Source: Globe and Mail

VICTORIA — Just months after praising organizers of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games for its commitment to bilingualism, Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages is launching a probe to ensure the 2010 Games doesn't shortchange francophone culture.

From sports commentary to cultural showcases, from Internet sites to athletes' chauffeurs, commissioner Graham Fraser wants to guarantee that the Games are fully bilingual.

His office posted a contract yesterday to study the preparations to "ensure that Canada upholds its image as a bilingual country."

In the request for bids, the commission said the profile of the French language has not been exceptional in past Olympic games.

"French has been relegated to a protocol language at the Olympics, and English has supplanted it as the language of work and communication," the tender states. "Canada should set an example by organizing and staging a bilingual Olympics."

While organizers say they are making every effort to make the Games fully bilingual, the standing Senate committee on official languages complained earlier this year that it got a poor reception on the issue in B.C.

Two provincial ministers responsible for the Games, Colin Hansen, minister responsible for the Olympics, and John van Dongen, Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations, refused to appear before the committee, it said. "The committee is of the opinion that their evidence would have made it possible to present a more rounded picture of the situation," it noted in its report last February.

Mr. Hansen said yesterday he had "not a clue" that the Senate committee had ever asked him to testify.

However, he said he supports the concept of a bilingual Games that reflect all of Canada, "but it must reflect Canada with a West Coast perspective."

And in B.C., that means there are other priorities, such as reflecting aboriginal culture and the province's significant Asian population.

However Francine Bolduc, VANOC's program director for official languages, said organizers are working hard to live up to their bilingual commitments.

"Anything [from VANOC] that will reach the general public will be fully bilingual," she said, although that doesn't always mean equal billing.

"We are going to try to make it equal, but there are some space challenges in all of this. …We want to make sure people can understand in the language of their choice what this is all about."

That includes everything from billboards to commentary offered for official shows and competitions.

The commission's study will look at the involvement of the francophone community in the Games, especially in the high-profile cultural events.

It will also examine "communication vectors" to disseminate French-language information about the Olympics, including "general documents, spectators' guides, daily newspapers, Internet sites, signage, reception, texts accompanying services … cultural activities programs and documentation."

Robin Cantin, a spokesman for the language commission, said the concern stems from the 1988 Calgary Olympics, where event announcements were not always available in both official languages.

"Right now, everything seems to be okay, but it's still early in the game," he said.

"The organization has taken some very encouraging steps. Now we want to make sure they do the right things as the organization becomes more complex and, quite frankly, more frantic."

The commission's report is due next fall.