissioner of Official Languages precisely to avoid this type of situation. The Commissioner of Official Languages is a language ombudsman, whose work often results in the resolution of situations of non-compliance with the OLA, thus avoiding costly and time consuming litigation, both for citizens and government."  

Again this year, the Commissioner’s report highlights inspiring practices with respect to official languages. This year, Katherine d’Entremont pays tribute to the leadership of Janine Doucet, Administrative Director of the New Brunswick Heart Centre. This provincial centre serves patients from all across the province. “I have every hope that the practices of Ms. Doucet and the New Brunswick Heart Centre will inspire other public sector employees in their efforts to ensure quality services in French and English for all people in this province.”

Commissioner d’Entremont emphasized how important it is for this province to set an example with respect to official bilingualism.

“New Brunswick can, and must, rise to the challenge of its status as the only officially bilingual province. First of all, this requires leadership to ensure that respect for the two languages and the two official linguistic communities is a real priority, not just a talking point.  Then the Province must find ways to fully meet its linguistic obligations. Lastly, regular monitoring is required in order to prevent problems and ensure respect for the language rights of New Brunswickers. In short, official languages must be a real priority.”

For further information:
Hugues Beaulieu
Director of Public Affairs and Research
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444
Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca

About the Commissioner of Official Languages
The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislature. Her role is to protect the language rights of the members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.
 

BACKGROUNDER

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE OLA COMPLIANCE AUDITS

COMPLIANCE OF PART I DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES WITH THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT
Are you being served in the official language  of your choice?

Can New Brunswickers be served by government in the official language of their choice throughout the province? That is the question behind a pilot project conducted by the Office of the Commissioner to audit compliance by Part I departments and agencies with the Official Languages Act. This was the first such assessment since the 1996 Delaney-LeBlanc report, published by the government. The audits were used to compare the delivery of services in English and in French at the provincial and regional levels.

Three types of audits were conducted: in-person audits in offices, telephone audits, and e-mail audits. They were conducted between January 18 and May 6, 2016. The margin of error for the three types of audits was 5%, 19 times out of 20.

It is important to note that this audit was conducted with only one group of institutions with obligations under the OLA, namely Part I government departments and agencies. Public bodies excluded from the audit were mainly the health sector, the courts, police services, Crown corporations and municipalities and Regional Service Commissions with obligations under the OLA.

IN-PERSON AUDITS IN OFFICES

• Verbal active offer (greetings in both official languages by employees) was the exception rather than the rule at the provincial level. The rates of in-person active offer for audits conducted in French and audits conducted in English were 19.3% and 17.7%, respectively (Table 1).

• Rates for receiving service in the official language of one’s choice are relatively  high at the provincial level (Tables 10 and 11):
o 81.6% for audits in French,
o 94.7% for audits in English.

• There were no instances of failure to receive service in English anywhere in the province. However, failures to receive service in French were reported in four of the seven regions (Table 10):
o Moncton and South-East (7.7%),
o Fundy Shore and Saint John (12.5%),
o Fredericton and River Valley (16.4%),
o Miramichi (10.5%).

TELEPHONE AUDITS

• Active offer (greetings in both official languages) is common practice over the telephone, and failure rates are low: 3.6% for audits conducted in French and 7.8% for audits conducted in English (Tables 12 and 13).

• Rates for receiving service in the official language of one’s choice are relatively high at the provincial level (Tables 20 and 21):
o 92.1% for audits in French,
o 94.6% for audits in English.

• There were no instances of failure to receive service in English anywhere in the province. However, a failure to receive service in French occurred in four of the seven regions (Table 20):
o Moncton and South-East (2.9%),
o Fundy Shore and Saint John (18.2%),
o Restigouche (6.3%),
o Miramichi (4.8%).

• At the provincial level, auditors who conducted audits in French received the service they were seeking from a program manager 73.4 % of the time. This rate rose to 78.8% for audits conducted in English (Table 17).

E-MAIL AUDITS

• As for the quality of language observed for e-mail service audits, standard French was reported in 81.8% of written responses and fair French was observed in 17.6% of cases at the provincial level. A failure rate of 0.6% was observed for e-mail service audits in French (Table 22).

