FREDERICTON, N.B. – December 22, 2003: The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Michel Carrier, Q.C., has submitted his preliminary investigation report to Premier Bernard Lord and Chief Electoral Officer Annise Hollies, with copies being sent to the complainants.
The Commissioner has the mandate to investigate, report on, and make recommendations with regard to compliance with the Official Languages Act. He is also responsible for promoting the advancement of both official languages in the province.
In response to complaints concerning access to services in the language of choice of the persons concerned, at the time of voter enumeration and voting during the last provincial election, the Commissioner carried out an investigation involving the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), returning officers, and the presidents of the political parties concerned.
The complaints received are as follows:
- Three complainants were unable to receive service in the official language of their choice from enumerators.
- Seven complainants had difficulty receiving or were unable to receive service in the official language of their choice at their polling station.
- One complainant was concerned that some of the information contained on the Web site of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer for New Brunswick was available in only one official language.
In addition to the above complaints, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages was made aware of a number of reports in the media and letters to the editor concerning lack of service in the official language of choice during the electoral process.
Although the Commissioner was informed and took note of substantial improvements in the election procedures, he concluded that, during the last election, the right to language of choice of the persons concerned was not complied with as required by the Official Languages Act. In fact, the Commissioner’s investigation clearly identified notable deficiencies in the electoral process, particularly as it relates to the establishment of an environment and a framework conducive to this government institution’s meeting its obligation to serve members of the public in the language of their choice and to clearly and specifically inform them of this obligation.
The Commissioner identified several areas of non-compliance with the Official Languages Act, notably the active offer of service in both official languages, equality of access to services, the selection criteria for election officers, the selection of election officers where there is a lack of competent staff in the language concerned, communications with the offices of returning officers, the lists of potential election officers, and the obligation to publish in both official languages.
The Commissioner made 13 recommendations concerning the procedures utilized relating to the selection of election officers, the active offer of service in the language of choice, and the other areas of non-compliance with the Official Languages Act.
The Commissioner recommends that election officers be informed of and receive training regarding their obligation to ensure active offer of service in the language of choice of the public, and that bilingual officers be required to wear a lapel pin identifying them as such. In addition, the Commissioner recommends that these officers be made aware of the insidious and perverse effects of non-verbal language when responding to a request for service in the language of choice of the citizen concerned.
The Commissioner also recommends changes to the Elections Act, designed to: establish criteria for the hiring and selection of election officers, that comply with the requirements of the Official Languages Act; require the political parties to take this Act’s requirements into account in developing their lists of potential election officers; and give the Chief Electoral Officer, where applicable, the discretionary power to choose returning officers outside their usual electoral districts.
Time frame for responding to Commissioner’s recommendations
The Commissioner expects to receive a response to his recommendations within a period of three months following the presentation of the preliminary investigation report.
The recommendations contained in the report of the Official Languages Commissioner are aimed at correcting the deficiencies noted. Many of the changes suggested could be implemented without legislative changes. However, the Commissioner shares the belief of many specialists in the field, who believe that legislative and judicial guarantees contribute to a clearer understanding of the process, thereby facilitating a climate of mutual respect between the two linguistic communities in order to achieve real equality and decreasing social tensions.
For more information, please contact Ronald LeBreton, Director, Public Affairs and Strategic Planning, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, (506) 444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444.