An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Opposition Motion--Long form censusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

September 28th, 2010 / 3:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the debate today because I had a wonderful opportunity all day yesterday and half the day today to be a spectator at a presentation that was being held not far from here in one of the two courts in the Supreme Court of Canada building, the Federal Court of Canada. The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne was there to present its application to have the government's decision announced in August overturned and to request an order to make the census form that the government is proposing to send out next year mandatory and not voluntary.

I will mainly focus on the official languages aspect of this unfortunate decision by the government to drop the long form census—as it is proposing to do—which was mandatory, and to make it voluntary, although sent to more people. The people from Statistics Canada have testified by affidavit. I could provide the hon. member opposite with a quote from the testimony of these people who, without reservation, have said that information obtained by Statistics Canada, government agencies and all those using such a survey, would be less valid and reliable than information obtained through a mandatory census form.

The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne is focusing mainly on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act, part VII, subsections 41(1) and 41(2) in particular. Some colleagues in the House will recall that it was in 2005 that we made the last changes to this section of the act that I will now read in order to give everyone some context in this debate.

Subsection 41(1) of the Official Languages Act states that:

The Government of Canada is committed to (a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and (b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

Subsection 41(2), entitled, “Duty of federal institutions”, reads:

Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation of the commitments under subsection (1). For greater certainty, this implementation shall be carried out while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.

I mentioned that these amendments were passed in 2005, when we were in power. I was the minister responsible. And I must say to my colleagues across the way that they supported these amendments. Also, I thought that they had understood the meaning of what they had approved at that time.

I would like to make a few comments about the intent of the lawmaker at that time. The commissioner of official languages at that time, Dyane Adam, made a wonderful comparison that I would like to share. The lawmaker's main intention was to create an obligation for all agencies and departments in the Government of Canada.

I would like to remind the members that this section was added to the Official Languages Act in 1988 under the Mulroney government. But it was mainly seen as a wish and not an obligation. It was not binding. In 2005, as a result of Bill S-3, which was introduced by my predecessor in the House, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, we jointly amended the Official Languages Act to create this obligation and make it binding on all agencies and departments. I want to highlight that this law, which was implemented within a year, applies to all departments and agencies.

At that time, Ms. Adam made a comparison to help people understand the new obligation that had been created. It was an obligation to act positively because we were dealing with positive measures. She compared it to a trip to the doctor. If someone goes to the doctor, the doctor is obligated to act and must, therefore, make a diagnosis. And that combines the government's obligation to undertake consultations and to obtain the most accurate information possible. With this diagnosis, the doctor can then prescribe something—medication, an operation or something else. There is an obligation to act. There is no guarantee of results, but there is an obligation to act on the diagnosis.

With the adoption of this section of the act, Government of Canada departments and agencies now have the obligation to act based on consultation, that is, based on information which, it is hoped, is as accurate as possible. Hence the responsibility of one agency in particular, Statistics Canada, to do what it must to obtain accurate information. This was part of the basis for the application of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne to the court. I am anxious to see the court's decision. It seems that the decision may come fairly quickly given the circumstances. I will be watching. I understand the sub judice convention. I spoke about the facts and did not venture into interpretation. I will leave that to the courts, and that is as it should be.

I was listening to the presentation by the government's lawyers this morning. They argued that because there are no regulations there is no obligation with respect to the census. That argument is somewhat disturbing because we must not forget the legal hierarchy where the Constitution is at the top, followed by laws, and after the laws, there may be regulations, and after regulations, there may be guidelines for application. Just because there are no regulations does not mean that the law is null and void and that the responsibilities of the agencies and the government with respect to the law are diminished. That seems to be the gist of what they were arguing this morning. I look forward to the court's decision and eventually, if there is an appeal, the final decision. In fact, it may be appropriate at that time for lawmakers to adjust the act by regulation or amendments so that the intention is not misunderstood.

