Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Hello, parliamentary secretary and members of the committee.
Thank you for this invitation to appear as part of your study. You should have received a written version of our presentation in French and English; it is nine pages long, including two short appendices. As good lawyers, we will not read it, but will instead add further points. You may, however, refer to those documents if you are more visual or are looking for more specific legal answers to certain points.
If I may, Mr. Chair, I will say a few words and then give the floor to my colleague, Mr. Marc-André Roy.
Let me begin with a few words about our topic.
We are lawyers and do a lot of work in education law. We do a lot of work with French-language school boards or boards of education outside Quebec, which every day use the kind of census data collected by Statistics Canada. We have a lot of practical experience with the major frustrations and great limitations resulting from census data at this time. For example, we took part in a trial that lasted 240 days. It was hellish. I hope I never have to go through that again.
We spent 240 days in British Columbia during which much of the expert discussion, which lasted for weeks, involved demonstrating the effect of not collecting certain data in the census. On behalf of school board lawyers across Canada who do that kind of work, and even on behalf of those who represent governments, thank you for your attention to this topic. We hope you will be able to make recommendations that will enable Statistics Canada and the responsible minister, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, to settle this matter once and for all.
To be clear, the communities essentially want two things. First, they would like all rights-holders to be counted, not just those in one category, but in the two other categories as well. Secondly, they would like better data on the linguistic vitality of communities to be collected. This is especially important in view of the announcement by the Treasury Board President, Mr. Brison, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Ms. Joly, about the review of the regulations on the provision of federal government services in French and English. Whether your work pertains to the application of either section 23 or section 20, it is very important, in my opinion.
I have reviewed the testimony of all the witnesses you have heard. In my opinion, Mr. Landry essentially suggested the structure of a report. The ACFA has already explained what official language minority communities would do with Statistics Canada data. Mr. Jean-Pierre Corbeil stated that it is not too late to act and that the timing is good. Mr. Corbeil also pointed out that the federal cabinet has the power to make such decisions. Statistics Canada is certainly responsible for this file, but ultimately it is up to the government to decide. I would simply draw your attention to that fact.
In the little time I have left, I would like to talk about the four reasons Mr. Corbeil cited for not changing the census or at least not doing so right away. To be clear, I do not consider these reasons to be significant. I will tackle them one by one.
First, Mr. Corbeil stated that 11 questions would have to be added. I am not a statistician and I do not have a doctorate in the field. I would simply point out that Mr. Landry told you right after Mr. Corbeil's presentation that that would not be necessary and that most of the data could be ascertained through a very few questions.
Next Thursday, the ACFA and the Fédération des conseils scolaires francophones de l'Alberta will be providing your committee with an 80-page report co-signed by Rodrigue Landry. The report highlights some questions that need to be asked.
Mr. Corbeil’s comments to you were just to scare you off. They are certainly no reason to fail to act. Mr. Corbeil also said that it would cost a little more. Really, is that true? The Government of Canada is going to conduct a census anyway and, in a five-year cost, we are talking about adding some questions.
However, even if it were true, part VII of the Official Languages Act requires the government to spend funds when it helps official language minority communities and when it is seen as a truly positive measure for them. It is not too late for the parliamentary secretary to include those costs in the next roadmap, if it really is a significant expense. Again, in my view, what was said was just to scare you off.
Here is the third reason Mr. Corbeil gave for failing to comply with the requests from the communities. Mr. Corbeil suggests that the provinces might perhaps be able to collect reliable data themselves. We will consult the communities anyway—those are Mr. Corbeil’s words—but let’s see that comes up with.
Process matters, but results matter even more.
We do not just want to be consulted; we want the census to ask genuine questions that will provide genuine data.
Moreover, we are hearing a lot, especially these days, about cooperative federalism. That means that the federal government must listen when the provinces ask for something. If you take the document that I have provided to you and look at the next –to-last page, you will see a one-page letter. This is not rocket science. Look at the letterhead. In the clearest way possible, the Government of British Columbia is not asking the Hon. Navdeep Bains if it is possible to have a post-census survey or to collect more data in our schools. The second line of the first paragraph reads as follows:
“requesting the Canadian Census be modified”.
The second paragraph reads as follows:
I write to you in support of the CSF. The Ministry of Education supports the CSF's request for receiving complete and reliable data regarding the three categories of minority language education rights holders under section 23 of the Charter...
I am quoting the important words.
...and agrees that the efficient way to access this information is through the Statistics Canada census.
The third most populous province in the federation is asking the Government of Canada to modify the census. For Statistics Canada to say that the provinces may possibly be able to look after it is not an acceptable response. Let’s stop messing around; let’s modify the census!
I now come to my fourth and final point, Mr. Chair. When he appeared here, these are the words I heard Mr. Corbeil say:
… but when people say that Statistics Canada only counts a small part or only 50% of rights holders, I would like to know how they measure or come up with that percentage.
In other words, Mr. Corbeil is asking if there is actually a problem. It is like he is asking us “to prove a negative”.
We have no statistics on the two other categories of rights holders. Thirty-five years after the charter came into effect, that is a serious problem.
If that is not enough to convince you, listen to this. Messrs. Samson, Lefebvre, Arseneault and Vandal know exactly what I am talking about. The vast majority of francophone rights holders arriving at French-language daycares need to be made more francophone. They come to class and they have every right to do so, but the language first learned and still understood is English. So they have to be made into francophones. The educators in the room can tell you that it works.
But a problem remains. When those children become adults and fill in the census, they indicate that French is not the first language they learned. So the census does not count them. To us, they are rights holders under paragraph 23(1)(b). When judges tell us that there are fewer and fewer francophones, when Mr. Corbeil tells us that a few rights holders are being counted, we are seeing that, of all the categories, we are counting the one of least significance. The rights holders under paragraph 23(1)(b) are not being enumerated. I know, because in the case of British Columbia, without exception, English is the language first learned for almost all the children coming to daycare all over the province.
The same thing happens in North Bay, the same thing happens in Sudbury, the same thing happens almost everywhere in Manitoba, and certainly in Nova Scotia, as Mr. Samson knows full well. It even happens here in Ottawa. That is a personal note, and I will not go into the details right now.
For heaven’s sake, can’t we count all the rights holders? At the moment, the situation we find ourselves in with the census data is ridiculous. I will end on this point.
When we ask Statistics Canada for special orders, counting the number of rights holders in places in British Columbia like Squamish, Pemberton, Sechelt and Whistler, we see that there are more francophone students in the schools than the census shows.
We might think that this is because of a generous admission policy. It might lead us to believe that non-rights holders are allowed to enrol. That is not the case, because the province of British Columbia prohibits non-rights holders in minority schools. So the statistics are useless. Can we please do something?