• In terms of the quality of English observed during the e-mail service audits, standard English was reported in 97.8% of written responses and fair English was observed in 2.2% of cases. No failures were noted with respect to written English (Table 23).

• At the provincial level, auditors who conducted audits in French received the service they were seeking from a program manager 70.9% of the time. The rate was 65.4% for audits in English (Table 25).

List of Part I departments and agencies included in the compliance audit with the OLA

• Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries
• Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation
• Education and Early Childhood Development (excluding the English and French sections)
• Energy and Mines
• Environment and Local Government
• Executive Council Office
• Finance
• Health (Department)
• Human Resources
• Justice
• Kings Landing Historical Settlement
• New Brunswick Museum
• Natural Resources
• New Brunswick Police Commission
• Office of the Attorney General
• Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour
• Public Libraries
• Public Safety
• Regional Development Corporation
• Service New Brunswick
• Social Development
• Tourism, Heritage and Culture
• Transportation and Infrastructure
• Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal

March 2, 2016

Publication of the investigation report on security services in government buildings

March 2, 2016 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Katherine d’Entremont, published an investigation report today on security services in government buildings. The report highlights several examples of non‑compliance with the Official Languages Act. It also reveals that the contract between the provincial government and the security company, the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, does not contain a provision on the obligation to provide bilingual services. 

To ensure compliance with the Act, Katherine d’Entremont recommends that contracts between the government and security companies contain a provision clearly stating the obligation to provide service of equal quality in both official languages. The Commissioner also recommends that the government conduct regular compliance audits to ensure that security companies comply with the Province’s linguistic obligations. 

The investigation into security services was undertaken in May 2015 when the Commissioner became aware that bilingual services were not available at the security/reception position at Chancery Place, one of the main provincial government office buildings in Fredericton. 

"Since 2004, the Office of the Commissioner has conducted ten investigations into the lack of service provided in French by security officers," d’Entremont specified. "The May 2015 incident caused us to launch a systemic investigation to determine whether the provincial government was taking the necessary steps to comply with the Official Languages Act. The findings of our investigation were revealing:  the contract between the government and the Corps of Commissionaires does not contain any provisions pertaining to official languages."

The report states that the special nature of a security officer’s duties, and the fact that he or she generally works alone, means that the government must make bilingualism a requirement for any officer serving the public. "Members of the public must be able to receive services in English or French immediately from these officers as they control access to government buildings,” Katherine d’Entremont said.

The report contains a list of investigations on security services conducted by the Office of the Commissioner since 2004. Following one such investigation in 2006, the Premier of New Brunswick wrote to all ministers and deputy ministers directing them to include a provision on linguistic obligations in all service contracts with private security companies. The Commissioner’s investigation determined that, ten years later, this directive was not followed. The report also points to a 2011 government call for tenders for security services in which bilingualism was not stated as a requirement for most security officers. 

"Had the 2006 directive been followed and had the government carried out its responsibilities with respect to such a contract provision, many violations could have been avoided,” d’Entremont said.

The Commissioner also points out that the government maintains full responsibility for compliance with the Act when it entrusts a company with the delivery of a service on its behalf. 

“Section 30 of the Act specifies that the government has an obligation to ensure that the third party honours the Province’s linguistic obligations, which means that the government cannot divest itself of its responsibility if the third party does not comply with the Act.”

Moreover, the Commissioner urges the government to be clear with third party service providers on the consequences of not respecting the Act. “Government must clearly indicate to its private sector service providers that non-compliance with the government’s linguistic obligations may result in termination of the contract."

The Commissioner’s investigation report states that the services provided by security officers must be of equal quality in both languages. 

"Our two official languages have equal status; consequently, service must be of equal quality in English and French," d’Entremont continued. "It is not acceptable for an Anglophone to receive service in English immediately while a Francophone must wait for someone to be free to help a unilingual security officer. We must also be mindful of emergency situations that could arise in government buildings. Clearly, a unilingual security officer should never be placed in a situation by the employer of attempting to serve the public in such a critical front-line function."