I would also like to say that the government's decision is unfortunate because if it is not reversed, it would affect everything that has been done since the last census, the post-census studies. This point is worth our consideration. A post-census study does not just have to do with official languages, but that is certainly one important aspect. For example, not too long ago, I went to visit my friends in the Eastern Townships. They were nice; they gave me a study, in both languages, on the anglophone community in the Eastern Townships.

It is “Profile of the English-speaking Community in the Eastern Townships”, second edition. They were quite proud to give me this document, because it is a document that gives a very precise profile of their communities and their membership. It would be rather disastrous if we could not produce this kind of document and profile anymore, which would be a consequence of not having the mandatory long form census.

I have tried to understand the government's intention here, and all I can conclude—and we all agree, at least those who bothered to try to understand—that as soon as a census becomes optional, the wealthy will be less inclined to fill it out in full, and so will the poor and the most vulnerable. So we will have a less-than-complete portrait of society and its inequalities. The only thing I can figure is that by abolishing this mandatory census the government is trying to camouflage, conceal or hide all of the inequalities in our society. Then it would feel less pressure to create programs to eliminate these inequalities, or at least to reduce them. I find that deplorable.

Now it is very clear that the government is not presenting us with a hidden agenda. Their agenda is clear, and Canadians have to deal with it.

December 3rd, 2009 / 9:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

With respect to the changes made to Part VII of the Official Languages Act and as concerns Bill S-3, which was adopted four years ago... At that time, I was committee chair. We were very hopeful. We thought that that was something positive, that we would be going beyond mere obligations and would be working on the vitality of the official languages. However, I don't get the impression measures were taken in that direction. I haven't seen any directives from the departments.

Shouldn't more and more be done to integrate the changes made to Part VII of the Act?

Official languagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 27th, 2008 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Gatineau for his comments on the court challenges program.

And I would be remiss if I did not thank Mr. Michaud and Mr. Doucet in New Brunswick for the volunteer work they have done for the Acadians. They fought a battery of government lawyers. I tip my hat to them. Thank you on behalf of the Acadians and all the francophones and minorities in the country.

Bill S-3, which was passed by Parliament, was Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier's cause. He fought for it for years and presented the bill in the House of Commons three times. The bill was rejected the first two times, but the third time it passed. I remember that because, at the time, I had a lot of discussions with Conservative MPs, who were then in opposition, to find out whether they were going to support the bill. In the end, they did support it and they said they were proud to do so.

I would like the hon. member for Gatineau to give me his opinion on the following text:

This enactment amends the Official Languages Act to enhance the enforceability of the Government of Canada's obligations under Part VII of the Act.

Part VII of the Act is now enforceable. What does “enforceable” mean? I would like the hon. member's opinion on that. Part VII of the Official Languages Act clearly states, in section 43(2):

The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall take such measures as that Minister considers appropriate to ensure public consultation in the development of policies and review of programs relating to the advancement and the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society.

Bill S-3 was intended to protect and enhance the law.

In its defence, the government clearly said that Bill S-3 did not change anything and that the court should not get involved in the government's decisions. That is outrageous and unacceptable. The government does not even respect the very legislation that was passed in this Parliament. The Conservatives, who were in opposition at the time, voted for a bill, but said that the bill did not mean anything. I would like the opinion of the hon. member for Gatineau on this.

Official languagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 27th, 2008 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand to speak to the second report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages which deals with the Court Challenges Program.

The first recommendation of the report is the following:

That the government clearly explain to Canadians its reasons for cancelling the Court Challenges Program.

The second recommendation is as follows:

That the Government of Canada re-establish the Court Challenges Program under the terms of the contribution agreement that was in effect before its cancellation was announced on September 25, 2006.

We must ask ourselves a few questions: What is the court challenges program? How can it be explained? Why is it important for minority communities across Canada, whether they be francophone as in some regions or anglophone as in Quebec?

For example, according to section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the rights and privileges of confessional schools are protected. Section 23 of the Manitoba Act, 1870, states that French and English can both be used in the Manitoba legislative assembly and in the publication of acts adopted by that assembly. All that relates to language rights.

Sections 16 and 22 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution Act, 1982 establish French and English as the two official languages of Canada and New Brunswick. These sections address issues related to parliamentary proceedings, publication of statutes and records, courts and tribunals, and communication with the public.

