I am pleased to speak to you this morning about the language rights support program, the LRSP.
As you know, the LRSP is the result of an out-of-court settlement after the abolition of the Programme de contestation judiciaire. The contribution agreement under which the LRSP functions is really based on the framework that was in the out-of-court settlement, with many more details. The contribution agreement is between Canadian Heritage and the University of Ottawa, and the funding is $1.5 million a year. The mandate of the LRSP is the clarification and the advancement of constitutional language rights.
The role of the University of Ottawa, as the managing institution, is basically to offer the LRSP human resources services, its financial department, and its IT department. It has a department of procurement and management of risk, and crisis management as well.
The expert panel of the LRSP, on the other hand, is appointed by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. The appointment is made from a list provided by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and from Quebec Community Groups Network, and other organizations across Canada. This appointment is nine members across Canada. Five of them are lawyers, and one of them is an expert in alternative dispute resolution, as well as four members from communities who are recognized within their communities; that's why they were on the list from the FCFA and QCGN in the first place.
The expert panel role, compared to that of the University of Ottawa, is all to do with funding. It makes the final decision on who gets funding and who applies to the program. Its role is very important as it's completely independent from the University of Ottawa, as well as from the government. It's impartial and independent. In all the six years that I have worked there, it has deliberated in all impartiality.
The component of information et promotion of the LRSP has evolved over the last six years. At the beginning, for the first couple of years, we did a lot of presentations across Canada. Even now, today, we make presentations during conferences, the AGM of our organization, etc. At the beginning we did a lot of consultations. We went around Canada, to all the regions, and we consulted with the organizations that worked with the francophone community or the anglophone community in Quebec. We analyzed their needs, not only to do with what information they needed for constitutional language rights but where they wanted to go towards advancing constitutional language rights.
As we progressed, the information and promotion component evolved. Now I would say that we do more collaborative projects with community organizations. As one example, the Acadian provincial association in New Brunswick came to us and said it was doing a campaign across the province to educate Acadians on their language rights, and asked if we would be interested. Of course we were. What we provide is our expertise, because a lot of the time these organizations don't have the legal expertise in language rights. We checked their stuff before it went on TV and radio, and we also provided funding.
Another example is the Canadian Teachers' Federation. It wants to check all the curricula all over Canada to see what the provinces have in their curricula to teach language rights, the vitality of communities of linguistic minorities, etc., in their classrooms. Basically, we've said yes to that project as well, of course. We do the study with them, we check for the validity of the project and the final document they provide. They use that document, which is basically a study of what's missing and what's good across the provinces when it comes to their curricula on language rights, and they go throughout the provinces and the governments and they tell them what they're doing well and make suggestions as to how they might improve. We've helped them with that project.
As I said, the information and promotion component has evolved over the years. We have a website that is very complete. You're welcome to visit it. It tells you all about our funding, as well as trying to say in simple and clear terms what our language rights are, as well as providing different ways of learning language rights for different learners, adult learners. In this component we provide $5,000 for impact studies. This goes through the expert panel, and it studies a new law, a new decision, and the impact of this new decision or new law on the communities and our language rights.
We basically have two other types of funding: ADR and legal remedy. The ADR is the alternate dispute resolution, so mediation, negotiation, etc. That's mandatory and was part of the out-of-court settlement. You have to do it before you can get funding for litigation. Conflict resolution as part of litigation is another component, but it's part of the litigation itself. The trial judge or the law in that province says it is mandatory that they do that ADR. We fund that as well. Each is separate, $25,920.
Exploratory study is really at the beginning when the individual or organization is not sure about their rights and they want to have legal advice, so we provide $5,000 for that. Their legal remedies are all the ones you see listed, and those are the different types of funding that we provide.
With respect to the eligibility criteria, for all our funding you need to be an individual or a group of individuals whose constitutional language rights may have been infringed, or a non-profit organization that has members who are individuals whose constitutional language rights could have been infringed.
All applications must concern constitutional language rights, obviously, because our mandate is the advancement and clarification of constitutional language rights.
