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.