Section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution Act, 1982 establishes minority language education rights, including the right of linguistic minorities to manage their schools.

Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution Act, 1982 protects the freedom of expression—eligible cases defined by the program mandate.

Section 15 protects equality rights, equal benefit of the law without discrimination.

Section 28 protects the equality of men and women.

Section 2 protects fundamental freedoms; section 27, multiculturalism—eligible cases defined by the program mandate.

I wanted to review the legislation, because it is important. We all know that Canada has legislation that governs our two official languages, French and English or English and French.

We have had legislation for years, but nothing concrete was done. Consider the Official Languages Act. In part VII, section 41 of the Official Languages Act states:

41(1) The Government of Canada is committed to enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

Subsection 41(2) states:

41(2) Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation of the commitments under subsection (1). For greater certainty, this implementation shall be carried out while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.

Let us look at what happened and why a report has been tabled in the House of Commons. In 2007, parliamentarians from all political parties toured the country on the issue of official languages. The Standing Committee on Official Languages has been in existence for 25 years. Never before had the political parties agreed to have the committee travel across the country to talk to Canadians and Quebeckers about what they thought of the Official Languages Act, how the government complied with the act or whether there were any needs that the parliamentarians could lay before Parliament.

I had the honour to chair the Standing Committee on Official Languages that made the national tour. We left from St. John's, Newfoundland, and travelled to Moncton, where we met with individuals and organization representatives from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. We went on to Sherbrooke, Quebec. We visited Bishop's University, an English-language university in Quebec. We did not want to go just to Montreal, McGill and English-language communities. We wanted to go to Sherbrooke to visit smaller anglophone minority communities in Quebec. We travelled to Toronto, Sudbury, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver. We toured the country and met people from every province.

When we did this tour, even though we were talking about official languages, the federal government had already decided to abolish the court challenges program, which provided individuals and organizations with funding to go to court when they felt the act and their language rights had been violated. They could seek a judgment from the Federal Court of Canada or a provincial court.

Members of all the political parties were on this national tour. At every meeting we held, people talked about the court challenges program. Everywhere we went, as soon as we began the meeting and gave the first witness a chance to speak, the court challenges program came up. For minorities in Canada, it was the tool that enabled them to go to court when they felt their rights had been violated. The court challenges program is very important to Canadians. It gives individuals the opportunity to defend their rights in federal court and other courts.

In New Brunswick, for example, the court challenges program made it possible for citizens to go to court. They won and obtained their schools. The same thing happened in Prince Edward Island. In New Brunswick, Ms. Paulin, from the Tracadie-Sheila area, was pulled over by the RCMP in Fredericton and wanted to be spoken to in French; however, the RCMP refused. The case went to court and the expenses were paid by the court challenges program. In this example, the RCMP and the Province of New Brunswick decided to provide service in both languages as a result of an out-of-court settlement. Without this program, francophones in New Brunswick would never have obtained this right, even though we have the Official Languages Act. The RCMP, a federal police force, did not want to provide service in both official languages. Furthermore, this happened in New Brunswick, a province officially recognized as bilingual by the Constitution.

A decision was handed down. In cases such as that of Ms. Paulin, how can you expect an individual to take the Government of Canada, or a provincial government, to the Federal Court and win the case? This will never happen and these cases will never form part of our jurisprudence.

The Conservative federal government has said that there should not be court challenges because the provinces have legal aid. For goodness sake! Legal aid was definitely not intended for language cases. No one can ask legal aid lawyers to defend such cases.

A report was presented to the minister in December. Furthermore, another report was presented in May of last year on court challenges. However, the government response provided by the Minister of Official Languages says absolutely nothing about court challenges. She completely ignored them.

We are coming to a sad realization today. As I said, we toured Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario. In Sudbury, we were told in no uncertain terms that there would not be no Collège Boréal in Sudbury, Timmins and Kapuskasing or French-speaking institutions in Ontario today if it were not for the court challenges program. Also, Mrs. Lalonde made it clear to us that what made the difference in allowing Montfort Hospital to win its case recently was the $70,000 received by the foundation under the court challenges program. They were short by that amount to be able to continue litigation.