For the legal remedies applications, you also need a test case. A test case is one that has never been decided in court, or it has been decided in court but you have different jurisdictions that are contradictory, or it has never been to the Supreme Court of Canada and it could be useful if it went to the Supreme Court of Canada. The staff and the analyst here provide a recommendation on the application as to whether it is a test case and whether it meets all the eligibility criteria. But it's really the expert panel that looks at these eligibility criteria and decides whether that application will receive funding or not.
The next slides are all graphs and they're pretty self-explanatory. The green line is the applications we've received and the red line is the applications we've funded. As you can see, we've gone up every year in the number of applications we've received, but our funding hasn't changed. That's why the red line is trying to keep up. Over the years, and we've been open since December 2009, we've refused 14 applications that were admissible, that did respond, that did meet our eligibility criteria, but because of lack of funding the expert panel had the hard choice of not funding those applications.
In this slide, the blue column is how much money applicants are asking for when they apply to us. The red line is how much we've approved. The green line is how much they actually spent. I'm only able to provide you the data for 51 completed files, because at the end of the file when they've done their case, we ask them to give us a financial report. In that financial report, they tell us what their actual cost was. I'm only able to give you the data for completed files, because I don't have that data on the other files.
I thought you may be interested in the next slide. It's the number of applications we funded per constitutional language rights field. Educational rights has always been the one where we receive the most applications, and that's what we fund the most. After that, it depends on the year, but mostly it's linguistic equality and rights to communications and services from the federal government and from the Government of New Brunswick.
The green line represents judiciary and legislative rights.
The next slide is per type of funding. Each colour is a year. It tells you the number of funded applications per type of funding that we provide every year. If you look at our last year, which just finished at the end of March, you will see that the impact studies and ADR were funded quite a bit.
The last one is about ADR files. These are the ones that are mandatory because it says so in our contribution agreement. That came from the out-of-court settlements before litigation. There are exceptions, but in most cases they have to do this before they can get litigation funding. The first column is how many applications we've received since we opened. We've received about 53 and we've funded about 39. Of those 39, about 18 are completed. Out of those 18, 10 went to trial; they came to us and applied for funding for a trial. About 4 of those 18 were completed because there was a partial or a complete resolution of the problem. That tells you how the ADR files are doing.
Thank you for your attention.
Hello and thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before the committee today.
I am currently assistant vice-president of equity, diversity, and human rights, at Laurentian University. Between May 2001 and June 2008, I was also executive director of the Court Challenges Program.
I understand you have already received a lot of information about the former program so I will give you my personal views on the program.
The Court Challenges Program was a superb and uniquely Canadian tool designed to make the justice system more accessible to the most vulnerable and underprivileged Canadians. In my opinion and that of many others, the program also strengthened Canadian democracy by allowing the most disadvantaged Canadians to participate in the process of clarifying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution.
Moreover, it was an inexpensive and very effective tool for government. Between 1994 and 2006, a number of important and influential cases were funded by the program and had a profound and positive impact on Canadian society. I am very pleased that the government has decided to reinstate the program, as set out in the budget.
The excellence of the program was recognized by various UN committees and by Ms. Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, during her visit to Canada. When she visited Winnipeg, in 2003, I believe, she noted that the federal government's support for this program demonstrated its commitment to giving the most disadvantaged members of our society better access to justice.
Those are my comments. I simply wanted to say that this uniquely Canadian program is a necessary and very valuable tool for our society.
Okay. Thank you. Lawyers get used to being interrupted by judges when we appear before court, so this is a bit of a friendlier environment, I imagine.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Prof. Faisal Bhabha: In the early to mid-2000s, I was a lawyer practising in a small human rights firm where about 20% of my work was funded by the court challenges program.
I speak today from a couple of perspectives, both as a lawyer who formerly worked for clients who benefited from the program, who otherwise might not have been able to bring their matters, but also now as a lawyer who is mostly an academic. I am a full-time academic. I still dabble in practice. I teach. I research on constitutional equality, statutory anti-discrimination, and issues of access to justice in the legal profession.
