Evidence of meeting #122 for Official Languages in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was language.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michel Doucet  As an Individual
Mona Fortier  Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.
Emmanuella Lambropoulos  Saint-Laurent, Lib.
Geoffrey Chambers  President, Quebec Community Groups Network
Stephen Thompson  Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network
Jean Rioux  Saint-Jean, Lib.

10:25 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Yes. I guess right now there's a dialogue going on between the federal government and the various provinces in which eight provinces are refusing to sign the new transfer agreements or haven't agreed to them yet, so those funds are being held up.

There are provincial minority language institutions or organizations saying “we're not getting our funds and it's terrible”, but in order to have a reasonable regime going forward, the dialogue that Minister Joly I think is undertaking right now is worthwhile. We commend it, but that should be a regular feature. That should be in the act, not just something that I think a good and diligent minister happens to be paying attention to right now but something that is always and legally a structural quality of the way the system works.

10:25 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

On the justice front, can you do pretty much everything in English in the justice system or are there many challenges there too?

10:25 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

Again, the justice system in the Province of Quebec has eroded.

For the last six years, I believe, there has been no training for bilingual court clerks, so the supply of bilingual court clerks is dwindling to the point where, as a practical matter, it's impossible to have a bilingual trial, and there is never going to be a unilingual trial because every participant has the individual right to use whatever language they want. Even if all the parties are English-speaking or all the parties are French-speaking, one person can turn up and testify or whatever, so you have to have a court system that can do that.

They are not translating judgments so judgments written in English are not available or are not used or don't become precedents on the French side, and vice versa.

They don't adopt laws in a bilingual format today. For the English version of any law that's amended at second reading, usually the bill is submitted in both languages, but any changes are only rédigés.... I'm sorry. I should try to stick to one language.

10:25 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

That's all right.

10:25 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

They are only drafted after the passage of the law, and often not very well, so there are real problems with a civil code correlation of the two statutes, and consequently there are real problems for judges.

I could go on. There are quite a few structural issues. We started with our example from the Supreme Court because that's a purely federal question and because it's very important symbolically, but structurally, below that, many issues could be raised.

10:25 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.

Mona Fortier

Thank you.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Mr. Rioux, you have the floor.

10:25 a.m.

Jean Rioux Saint-Jean, Lib.

Thank you for being with us.

There was a separatist party in power in Quebec that probably helped prevent the development of bilingualism in Canada as a whole. The francophone communities were forgotten. I think Quebec has just rediscovered Canada's 2.7 million francophiles.

Do you feel there's been a change in Quebec with regard to acceptance of the anglophone community? Do you think that the country could actually, not merely theoretically, become bilingual as a result of that acceptance.

10:30 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

That's a very important point. The challenge for us is to be accepted and to take part in community life in a way that enables the majority to consider us as full-fledged Quebecers.

We work very hard at that. I think we make good progress on that. As Madam Lambropoulos pointed out, it's not perfect yet.

English-speaking Quebeckers, for the most part, have decided to move there or have decided to stay there, and they have cousins, friends or classmates who decided that it wasn't worth it and are now living in Mississauga, which is a lovely place to live, but it's not Montreal.

That personal decision on the part of families and individuals reflects a commitment to all the qualities of Quebec culture. We haven't gotten to the point where the two solitudes are entirely in the past, but we're making enormous progress. I think that our relations with the francophones outside of Quebec, who have a similar challenge, help, moving forward, the sense of belonging that we're trying to establish.

10:30 a.m.

Saint-Jean, Lib.

Jean Rioux

Thank you.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Mr. Rioux.

Mr. Clarke, you have four minutes.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chambers and Mr. Thompson, thank you for being here.

Last spring, I read your memoir concerning your proposal for the modernization of the law. I thought it was very good and very comprehensive. You touch upon every aspect of the law.

I would like to know precisely this morning, in terms of making sure that people respect the law—we need to be able to enforce it sometimes—whether you would prefer to do an administrative tribunal or whether you would prefer that the commissioner have coercive powers.

Which option would you prefer?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

I think Mr. Doucet really outlined our thinking on this. I think that Mr. Johnson with the FCFA was also clear on this last week.

We've suggested an administrative tribunal in our brief. We aren't lawyers and we aren't experts on this. Our thinking is that this should be an administrative trial. We would like to see a Canadian human rights tribunal. We shied away from giving more powers to the commissioner because it didn't make sense to us to have a person who's investigating also have the power to punish. Maybe it would be better to have that taken out, just as a principle of law. Again, we're not lawyers, but as a legal principle....

The commissioner's role really is to promote and to have.... Former commissioner Graham Fraser was extremely eloquent in describing his ability to move around Ottawa and have quiet chats with deputy ministers. That's really difficult to do if you're the sheriff walking in with loaded six-guns.

What do we want the commissioner to do, remembering that the language rights support program had a role to educate and encourage official languages that the Court Challenges Program doesn't have? The only person in town who's performing that function right now is the commissioner. How much do you want to pile on the commissioner, and do you want those roles to conflict? That's why we're thinking about the tribunal.

10:30 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

The commissioner needs to be an active advocate and a promoter. Making him also, as Stephen says, the referee or the sheriff would trammel him.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

For sure, but is there anything you would like to see changed in the commissioner's office?

November 27th, 2018 / 10:30 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

We'd like to see the commissioner continue to receive reasonable resources and, in his complaint-receipt function, to have the tools in parts IV through VII that allow him to act on complaints received. As we know right now there's a problem with the clarity of his authority to do so, so we'd like all of that to be fixed and clarified.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

As a last quick question, would you prefer to see all the laws of governance under the auspices of the Treasury Board or the Privy Council?

10:35 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

We want to be slightly evasive on that point because it's a matter of government design, which we're not expert at. There seems to be some reservation about putting it with the Treasury Board, which is an enforcement device for the most part and not an advocacy device, although it does go across the whole government, so there's an argument for it.

The Privy Council, of course, goes across the whole government, but I understand that the trend in thinking is against giving it administrative responsibilities.

Whether it's handed to an entity that has strong administrative muscle but doesn't have penetration into all the departments that have to be influenced or that goes into all the departments that have to be influenced but is not going to care at all about the Official Languages Act and just has.... It's a difficult choice and frankly, we're going to throw the ball back to you. You're the experts. We'd like to see something that works. We're not able to define something from the outside that we're sure is perfect.

10:35 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

We would think that this committee certainly would have the aegis and that during this consultation and the minister's consultation, it would be really interesting to hear from a group of former clerks of the Privy Council—

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

That's right.

10:35 a.m.

Director, Government Relations, Policy and Research, Quebec Community Groups Network

Stephen Thompson

—and ask them this question. They're experts on how government runs, and it might help us find the way.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you.

Mr. Arseneault, you have four minutes.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

If possible, I'm going to share my time with Mr. Samson, from Nova Scotia.

Thanks for coming, Mr. Chambers and Mr. Thompson. It's always a pleasure to greet the QCGN here. Every time I see you guys or your different representatives who come here, it's like the mirror of all our challenges

in Acadie or in the francophonie outside Quebec.

This question may be an aside to this, but concerning language minorities, as you're aware, we've just reinstated the Court Challenges Program that was abolished by the Harper Conservative government. Is that a tool that QCGN has used in the past?

10:35 a.m.

President, Quebec Community Groups Network

Geoffrey Chambers

The English-speaking community used it right back to its inception, and it's often used in support of pan-national issues that we care about.

In an earlier life, I was the executive director of Alliance Quebec. We intervened in the Manitoba language rights case. I was in Manitoba and having Sterling Lyon say—

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

That was a long time ago.