It is important to recall that the ministers involved at the provincial level, in Ontario, at the time are the same ones who are now sitting at the federal level. The former Minister of Finance of Ontario is now the Minister of Finance here, in the House, in the Conservative government. When he was in the Harris government, he wanted to shut down Montfort, the only teaching hospital in Ontario where training could be provided in French, among other things. He wanted to shut it down. Then, the government took away from us this instrument for justice.

The government contended that this was a program for the Liberals and that lawyers were riding the money train. I know that is not true of those lawyers who worked on cases in New Brunswick. Incidentally, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada was in court Monday morning in Fredericton, New Brunswick, on an issue involving the court challenges program. The lawyers who worked on behalf of the organization, lawyers like Michel Doucet, did not even charge the organization one red cent. It is not true that lawyers work on that case to make money. These lawyers are volunteering their time to the cause of bilingualism in Canada. It is shameful that they are treated the way they are.

I would go even further. What did the government, the Conservative minister responsible for the cuts tell Parliament at the time? He said that the government would not pay for people to hire lawyers to fight the government, that it would not pay for that.

Who pays for the government's lawyers though? The taxpayers do. When an ordinary citizen goes before the court to seek justice, is the government prepared not to fight through its lawyers and let the court settle the case? No, it sends its lawyers whose fees are paid by the taxpayers.

A case like the one that was heard on Monday and Tuesday in Fredericton, regarding the Court Challenges Program, can cost between $25,000 and $30,000 just for legal fees. The government and its lawyers came to court. They started by asking the court to agree with them. The government wants to be right.

In addition, the government wants the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada to pay the legal fees if the federation loses its case. If the judge finds in favour of the government, the government wants the federation to pay the legal fees.

The big government, with its billions of dollars of surplus, is telling ordinary people that if they lose their case, they will have to pay the legal fees. Not only that but, in its claim, the government is telling judges that they cannot dictate how it should spend money. Imagine that. The government is saying that the judges cannot dictate how it should spend its money. The government is also saying that, although an official languages act exists, it can be broken. If the government breaks that law, citizens are not allowed to go to court, and judges are not allowed find in favour of them.

What about all the cases that have been won? What about all the cases regarding schools, for example? What about the Montfort Hospital case, which was won?

The government is saying that the court does not have the right to tell the government how to spend public funds. It is simple. The government even says this in its application. This is its defence:

Generally speaking, it is not the courts' job to tell the government how to spend public funds. It is the political officials' job, and the voters will judge their actions.

Too bad for the minority. The Conservative government is telling the minority that if it wants to fight the government, it will have to use its own money and it will have to pay costs if it loses its case, because this government does not even want to pay court costs or its own expenses.

What is more, the government is telling the judges that they have no business ruling on the case, because it is not up to them to tell the government how to spend its money.

The government is insulting the minority. The minority, francophones, individuals, anglophones in Montreal: these are not the big oil companies in Alberta. When big companies with tons of money take us to court, then maybe we can tell them that they will have to pay our costs because they took us to court. But we cannot ask regular people to pay $30,000 in costs if they lose their case. Not only does the government not want to pay by way of the court challenges program, but if people have the nerve to stand up and defend their rights, they will have to pay.

And the Conservatives say they support francophone Canada? They say they support bilingualism in Canada and will respect it? I have a hard time believing that. I have a hard time believing that because of what they did yesterday and the day before in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

New Brunswickers were forced to go to court to fight for rights they are already guaranteed under Canada's Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act.

They even went further. Just imagine. A bill was passed here a few years ago and, at the time, the Conservatives supported it. Yesterday, in its arguments on Bill S-3, which makes the Official Languages Act binding, the government said that this legislation had not changed anything. Just imagine. The government told the New Brunswick justice that Bill S-3 had not changed anything, and that the court should not get involved in the decisions made by the government.