The court challenges program provided funding that enabled lawyers to do important work that would not otherwise be done. I'm speaking in the context of the section 15, or equality rights, portion of the program. It was quite properly subject to full and independent evaluation of its activities every five years, the last of which was carried out in 2004, when it was found to be meeting its objectives in a cost-effective manner. As a result, at that time its funding agreement was extended for another five years, which would have gone to 2009.
In fact in May 2006, when Canada appeared at the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights just months before the fateful cancellation of the program, Canada's written submission to the committee described the program as one of the measures adopted by the government to promote “the equality rights of historically disadvantaged groups”. That is, the government was highlighting the program on the world stage as something that we do proactively to advance equality.
There is no question that the court challenges program was critical to the advancement of equality rights in this country. It helped score key victories. It helped make the jurisprudence around section 15. It in fact has radiated to shape the content and character of the country. We're known internationally for many of the principles that came out of the court's interpretation and application of section 15. The program was good for equality in more ways than merely challenging laws and winning victories in court. It promoted legal engagement by groups historically marginalized, developed education opportunities for young lawyers like me and for many others I saw and have known through my professional activity, and helped develop communities. I'd like to speak about one particular example in which this became very evident.
In February 2005 the African Canadian Legal Clinic in Toronto convened a national consultation to discuss the issue of security certificates, which at the time was a pressing issue for many members of marginalized communities. The session brought together immigration lawyers, constitutional lawyers, law professors, representatives of the Canadian Arab and Muslim communities, various organizations, other equality rights-seeking groups, and political activists at large. It brought us all together. I was there as a relatively recent lawyer at the time.
The group shared information and knowledge and brainstormed strategies, including how best to support the case of the so-called Secret Trial 5. That was the security certificate trilogy that ultimately went to the Supreme Court in June 2006 and was decided in 2007.
By August 2005, a year before the case went to court, the groundwork had already been laid by the communities that were interested in the case. Several intervenors sought and were granted court challenges funding to appear, to make equality arguments in the case. Counsel for these intervenors took a lead role in mobilizing communities, engaging members of those communities, doing public events, educating the public on what was going on at the court, and bridging the distance between the bench and the public.
My firm got involved in representing a couple of those organizations. I had the opportunity as a young lawyer to work on a section 15 case, an equality case, which ultimately became an area of my expertise. This was at a critical point in history, just a few years after 9/11, when members of the Canadian Arab and Muslim community were very much finding themselves engaged with the law and with concerns around the application of law.
This case provided an opportunity for members of that community to be involved and engaged and to feel that their voices were going to be heard by the highest court. I can't overstate how important this is from a community development standpoint.
That's just one example, of a particular community that I was involved with, but I know this to be true across the board. I've spent a lot of my time in professional life working in disability rights activism, and I saw how the court challenges program mobilized the disability community across the country. Regardless of what your particular position was on a particular case, when you look at the overall impact of what the program did for communities and for members of those communities working with lawyers, it was constructive. It developed the law, it empowered members of disadvantaged communities, and it provided bridges between those who hold legal expertise and those who need vindication of legal rights.
I want to say a couple of things about what could be improved with the program.
I think the program was constrained in two significant ways. One was that it applied only to the federal jurisdiction. This was a major constraint, and not always a logical constraint. In fact, the issues that implicate equality concerns around disability benefits, social welfare schemes, education, and health all fall under provincial jurisdiction. It was extremely frustrating, as a lawyer, to work with clients and have to separate an individual's or a community's interests into what falls under federal jurisdiction versus under provincial jurisdiction. It just didn't make any sense. The interplay between the federal and provincial, as all of you know, isn't always as neat as our Constitution would like us to have it, especially in the lived experiences of those engaging with the law.
The second constraint was the limitation of viewing equality only the through the lens of section 15. Over the last 10 years, if you look at the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Canada, what we see is that equality is being pursued in many other areas of the charter, in particular section 7 and section 2. These are areas wherein fundamental rights are being advocated and in which equality is being used as a lens to interpret these other rights.
