Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Members of the committee, good afternoon. I am pleased to be with you today.
I am Denis Vinette, Vice-President of Travellers Branch. I am responsible, amongst other things, for the Agency’s Border Services Officers. I am here with Louise Youdale, Vice-President of the Human Resources Branch at the Canada Border Services Agency, who oversees the Official Language programme of the Agency.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share with you all that has been done by our Agency to provide services and information in both official languages, despite the ongoing pandemic and in respect of Canada’s Official Languages Act.
The CBSA takes its Official Languages obligations seriously—whether dealing with external clients or with its own employees. The most frequent ways we interact with the public are: in person at a point of entry, by telephone on our Border Information Service Line, and with visits to our website and on our social media channels.
As you all know, the pandemic required the Agency to implement a number of public health measures at the border, in a dynamic environment. It was, and still is, an evolving situation. However, I assure you that we have not compromised on providing services in both official languages. In fact, not only have we continued to embrace linguistic duality during the pandemic, but we have prioritized it to ensure that essential public health measures were well understood by Canadians and travellers alike.
The CBSA is committed to offering travellers services of equal quality in the official language of their choice at all ports of entry designated as bilingual. At our ports of entry, services, signage and information material are provided according to the Official Languages rules for that region and where there is a significant demand from the official language minority communities.
Should a situation arise where a language barrier exists, the CBSA officer handling the situation will either switch languages, ask another officer who speaks the language to engage, or contact an interpreter. In fact, in a 2020 public opinion research study by Ipsos, 98 percent of respondents who had interactions with a border services officer said it took place in the official language of their choice.
The CBSA considers that it has consistently provided service of equal quality when travellers arrive at a bilingual port of entry. Every traveller is greeted in the official language of their choice. Every traveller is served by an officer with the required language skills. Every traveller receives all documentation in the official language of their choice.
The CBSA's shift scheduling system includes the ability to identify the linguistic profile of employees in order to prioritize the scheduling of bilingual officers at a port of entry when required. The technology in use at ports of entry is available in both official languages. Our primary inspection kiosk can be used by travellers in either English or French.
People seeking information from the CBSA are also welcome to contact us by phone. Our business information service line provides information on CBSA programs, services and initiatives. There's an automated telephone service that provides recorded information in both French and English. In addition, live agents are available during business hours to answer questions in either official language.
Even before the pandemic started, visits to our websites were trending up to become the main way that information is shared with the public. Our statistics tell us that we had more than a million visits to our web pages between June and December 2020. We ensure that all information is available in both official languages at the same time and that the linguistic quality of our text is of the highest standards.
In fact, all content produced for our social media, our websites and applications is always available in both of Canada's official languages from the moment it is made public. During the pandemic, signage at our ports of entry has been bilingual from the start. All brochures shared with the travelling public have also been available in both official languages from the onset of the pandemic.
I know I have focused so far on the services we provide to our clients, but rest assured that our internal practices are equally as important. All internal correspondence to our employees is available in both English and French. Our intranet, messages and bulletins are available in both languages—again, at the same time.
That said, we can always improve our external and internal practices, and more can be done in support of Canada's official languages.
We know the concerns of the Commissioner of Official Languages with regard to the CBSA in his 2019 audit report. The commissioner mentioned recruitment, mechanisms to assess bilingual service delivery, and challenges in building and maintaining relationships with official-language minority communities.
To respond, the CBSA has developed a comprehensive action plan to increase bilingual capacity. By September 2021, tools and reference documents will be developed for managers, and workshops will be provided on bilingual meetings. By February 2022, we will have updated our active-offer training and relaunched it online so that CBSA officers can proactively offer quality service to the public in both official languages. We also expect to establish a national advisory committee for official languages composed of regional and branch ambassadors.
Finally, I want to assure you that all allegations or complaints regarding official languages are always taken very seriously and are thoroughly investigated and acted upon accordingly.
In closing, let me assure you again that the Canada Border Services Agency is fully committed to the Official Languages Act.
We would be happy to provide more details and answer the committee's questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.