The way minorities in Canada are treated is pathetic. That said, I am pleased that this bill was introduced. Let us hope that the government will open its eyes on this issue. It should regret that, in the budget that it just tabled in the House, there is not even a penny for minorities in Canada, or for official languages. The government says that it will look at this issue later on. This means that such is the situation for official languages in Canada, and that the issue will be looked at later on.

They had two years to implement an action plan to help official language minorities in Canada, that is anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of Canada. However, through its decisions, the government is ignoring the official languages of this country and is refusing to respect them.

January 31st, 2008 / 9:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

If you take a step back, I would like to know whether you think there have been changes in government since Bill S-3 was adopted. Have communities or people expressed their concerns to you that things might not really be changing?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

October 23rd, 2007 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, I will focus on my new responsibilities as the official opposition's heritage and official languages critic.

I will share my time with the member for Mississauga—Erindale.

I believe that the Conservative government should offer a coherent vision of cultural life in Canada, a vision that does not neglect our cultural industries, our artistic institutions, our museums, our artists or our public broadcaster.

The Conservatives did not do that. In the throne speech there was mention of finally acting on copyright, but there were no details as to content or timing. Legislation had been promised before June 2006 on this matter and then before Christmas 2006. Now, 18 months later, we may get this legislation.

When the minister spoke yesterday, many were hoping to hear a few details on that and her thoughts on a number of other important dossiers in the matters of heritage. Yesterday there was not a word. There was not a word about our public broadcaster, not a word about reassuring Canadians as to whether or not the Reform dissenting opinion of the Lincoln report in 2003 still holds, which would have privatized CBC. There was not a word from the minister on that.

There was not a word about a museums policy. There was not a word about the museums assistance program. The Canadian Museums Association had been given a commitment that a policy would be forthcoming before Christmas 2006. Christmas came and went and it did not get that policy. Yesterday there was not a word.

The Prime Minister announced that the Government of Canada would finance the operational costs of the new human rights museum in Winnipeg, which is fine, but there is still a question mark as to whether or not the $22 million will be coming from an existing envelope or whether the envelope overall will be increased. My information is that it is from the existing envelope, therefore choking off the existing museums, so much so that they have to do fundraising, as has been reported, to make acquisitions. There was not a word about all of this.

There was also not a word about increasing the museums assistance program. In the last election the Conservatives promised to actually increase the funding to small museums across the country. Lo and behold, what they did instead was the opposite. They reduced the museums assistance program. There was not a word about that.

There was not a word about the exhibition transportation services for museums and galleries, which is very useful to the smaller galleries and museums. This will expire at the end of March 2008. There was not a word about that.

There was not a word about the portrait gallery. Many people have been asking about that. What is the policy framework within which the government will be making the decision as to where the portrait gallery should be located?

There was not a word about the television fund. Will it ever be A-based? Will it be indexed? What about funding for Telefilm and the National Film Board? Will they be increased? Will they be indexed? There was not a word.

There was not a word about festivals. There was not a word about where the minister is vis-à-vis the CRTC and Canadian content and foreign ownership restrictions.

Right now we have a situation where the government has, by executive fiat, which comes from the industry department and not from the heritage department, directed the CRTC essentially to let market forces dominate. Is the minister's silence consent as to this direction for Canadian cultural industries, Canadian television and film content? If it is, perhaps she should have said so yesterday.

Canada's cultural and artistic communities have not been given enough information. They do not know what to expect from the Conservative government. This is not unlike what happened when the federal government copied the Liberal Party's promise during the last election campaign to double funding for the Council for the Arts. As it turns out, that is not at all what the government has done.

The minister talked exclusively about official languages earlier, and that is fine, but she could have mentioned her other portfolio: Canadian Heritage.

With respect to official languages, she congratulated herself on having signed service and education agreements with all of the provinces. I should hope so, because by the time the government came to power, those agreements had already been negotiated and confirmed. All she had to do was sign them. The Conservatives can go ahead and take all the credit, but they really should give credit where credit is due.