I would strongly urge any future program to not have overly restrictive terms of reference or rules around how to frame arguments. That can unduly restrict lawyers working with their clients from advancing what the mandate of the program should really be. I would thus urge you to think more broadly and flexibly about what equality arguments are likely going to look like, going forward, and would urge flexibility in that respect.
Thank you for your time.
I am an Acadian. I was born in New Brunswick and lived in Nova Scotia for five years. I have even lived in Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba. Now I live in Ontario. I have myself experienced the differences between the communities. Not only are there differences between francophones outside Quebec, but there are also differences between anglophones in Quebec and francophones outside Quebec, as you stated.
I was not very familiar with the experience of anglophones in Quebec before I started working for the LRSP. In the last six years, by meeting and consulting them, I have learned about the challenges they face. Let me give you an example of the different challenges that francophones face.
In Ontario, there is the French Languages Services Act, which is well implemented by the government. In New Brunswick, there are constitutional language rights that do not exist in other provinces. We can compare these two provinces with British Columbia and Alberta, where the francophone minority is smaller. The legislation is not as strong there and the government does not have the same will to implement laws in order to enable the communities to live in French.
In other words, there are many differences between the English-speaking provinces. That is why initiatives conducted in cooperation with partners are so important. They know their own experiences, and the initiatives we undertake for them reflect their needs.
The experience of anglophones in Quebec is completely different. The English language is not threatened there. The challenges are different but the community itself is threatened because anglophones are leaving Quebec. The approach is entirely different, and as a result, the assistance provided by the LRSP is very different. The francophones and anglophones take completely different approaches in asserting their constitutional language rights.
To answer your question, I would say that the challenges do indeed differ across the country.
Thank you, all, for really helpful presentations.
I'd like to start, please, with Professor Bhabha. I invite you to elaborate on those two excellent recommendations that you gave our committee.
If I could summarize, it seems the first was that you were concerned about the program, the CCP, being applied merely to federal jurisdiction. I think, for example, human rights tribunals in a particular jurisdiction in the era of the Internet quickly become known everywhere in the country and so one would expect that would prompt your recommendation. On the other hand, there's the raw federal-provincial politics that might explain why the federal government funding challenges of a particular province's laws may not be terribly attractive. I'd like you to elaborate on that.
The second observation was the limitation to section 15. I thought there you were absolutely right on the mark. I can think of so many cases where you start with section 15 because you have to, but then section 7 is what wins the day. That was the case in Carter, the physician-assisted dying case, where they abandoned the section 15 argument and went with section 7, as you know. Or there's the Gosselin case on homelessness, a critical issue in my community and elsewhere in Canada. It will be 7; it will be 15. It will be both. Maybe the court challenges program could get involved, but if it isn't framed under section 15 it can't get any funding.
I'd invite you, please, to elaborate on those two points, if you would.
Thank you, and thanks for what sounds like your supportive comments on those recommendations.
I understand from a political standpoint the reason for separating the jurisdictions, but I think if you take a purposive approach to the mandate of the program it simply doesn't make sense. Look at the charter as a piece of neither federal nor provincial legislation, but rather as a constitutional instrument that sits above all of the other laws in the country, whether they're passed by federal, provincial, or municipal law-making bodies. From the perspective of the people who are experiencing the law, it makes no difference where the jurisdiction to make that law or to change that law resides.
If the concern of the program is to promote the development of equality law generally, and to empower the communities that are experiencing vulnerability or inequality, then that jurisdictional distinction makes no sense. It seems, for reasons that I mentioned, that when you look at the areas of law that fall under provincial jurisdiction it makes even less sense to separate that out because the areas in which historically disadvantaged groups in Canadian society are most adversely affected is in those areas that fall under provincial legislation.
I would urge members of this committee, and the government in particular, to sidestep the political issue and focus on the purpose. If you're going to bring the program back, give it the teeth it deserves, and make it into something that will be a real instrument for a quality change in the country. It will be something that we can be proud of as a nation if that is indeed something the government wishes to stand behind.
I think you've made my point. Carter is the case that comes to mind most immediately. I attended the annual constitutional cases conference at Osgoode Hall Law School just last Friday, which is a premier event for scholars and practitioners to analyze the year's developments. Again this year, as we've heard over the last several years, section 7 is in a way becoming the new section 15. There are those who say that this is a horrible thing, and there are those who say that this is simply a reality.