In the report, the Commissioner criticizes the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure’s handling of the investigation.  D’Entremont takes issue with the fact that the formal notice of investigation, a confidential document addressed to the Deputy Head, found its way into the public domain. D’Entremont therefore recommends that government departments and agencies that have not already done so develop a protocol to ensure the confidentiality of all documents exchanged as part of investigations conducted by the Office of the Commissioner.

"This is the first time we have experienced such a breach of confidentiality since the Office of the Commissioner was set up in 2003. A breach of this nature undermines the public’s trust in government’s ability to treat such investigations in a confidential manner. "

The investigation report is available online on the Office of the Commissioner’s website.

For more information, please contact:

Hugues Beaulieu

Director of Public Affairs and Research

506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444

Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca

About the Commissioner of Official Languages

The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly. Her role is to protect the language rights of members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.

BACKGROUNDER

Recommendations made by the Commissioner on security services in government buildings

  • THAT to ensure compliance with section 30 of the Official Languages Act, all future contracts for the provision of security and reception services between institutions and a third party include a provision detailing the linguistic obligations of the third party.
  • THAT to ensure compliance with section 30 of the Official Languages Act, all contracts for security and reception services in effect between institutions and third parties be revised to include a provision detailing the linguistic obligations of the third party;
  • THAT the minister responsible for the application of the Official Languages Act remind ministers and deputy ministers of the province’s linguistic obligations when institutions engage a third party to provide services on their behalf; and see to it that ad hoc audits are carried out to ensure compliance with section 30 of the Official Languages Act.

Recommendation made by the Commissioner regarding the confidential nature of investigations

  • THAT those responsible for provincial institutions ensure that they protect confidentiality at each stage of the investigation process so that members of the public can be confident that the complaints they file against an institution will be handled in a confidential manner by all parties involved.

List of investigations on security services 

  • 2004 Legislative Assembly
  • 2004 Legislative Assembly
  • 2005 Public Health Regional Office (Moncton)
  • 2006 Legislative Assembly
  • 2009 Legislative Assembly
  • 2012-2016  Victoria Health Center 
  • 2014 Government House
  • 2015 Legislative Assembly
  • 2015 Chancery Place
  • 2015 Mental Health Center (Moncton)

Excerpt from Premier Bernard Lord’s memorandum to Ministers and Deputy Ministers regarding security services (January 2006)

“[…] the Official Languages Commissioner has suggested that service contracts, signed between departments and a third party to provide building security services, contain a specific provision that clearly outlines the responsibilities and obligations to ensure that service in both official languages is available in accordance with the Act.

I concur with the Commissioner’s suggestion and ask that you ensure this be done in all future contracts for such services.”

 

 

 

February 15, 2016

Extra-Mural Program and Tele-Care – Official Languages Commissioner expresses concerns

February 15, 2016 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Katherine d’Entremont, is expressing concerns regarding the plan to transfer management of the Extra-Mural Program and Tele-Care to Medavie EMS.

"Medavie EMS manages Ambulance New Brunswick (ANB). Since its creation in 2007, ANB has had considerable difficulty respecting its language obligations. I am therefore quite concerned about the plan to transfer the management of other public programs to Medavie EMS."

The Official Languages Act applies to companies providing services on behalf of the government. However, the Commissioner notes that it does not guarantee the respect of citizens’ language rights.

"Despite the fact that these companies have clear linguistic obligations, there is often a lack of concrete steps to ensure that these obligations are met,” d’Entremont continued.  “Nearly a decade later, ANB acknowledges having less than half of the bilingual employees they say they need to serve citizens in both official languages. Such a situation could have been avoided if ANB, in the beginning, had adopted an effective plan to conform with its language obligations.” 

D’Entremont also said that although the Act requires the government to ensure that these companies comply with the Province’s own linguistic obligations, audit measures are often lacking. The Commissioner notes that investigations conducted by her office have not found such audit measures by departments.

"If the Department of Health had been closely monitoring ANB, they would be farther down the road toward compliance today.”

The Commissioner intends to monitor the situation closely. "Prevention is better than a cure. The experience with Ambulance New Brunswick has been very instructive. The government must ensure that all models of public-private service delivery guarantee the respect of New Brunswickers’ language rights." 