The minister said that she met with the ministers responsible for la Francophonie a month ago. However, she failed to mention that these very ministers issued a press release demanding that the federal government renew the action plan that was introduced by its predecessor in 2003.

Let us talk about this plan. This begs a fundamental question: does the Conservative government intend to renew the plan? It found all manner of ways to avoid this word, avoid this specific commitment. What the linguistic minority communities across the country are asking for, and what the ministers responsible for la Francophonie across the country asked for, is that the action plan be renewed. In the Speech from the Throne, there is not a single occurrence of the word “renewal”. The government has chosen its words carefully.

The minister wanted to focus on the issue of official languages; we were hoping she would, because it is not clear. Would the plan be renewed for one year, two years, five years? It is not clear. How much money would be allocated? Not a word. Are we talking about broadening this action plan? A promise was made after many consultations with the communities. It was a matter of broadening the plan to incorporate programs for young people, women, seniors, culture and international issues. Not a word.

She did not talk about the setbacks we have had under her government either; the cancellation of the court challenges program, for example. As for the Official Languages Secretariat, which was a branch of the Privy Council, the government decided to transfer it to Canadian Heritage, when we know full well that a secretariat located in a central agency has a lot more influence and a greater ability to take action.

Were it not for the existence of this secretariat at the Privy Council when I was minister responsible for official languages, we would not have succeeded in getting language clauses in the early childhood agreements with every province. What did this government do? It relieved the Privy Council of its role in official languages and gave that role to Canadian Heritage. The communities are having a hard time getting their bearings. The minister could have said a few words about this, but she chose not to say a word.

As for the new round of budget cuts just starting, which her department is subject to, would the action plan for official languages be protected from these cuts this time? Not a word.

As for the Department of National Defence in this struggle to promote linguistic duality, and we totally agree that it is the role of the Government of Canada to ensure that the Official Languages Act is respected across the country, there is not a word. National Defence has given up and there is not a word on this from the government.

Nor was anything said about one of the Prime Minister's first actions when he came to power, informing us that he intended to cancel all early childhood agreements—the very agreements that had been negotiated and that communities were celebrating from one end of the country to the other. It is a major setback for these communities. The minister did not say one word about this.

There is not one word about the fact that, after they were elected, the Conservatives decided that the Commissioner of Official Languages, an officer of this House, would no longer report to the Prime Minister but would report to another minister. Previous governments had indicated the importance they attributed to the issue of linguistic duality and the official languages. They said that, in terms of the government, the Commissioner of Official Languages reported to the Prime Minister. In terms of his mandate, he obviously reports to the House of Commons, as he should.

However, even more disturbing, there is not a word about Bill S-3. When in opposition, his government supported the bill, which dealt with the last amendments to the Official Languages Act made in November 2005, when everyone was celebrating.

Where are the plans that were to come out of the application of Bill S-3? Where is the regulatory framework? Where are the consultations that will result in the regulations? Where is the cabinet committee on official languages, the ad hoc committee that has not met, as far as I know, for 18 months? What is the minister doing about these matters?

All I can do, as did the Commissioner for Official Languages in his first report, is criticize the Prime Minister and his government for not having backed up these lovely words with concrete action.

June 12th, 2007 / 7:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on May 16, I asked the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages how embarrassed she was to learn that the Commissioner of Official Languages was criticizing the abolition of the court challenges program. This program helped keep the Montfort Hospital going in Vanier, here in the Ottawa area. It also helped groups such as francophones in Alberta and Saskatchewan and Acadians fight for their own schools.

We know that the government did not decide to abolish the court challenges program to achieve economies of scale. It was for purely ideological reasons, but in the process, the government has violated the rights to equality of women, homosexuals, first nations, immigrants and official language minorities in Quebec and the rest of Canada. In fact, a number of minority groups have been hurt by the abolition of this program.

And what about the federal government's decision to eliminate the requirement that senior military officers be bilingual? What about the federal government's appointment of a unilingual anglophone as ombudsman for victims of crime? What about the appointment of a chair of the National Capital Commission in Ottawa who does not speak a word of French in a so-called bilingual region?