I would ask my colleagues to please take their seats.
I am very pleased to welcome the witnesses appearing today.
We will hear from representatives of the federation representing francophone and Acadian communities outside Quebec.
We also have the umbrella group that represents the English-speaking communities of the province of Quebec.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome Sylvia Martin-Laforge, who is director general of the Quebec Community Groups Network. Welcome to our former colleague, Marlene Jennings, who is a former member of Parliament for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, who is also testifying on behalf of the QCGN.
I am also very pleased to welcome Sylviane Lanthier, president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada, the FCFA, as well as Audrey LaBrie, its vice-president.
You have the floor, Ms. Jennings.
Good morning, Mr. Housefather, Mr. Falk, Mr. Rankin, and members of the justice committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Government of Canada's intention to reinstate the court challenges program.
I am Marlene Jennings, as Mr. Housefather has stated. I'm here today representing the Quebec Community Groups Network and Canada's English linguistic minority communities, which we refer to collectively as the English-speaking community of Quebec. Joining me is QCGN's director general or executive director, Sylvia Martin-Laforge.
The Quebec Community Groups Network, or QCGN, is a not-for-profit representative organization that acts as a centre of evidence-based expertise and collective action on the strategic issues affecting our communities across Quebec. QCGN's 48 members are also not-for-profit community groups, most of whom provide direct services to members of our communities across Quebec. Some QCGN members work regionally, providing regionally based services. Others work across Quebec in specific sectors such as health and arts and culture.
English-speaking Quebec is Canada's largest official language minority community, with just over one million citizens in Quebec whose first official language spoken is English. We would like to acknowledge the leadership of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, FCFA, over the past decade. It did so first by fighting to ensure support was available to assist Canadians and protect and advance their linguistic rights through the language rights support program when the court challenges program was defunded in 2006 and, second, by recently creating the study committee earlier this year, of which I was a member, to make recommendations to FCFA and QCGN related to the Government of Canada's pledge to reinstate the court challenges program. The QCGN stands in lockstep with FCFA on this matter. We have passed a resolution supporting the study committee's recommendations, most of which Madam Lanthier and Madam LaBrie will outline when they make their presentation.
Courts play a central part in protecting and advancing linguistic rights, a process that invariably pits governments against Canada's official language minorities. In our democratic system, even governments that aspire to govern on behalf of all citizens invariably express the will of the majority. Human rights, of which linguistic rights are a subset, are by definition restrictive on government action, a set of boundaries that protects individuals and minorities from the detrimental effects of state power. John Adams' “tyranny of the majority” can be and has in the past been prevented to some extent within our democratic tradition by ensuring that individuals and minorities have substantive equal access to justice to protect and advance their rights.
But without initiatives like the court challenges program, the scale of justice is tipped in the government's favour, since the resources available to government—money, lawyers, time, and power—are on its side. Our community, that is, the English-speaking minority community of Quebec, has a long association with the court challenges program, which was key in upholding and advancing the language rights of English-speaking Quebeckers, particularly in the 1980s when we fought for freedom of expression in the Ford case and began a continuing journey to secure our minority language educational rights under section 23 of the charter.
I must say we are very pleased that Eric Maldoff, a leading Canadian jurist and tireless defender of our community's language rights, will be appearing before you on April 21 to provide you with examples from his experience, and to talk with you about the serious linguistic rights issues that now face our community in Quebec.
Our study committee made its recommendations based on two principles: independence and sustainability. Our committee understood that equality rights are of real importance to Canadian society, but our committee also believed that language rights are fundamentally different from equality rights, and that the two streams within the court challenges program, once reinstated, should be made independent of each other.
The study committee also believed that the new program should be independent of government. It should exist through an act of Parliament, to which it would be accountable, and it should be independently governed by a consortium of official language partners, including Canada's English and French linguistic minority communities, leading law schools, and expert language rights jurists. That independence should shelter the program somewhat from the whims of the government of the day. In any event, it is irrational to expect a government to have a governance role in a program that exists to support court actions against that very same government.