For more information, please contact:

Hugues Beaulieu

Director of Public Affairs and Research

506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444

Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca

 

About the Commissioner of Official Languages

The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly. Her role is to protect the language rights of members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.

 

 

November 6, 2015

Statement by the Commissioner Katherine d’Entremont on the investigation of security services in governmental buildings

Friday, November 6, 2015

In 2002, the members of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick adopted a new Official Languages Act. That is when the Commissioner’s position was created. 

Members of the Legislative Assembly have given the Commissioner two roles: to protect the language rights of Anglophones and Francophones of this province; and to promote the advancement of our two official languages. 

Lately, the media and social media have had much say about our investigation of security services in governmental buildings.

That investigation has not been completed, therefore I cannot comment on it in detail.

As a general rule, I avoid speaking publicly about an ongoing investigation for obvious reasons.

However, I must react to certain recent public statements in order to protect the integrity of our office and the Official Languages Act.

The Office of the Commissioner conducts investigations to shine a light on the cause of an incident and find ways of correcting the situation so that it does not happen again.

We conduct investigations to ensure that government institutions comply with their language obligations, i.e. to serve Anglophones and Francophones in the official language of their choice.

In my capacity as Commissioner, I do not have the authority to intervene in the management of public servants or employees who provide services on behalf of government.

The measures concerning the security officer discussed in the media were not suggested or imposed by me. Such measures can only originate from the government or the company responsible for security officers.

Since the investigation of security services in governmental buildings is not completed, I wish to point out that we have not yet made any recommendations whatsoever in this matter. 

Furthermore, in my capacity as Commissioner, my objective is to formulate practical recommendations.

Some people are questioning the relevance of an investigation on this matter.

I would like to remind them that the Office of the Commissioner has conducted six investigations of security services in governmental buildings since April 2004.

Accordingly, in response to one such investigation, in 2006, the then Premier wrote to all ministers and deputy ministers to remind them that members of the public who enter governmental buildings and must interact with security officers should be able to do so in the language of their choice.

Some people question the fact that the Commissioner can conduct own-initiative investigations.  How can I ensure respect for the rights of Anglophones and Francophones if I must remain silent when I am witness to a situation where the Act is not respected?

For various reasons, citizens do not file a complaint when their language rights are not respected. For example, for fear of reprisal. That is why the MLAs have given me the power to undertake investigations on my own initiative.

Most independent officers of the Legislative Assembly as well as the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada have the power to undertake such investigations.

A great deal has been said about the notice of investigation we sent to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure in the context of this investigation into security services in governmental buildings.

Some people have suggested that the notice should have specified that the investigation was launched by me. I take note of these comments; however, I wish to point out that it changes absolutely nothing in the way in which an investigation is conducted.

The purpose of a notice of investigation is to inform an institution that we wish to obtain its version of the facts pertaining to a situation. 

Furthermore, if I had to specify that an investigation arose from a complaint from the public or that it was undertaken by me, it could have negative consequences.

Institutions may feel compelled to prioritize their actions according to the origin of the investigation. They may also assign more importance to an investigation undertaken by the Commissioner.

According to some articles, people would like me to focus more on the positive aspects of official bilingualism.

I am pleased to remind everyone that this year we published the very first study on the economic benefits of bilingualism, Two Languages, It’s Good For Business.

The study was conducted by economist Pierre-Marcel Desjardins and economic development specialist and now the province’s Chief Economist, David Campbell.

In addition, in each of my two annual reports, I have highlighted the best practices of provincial public servants.

Now, I would like to express my concern about certain statements made by the Minister responsible for Official Languages, the Honourable Donald Arseneault.

Mr. Arseneault may criticize my work if he wishes. 

However, his remarks suggest that it is acceptable for institutions to not respect the language rights of New Brunswickers.

I would like to remind Mr. Arseneault of the words of the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick who stated in 2007: “language rights are infrangible.”

Language rights are a sign of respect and equality of our two linguistic communities.