My question was: why has the government repeatedly attacked official language rights and equal respect for French and English? However, the examples I gave were mainly about French.

We also know that on October 17, 2006, the current Prime Minister said that the court challenges program was no longer useful because his government intended to respect the Constitution. That adds insult to injury because by abolishing the court challenges program, the current government is respecting neither the Official Languages Act nor the famous Bill S-3, which strengthened the Official Languages Act. The government voted in favour of the bill, but is not respecting it. Part VII stipulates that the government must take action to ensure respect for official languages.

The Prime Minister's statements are contradictory. Moreover, the federal government cannot guarantee that provincial governments, school boards, school divisions, municipalities and other bodies will respect the Constitution. That is why the court challenges program must remain in place.

Just today, the Quebec Community Groups Network itself told us that it believes that by eliminating this program, the government is failing to respect the act. The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, said this in committee, as did the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. The Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick said it before the Standing Committee on Official Languages today. Gisèle Lalonde, who led the fight to keep the Montfort hospital, emphasized this point. Guy Matte, who chaired the court challenges program, was not even consulted about the effectiveness of the program.

June 12th, 2007 / 7 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak during the late show this evening about the court challenges program.

On September 26, 2006, almost a year ago, the Conservative government abolished the court challenges program, which provided minorities with the means to defend their rights in court. When we say “defend their rights” we must not forget that it is extremely expensive to go to court, so it was a way to help minorities.

Let us remember the facts about the court challenges program. Initially, this program was introduced by the Liberal government. After Brian Mulroney's Conservative government was elected, the program was cancelled, only to be reinstated by Jean Chrétien's government several years later. Then this program was once again abolished. By whom? It just so happens that it was by another Conservative government, in September 2006.

There are some myths to debunk. The court challenges program is very useful, as I mentioned earlier. In terms of official languages, it helped francophones outside Quebec. We must look further than that. This program also helps anglophones in Quebec, religious minorities, the disabled, women and all other minorities. I say “women” despite the fact that women in Canada are not a minority, but a majority. But this is still the reality. This was what the court challenges program was for.

We can see the benefits of this program for all minorities across Canada. Under the court challenges program, several groups were able to defend their language rights with respect to their schools or hospitals, or to obtain French-language services. This has allowed many communities and many families to obtain services in French. This has also helped many young people in various communities, often rural ones, to receive services in French. Previously, it was difficult to obtain them because governments—federal and provincial—did not take the issue seriously and decided that they would not provide services to the minority, even though this is a right in our country. The court challenges program was definitely a useful tool and should definitely be reinstated.

We have the example of French-language schools in the regions and ensuring that services are offered in both official languages. There is also the example of Montfort hospital, located in Ottawa, which would not have survived had the court challenges program not been available, as is the case today. The reality is that people need such a program to assert their rights. It is not so much about respect for the law as it is about asserting one's rights.

The Conservative government has trampled people's rights. In addition, it is contravening the Official Languages Act. As you know, since Bill S-3 was passed in the 38th Parliament, the Official Languages Act has been amended. As it stands, the government must take positive action to ensure that official languages communities have the requisite tools to advance the cause of the French language in their community. By positive, we mean making progress. By eliminating the court challenges program, the Conservative government—

June 7th, 2007 / 9:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to speak in this adjournment debate because of a question I raised on May 15, 2007.

I had asked the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages some questions following certain events and decisions taken by the government. The questions had to do with the text panels filled with errors in French at Vimy, the appointment of a unilingual English ombudsman for victims of crime, and the elimination of compulsory bilingualism for the senior ranks of the army. On those issues, we wanted to know what the Prime Minister or the minister had to say to the Commissioner of Official Languages regarding the way the Conservative government is trampling the rights of linguistic minorities. The situation is not getting any better in that regard, especially considering the court challenges program.

Today in the Standing Committee on Official Languages we had the pleasure of receiving the Commissioner of Official Languages. He told us that the Conservative government is absolutely not obeying former Bill S-3, which was passed during the last Parliament and implemented things and gave more teeth to the Official Languages Act, to section 7 among other things. Eliminating the court challenges program is another breach of the act.