Sustainability is also a key, as is having sufficient resources at hand to meet the needs. In addition to the public investment that will be referred to by the FCFA, the new program must have the ability to raise funds from private sources. We should be thinking in terms of a foundation proclaimed by act of Parliament rather than a government program.
This was not part of my official statement, but given that there was a question posed to the previous panel, and a statement was made that the English language in Quebec is not in danger, that in fact it's just the English-speaking community's future that is in danger, I would like to take a moment to address that, because that is the position we hear all the time. The English language in Quebec is not in danger, only the communities are. In fact, the English language in Quebec is definitely in danger. An essential element of a minority language community continuing to thrive is that community's ability to work in one's language, to receive the full range of public and non-public services in one's official minority language.
Let's just give one example: to be able to work in one's language. The largest employer in Quebec is the provincial government, followed by municipal governments. One per cent of Quebec's provincial public service is made up of English-speaking Quebeckers, under the 2015-16 stats. We also know, under Census Canada, that English-speaking Quebeckers make up over 13% of Quebec's population. That means once we educate our children in English, they have nowhere to go, virtually, to work, so they leave. The use of English in the public space has been severely restricted under language laws in Quebec. When that theory of “the English language in Quebec is not in danger” is promoted and accepted, that puts the vitality and the future of our community in even more danger.
I wanted to underscore that, so that you do not walk away with the view that was expressed earlier by representatives of the language rights program, that English in Quebec is not in danger. It is in danger. The federal government has a responsibility and a role to play in ensuring that those dangers are minimized.
I give you one example.
The federal public service in Quebec, as well as companies and organizations that are federally regulated, are required to permit the use of English in the workspace. When I was a member of Parliament, I personally saw private members' bills that came forward to have Bill 101 applied to all federally regulated companies and associations. That would have eliminated any possibility for members of the English-language community to actually live and work in English.
I will end my remarks there. Thank you.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to appear before you today.
My name is Sylviane Lanthier, president of the FCFA. With me today is our vice-president, Audrey LaBrie.
First of all, a few words about our organization and who we represent.
In 9 provinces and 3 territories, 2.6 million people have chosen to live in French. The vibrant and diverse francophone communities in every region of the country are the reason Canada can boast of genuine linguistic duality. The FCFA is the main voice of those communities and the people who belong to them, people who are determined to live their lives in French.
In recent decades, francophones in minority communities have had to turn to the courts several times to assert the language rights guaranteed to them under sections 16, 20 and 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was largely to support them that the Court Challenges Program, the CCP, was established in the 1980s. As you may know, the program had two components, one to protect language rights and the other to protect equality rights.
The CCP had a rather difficult history: its funding was eliminated in 1992, restored in 1993, only to be eliminated again in 2006. After the FCFA filed a petition for judicial review with the Federal Court, the government of the day created, in 2008, the language rights support program, commonly known as the LRSP. Simply put, our communities have not had access to the CCP for nearly 10 years to secure support for new language rights cases; we also cannot overlook the seven years during which the LRSP served this support role.
This is why, in the wake of the current government's commitment to reinstating the CCP, the FCFA board of directors decided last November to create an external committee to study the issue and to draft recommendations. For us, it was not simply a matter of choosing between two programs. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have an opportunity to thoroughly examine how support is provided to Canadians wishing to assert their language rights.
The committee was made up of outside parties familiar with both programs, although they were not directly associated with any ongoing cases or issues. It also included representatives of the Quebec Community Groups Network, to ensure that its work and recommendations would reflect a shared perspective of official language minority communities in Canada. Finally, Michel Bastarache, former Supreme Court justice, provided support to the committee. Both the CCP and the LRSP were notified of the creation of this committee.
The committee's mandate was to answer the following question: what would be the best way to uphold and promote the language rights of Canadians? The final report was submitted in February to the FCFA board, which broadly adopted the committee's recommendations. You have before you the resolution to that effect.
Without going into detail, I would like to highlight a few of the principles adopted by the committee and endorsed by the FCFA.