Language rights ensure that an English-speaking person who goes to the Edmundston Hospital is greeted in both languages, Hello, Bonjour. The person is informed that he can receive health care in his own language, so it is not up to him to ask to be served in English. This is the active offer of service, which is a very important obligation found in the Act.

Language rights also exist to ensure that a French-speaking person can go to a Service New Brunswick office in Saint John and quite easily choose service in French, service of equal quality to the service provided in English, because English and French have equal status in New Brunswick.

Respect and equality. Those are two words at the heart of the Official Languages Act, two words that guide us equally when we conduct investigations.


In closing, allow me to summarize the facts.

• We conduct investigations to ensure that the language rights of Anglophones and Francophones are fully respected.

• The Legislative Assembly entrusted me with the responsibility to conduct investigations arising from complaints or on my own initiative. Sometimes it is a difficult role, but it is the work I must do in my capacity as Commissioner.

• The measures affecting the security officer mentioned in the media were neither suggested nor imposed by me. Such measures could only be taken by government or by the company responsible for security officers.

• The Office of the Commissioner is firmly committed to promoting the advancement of our two official languages, and we do so within the means provided to us by the Legislative Assembly.

I will conclude by stating that the language rights of Anglophones and Francophones in this province are not symbolic rights. They are real rights, rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are rights that deserve to be defended.

November 3, 2015

Statement from the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick in relation to the investigation pertaining to security services in provincial government buildings

Fredericton, November 3rd, 2015

As Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, if I become aware of a potential significant violation to the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick (the “OLA”), I must take action. The purpose of an investigation is to shine a light on the root cause of a violation to the OLA and to find ways to correct the situation so that it does not repeat itself.

The initial correspondence sent to a concerned institution is a formal notice of our intent to carry out an investigation. The purpose of the letter is not to specify whether an investigation is being conducted as a result of a complaint filed by a member of the public or initiated by the Commissioner. In that regard, the OLA does not require the need to specify whether an investigation is being conducted as a result of a complaint filed by a member of the public or initiated by the Commissioner.

Whether an investigation originates from a complaint filed by a member of the public or as a result of a situation the Commissioner has become aware of or has experienced; the investigation process is the same.

In all investigations, the institution concerned is notified of our intent to carry out an investigation into alleged violations of the OLA. At that point in the process, the institution concerned is asked for their position with respect to the alleged violations of the OLA. Following the receipt of the response from the institution concerned and in light of facts provided by all parties involved, an analysis is performed. An investigation report is then prepared which may include recommendations made to the institution concerned with the purpose of attaining full compliance with the OLA.

It is important to note that the Commissioner’s powers are limited to making recommendations. The Commissioner does not have decision making powers with respect to correcting a situation of non-compliance of the OLA. Such decisions are the responsibility of the institution concerned.

October 27, 2015

The Office of the Commissioner clarifies some points following a News Release by the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick

Fredericton, October 27, 2015 –  The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick provides clarifications following the October 27th news release by the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick on changes to the Official Languages Act (OLA).

Subsection 43(10) of the OLA states that "the Commissioner shall conduct and carry out investigations either pursuant to any complaint made to the Commissioner or on his or her own initiative and shall, as provided in this Act, report and make recommendations with respect to such investigations.”

In accordance with subsection 43(10), last May, the Commissioner launched an investigation pertaining to security services at Chancery Place. Since then, the investigation was expanded to include security services contracted by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure for provincial government buildings.

Given that the investigation is still underway, no report or recommendations have been issued pertaining to this file. Moreover, the Office of the Commissioner is unable to provide further information while the investigation is ongoing.

The Commissioner believes that it is important that independent officers of the Legislative Assembly be able to conduct investigations on their own initiative. This is necessary so that they may fully exercise their oversight role over government activities.

“For many reasons, citizens do not always file a complaint when their language rights are not respected by provincial institutions,’’ stated Katherine d’Entremont. Since 2002, the OLA has allowed us to initiate various important investigations, some of them systemic in nature, and to make recommendations to ensure a better compliance with the Official Languages Act.’’

For more information:
Hugues Beaulieu
Director of Public Affairs and Research
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444
Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca

About the Commissioner of Official Languages
The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislature. Her role is to protect the language rights of the members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.