The Prime Minister tells us that he wants to eliminate this program because his government will respect the Canadian Constitution and we will therefore no longer need the court challenges program. The Commissioner of Official Languages made it quite clear that we do indeed need this type of program. Furthermore, Mr. Matte, the chair of the court challenges program, and Gisèle Lalonde, who advocated for the Montfort Hospital thanks to this program, illustrated the need for this program.

The federal government cannot force a province, a school board or any agency in society that does not recognize or respect the Canadian Constitution. In Canada, some citizens have to pressure the government through the court in order to have their rights respected and the government shows up with a whole host of lawyers. These agencies do not have the money they need to deal with the expertise before them. The court challenges program is so very necessary.

In light of this situation, I want to know what my Conservative colleagues have to say to the Commissioner of Official Languages about their non-respect for the application of the Official Languages Act, with respect to the examples I have just given.

June 5th, 2007 / 10:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to raise a few points. Mr. Matte, you have just talked about Bill S-3. I was on the same committee during the last Parliament when we debated the bill. We wanted to do everything we could to get it adopted because we knew that if an election was called, it would die on the order paper, and francophone communities and minority communities would pay the price.

It is strange to see the government members of the committee on the other side of the table who have already voted to implement the positive measures contained in Bill S-3, but when it comes to implementing those measures... Everyone remembers the official languages commissioner talking about "window dressing". The fact remains that no real and concrete measures have been implemented. It basically all comes down to a big fat zero. Back home, we would say that it was "diddly squat", which is even less than zero. That's basically what we have with the present government in Ottawa.

I would like to have a clarification on the issue of costs, because I don't think it's been made clear enough. Some people think that the program costs billions of dollars. You said that the overall budget of the Court Challenges Program was approximately $2.8 million. What part of that amount goes to language rights? We're not talking about millions of dollars, are we?

June 5th, 2007 / 10:25 a.m.
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President, Court Challenges Program of Canada

Guy Matte

I believe that the words Mr. Godin has spoken and the way he expressed himself reflect the opinions of a vast number of Canadians about the Court Challenges Program.

We are extremely concerned by the elimination of this program, which has reduced the right to equality of francophones, linguistic minorities and Quebec's anglophones. However, the same Parliament, the same group which had adopted Bill S-3, said that not only would it participate in the development and the growth of official language communities, but that it would also adopt positive measures to ensure their development.

I really don't see how the elimination of the Court Challenges Program represents a positive measure.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Josée Verner Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, Bloc members would have been better to support Bill S-3 in the fall of 2005. I believe it is through this action that they could have shown French-speaking communities outside Quebec that they were willing to support them. Now, the member refers to claims dating back to 1993--

April 30th, 2007 / 6:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to everything my colleague had to say, and I would like to ask her one very specific question.

Under section 43 of the Official Languages Act, the Province of Quebec is excluded from the application of that Act. How, then, can you justify the right to court challenges for Quebec's anglophone minority, given that we are completely excluded from the application of the Official Languages Act? How can this program help minorities in Quebec when they are excluded from the Official Languages Act under the notwithstanding clause and section 43?

There is one other thing I would like to know. Your party voted against Bill S-3—against the promotion of French in the other provinces. Perhaps the court challenges program can help with social matters, but what can it do to help us linguistically? What good is it?

March 22nd, 2007 / 7 p.m.
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Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the House that, unlike the political party to which the hon. member for Gatineau belongs, we and the other members of this House voted in favour of Bill S-3 on official languages. Accordingly, the Bloc is in no position to be lecturing us. We will work to ensure that linguistic duality is just as strong in the Canadian armed forces as it is in other federal institutions.

February 28th, 2007 / 7:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the House that, unlike the political party to which the hon. member for Gatineau belongs, we and the other members on this side of the House voted to support Bill S-3, regarding official languages. As a result, we will not be taking any lessons from the Bloc Québécois. We are going to work to ensure that linguistic duality is just as strong in the Canadian armed forces as it is in other federal institutions.