First, the sustainability and independence of the program are important. As I said earlier, the funding of the CCP was eliminated twice, and after the last time, nearly three years went by before Canadians wishing to assert their language rights could once again receive support.
That is why the creation of the enhanced program we are recommending should be based on federal legislation and therefore have a legal foundation. That is also why the government should support the enhanced program with a substantial initial endowment fund that would enable it to operate independently thereafter.
The second principle is that this enhanced program should be specifically devoted to language rights. Let me be very clear: the FCFA recognizes the importance of equality rights and fully supports the idea of a program dedicated to defending those rights. To put it simply, since the legal foundation of language rights differs from that of equality rights, we think two separate programs should be created.
Third, this enhanced program should be expanded to allow for redress under such legislation as the Official Languages Act or any other federal statute pertaining to language rights. Currently, the LRSP allows for recourse only pursuant to constitutional language rights.
Finally, given the significant growth in demand for the defence of language rights since the LRSP was established, the government's initial endowment fund should represent a significant increase in funding.
The FCFA is aware that the federal government announced in the March 22 budget that it would reinvest in the Court Challenges Program. We appreciate the government's gesture of support but maintain that the resolution we put before you today—which is the result of serious and extensive study—best reflects the needs and aspirations of official language minority communities.
Before, closing I would like to speak for a moment about Bill , which was introduced by MP François Choquette. This bill would amend the Supreme Court Act by making the ability to understand both official languages without the assistance of an interpreter an essential requirement for appointment to the highest court of the land.
As you surely know, Bill is the successor to two bills tabled in the last Parliament by Yvon Godin, the former member for Acadie-Bathurst. This has been a topic of discussion for nearly 10 years. At issue is essentially the right of members of the public to be heard and understood in the official language of their choice before the highest court of the land.
Quebec has Bill 101. It has its own charter of rights, and in the charter of rights there is a section that recognizes the existence of the English-speaking minority communities, and recognizes our right to continue to thrive.
I have to bring it back to what was stated by the previous panel; you have rights that governments adopt on paper, but lived experience does not always match up.
In terms of the signing issues, it's really not a major issue these days except primarily in one area, and that's in the area of health services. The issue of having equal access to health services and social services in the English language flares up again and again. There is a process that exists in Quebec to ensure that every single health establishment has a policy and a program to ensure that the clients they serve can receive their service in English.
There was recently a major health reform in Quebec that established new integrated health and social services centres, called “integrated university health and social services”. Existing establishments, rehab centres, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and so on, were regrouped by geographical territory. As a result, we are now in the process—if I take the island of Montreal for example—of redeveloping the process to establish the regional committee for Montreal for access to English services in health and social services program.
That's a whole process and I'm part of that process because I'm vice-president of the board of one of the largest CIUSSS. That's what we call them on the island of Montreal, and that CIUSSS is going to be responsible, under the law, for appointing the members to the regional access program committee, which will oversee all of that.
Yes, there are issues, and on that level the issues are being handled, and we hope that it will be successful.
Where we have an issue is with Bill 86, a new educational bill that completely reforms our structures and abolishes school boards, school board elections, and overhauls everything. Many constitutional experts believe that it violates section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the English-speaking community's constitutional guarantee to control and manage education. Given that our schools and school boards are the sole public institutions that our minority community continues to control and to manage, that would spell death. A court challenges program, reinstated and re-enhanced, would go a long way towards providing our communities with the necessary tools to contest that legislation if the government proceeds with it, adopts it at the National Assembly, and then begins to implement it.
Right now, nothing's happening because it hasn't been adopted. It's still before the National Assembly.
Have I answered your question?
Those were excellent questions and excellent answers.
My colleagues have been kind enough to let me be the questioner for the Liberals on this round because I am from an official language minority. I just wanted to add, in response to the QCGN response, that as a former mayor of a community in Quebec, I think there is a major distinction between the way the English-speaking communities in Quebec have issues versus francophone communities outside Quebec.
