Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, first I want to thank you for having invited us to appear today, at an important moment for us.
A month has gone by since the FCFA unveiled a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act. We spent this month clarifying specific points in the document; meeting with parliamentarians and government representatives to speak to them about our proposal; discussing the changes we were putting forward; and following the conversations and debates created by our action.
We are proud of our work. It is the result of an effort that involved not only the FCFA and its member organizations, but also a variety of partner institutions, citizens and thinkers within our communities. Contributions came from everywhere. This includes the many comments gathered by your colleagues at the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, from young people and researchers, as well as those made to your committee. We also relied on the 45 years of existence of the FCFA, years during which we witnessed ups and downs in the respect afforded the Official Languages Act.
Some of the things we propose are, in fact, not new. The idea of creating an official language minority communities advisory committee already existed in 1980. That year, our organization signed an agreement with the Clark government to set up a joint committee. As for the idea of creating an official languages tribunal, the federation put that forward in 1988.
The FCFA is not the only one behind this bill. It truly is the result of the thinking done by the vital forces of the francophonie on this matter. It is the proposal put forward by our communities to modernize the act.
I want to thank you for the serious attention with which you received and studied this draft bill. I note that two suggestions, in particular—the designation of a central agency and the creation of an official languages tribunal—were thought about and debated at the meetings of this committee.
I will thus use the time I have today to discuss a topic that has not been debated as much, and that is Part VII and the obligation to take positive measures.
You are no doubt aware of the saga of the Alliance nationale de l'industrie musicale, one of our community's organizations, following a complaint tabled with the Official Languages Commissioner in 2013.
This complaint involved a breach of the CRTC's duty to inform our communities of the way they could be impacted by a decision involving the commission and SiriusXM. Five years later—an unreasonable delay —the commissioner found in favour of the Alliance and ruled that the CRTC had not respected the obligations set out in Part VII.
One year later, there was a dramatic twist. The Commissioner of Official Languages annulled his decision in a new report, and deemed the Alliance's complaint to be unfounded.
What happened between the two reports? A Federal Court ruling called into question a decade and a half of the interpretation of federal institutions' obligations to take positive measures to support the development of our communities.
Following this decision, the commissioner decided to change the way he investigated complaints on Part VII. This change means that it is now very difficult to have a complaint recognized as legitimate. No matter what we think of the commissioner's decision to change the way he investigates those complaints, the result remains the same. The Federal Court decision opened a giant gap in Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
Our draft bill fills the gap. The Federal Court ruled that the wording of section 41 did not specify the type of positive measures federal institutions should take. Our draft clarifies this wording by spelling out the obligation to take the necessary positive measures to enhance the vitality of our communities and support their development.
Section 43 of our draft bill suggests further structure for the duty some federal institutions have to take positive measures. These are, more specifically, departments that are more closely related to the development of our communities, like Canadian Heritage, Employment and Social Development Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and Statistics Canada.
The new Part Vll we are proposing also codifies the obligation, for federal institutions, to consult official language minority communities. It defines what effective consultations should look like. It describes how they should differ from the simple information sessions to which federal institutions invite us too often. Finally, it creates the official languages minority communities advisory council.
This particular provision merits that I focus on it briefly. The Official Languages Act, 1988, recognizes that the government has the responsibility to act to support the development of official languages minority communities, but the act is silent on how the communities are to participate in that commitment, since it is their development that is at stake. Until now, the law has not formally recognized an official government partner at the community level.
The creation of an advisory council would allow the communities to have their word to say in the implementation of federal institutions' language obligations. It would allow them to take part in the development of a five-year official languages plan and in the ten-year review of the act we are proposing. This council, made up of representatives of the various organizations that speak for the communities, but also of other citizens, would bring the act into the 21st century. In fact, it would include some very current approaches to the relations between the government and minorities.
My last point regarding the new Part Vll we are proposing concerns federal-provincial-territorial funds transfer agreements. The Federal Court decision I mentioned earlier involved a case where the Government of British Columbia had received federal funds for employment assistance and had used them in a way that was prejudicial to the francophone community.
This issue underscored the weakness of the language clauses in these funds transfer agreements. That is why our proposal suggests the inclusion, in any agreement of that type, of a binding language clause that will require two things from the provinces and territories: first, the allocation of funds specific to the needs of official language minority communities, and also consultations with those communities. Finally, those provisions would also require that responsibilities with respect to accountability be outlined.
I'd like to emphasize that these proposals echo what you have heard from various witnesses. Language clauses, clearly setting out the obligations of certain key departments, the duty to consult, the creation of an advisory council, have all been brought up previously before this committee.
Since we unveiled our draft bill, not a week goes by without events providing further proof of the crying need to modernize this law. The need is timely and there is a broad consensus on the issues. It's time to act.
You have before you the first comprehensive proposal in three decades for a complete, in-depth modernization of the Official Languages Act. As I said in the beginning of my presentation, this is not just a simple brief. It is a project that issues from all of our communities. It distills the thoughts of hundreds of groups, citizens, and researchers.
We respectfully recommend that this committee append this proposal in its entirety to the final report it will submit to Parliament.
Thank you for your attention.