One example would be bilingual status. If you are not a municipality where the English-speaking community makes up the majority in Quebec, your municipality is banned, by law, from adopting bylaws in both languages. You're not able to work in English within the municipality. You're not able to send out bilingual communications. You're not allowed to erect bilingual signs. So even if English-speaking people are 45% of your community, the Quebec law bans you from putting up signs in both languages. Ontario has a very good law that sets a certain number.
I'm not sure but I think it's 5% or 10% of the population of Ontario, with a threshold of 5,000. In light of this, there really has to be bilingual status in Quebec. Bilingualism is prohibited if anglophones do not make up a majority in the community. This is very problematic.
On the question of signs, as they said, it's mostly government signs. A hospital that doesn't have a majority of English-speaking users is unable to put up bilingual signs, which has caused problems in many small English-speaking communities in the Gaspé peninsula and other parts of Quebec.
Personally, I am delighted that the FCFA and the QCGN have worked together on these recommendations. It's very important for all official language minority communities in Canada to work together. I also have some questions for you in that regard.
If I understand correctly, you would like the CCP to be expanded to apply not only to the language rights set out in the charter but indeed to all federal laws relating to language. Do you think we should allow provincial laws to be challenged under this program? Did a witness recommend that? Do you think we should expand its scope to include not only federal laws but also provincial laws that undermine language rights?
I would like to hear first from the FCFA and then from the QCGN.
There are two parts to your question.
First, you asked what kinds of laws we would like to see covered by the program. As things stand, I would say the programs pertain to constitutional rights only. That means the charter.
We would also like the Official Languages Act, which is quasi-constitutional, to be covered by the next program, since it is an extremely important statute for francophone and Acadian communities, and for all minority communities. This act provides the framework for the federal government's specific actions relating to language rights, services to the public, public servants' language rights, and support for official language communities.
Under part VII of the act for instance, the government is required to take positive measures to enhance the vitality of official language communities. What exactly do “positive measures” entail? Does the government do this systematically and at all times? How does it do this? These are important questions for us because this legislative tool gives us leverage to bear upon the government to take positive steps to support community development. We are therefore adamant and strongly recommend that the act be covered by the new program.
Other federal laws also impact language rights. Consider, for example, the Criminal Code or the Canada Revenue Agency Act. There are about twenty laws in all that impact language rights or concern matters affecting language rights. If all of these laws were covered by the next program, the program would then be able to review the federal government's whole legislative framework relating to language rights to ensure that these rights were respected and upheld.
The point that I was trying to make—and I may have made it badly, so I'll attempt again—is that the English language, as a language, is in danger in Quebec. Part of the reason for it is that, to flourish, language requires that the community, the members who hold that language, be able to conduct many of their daily human activities in their language. In Quebec, because of certain pieces of provincial legislation, members of the English-language community are unable to conduct a lot of their daily activities in English.
I gave the example of the labour force. The largest employer in Quebec is the provincial government. A little more than 13% of the Quebec population are members of the English-speaking minority community. Only 1% of the Quebec provincial public service are members of the English-speaking minority community.
If you, as members of Parliament, support and adopt either government legislation—which I don't believe would ever happen—or a private member's bill that stipulates that federally regulated companies and organizations located in Quebec are subject not to the Official Languages Act but instead to Quebec's provincial language, then you have just taken a whole chunk of the labour force where we will no longer be able to work in our language.
Right now, if you work for the federal government in a department, agency, or company that is federally regulated under the Official Languages Act, you have a right to work in English. That would no longer be the case. Then, what's the point? We educate our children. We hold dearly our schools, which are the only public institutions we now control. We no longer control our hospitals, which our communities raised monies for, established, built, and ran, and did so because our doctors and nurses, who were coming out of universities, were not able to find employment in those health institutions that at the time were largely run by religious orders. We created our own institutions. We created our own rehab centres. Gradually, under the modernization of the infrastructure in Quebec—and it's a good thing—those institutions were declared public and became, many of them, francophone institutions. A very few of the institutions were designated bilingual, and therefore you can continue to work there in English. You can provide the services to the clientele in English.
There is a psychological collective mindset in Quebec, which was largely justified, by the majority community for decades and decades and decades, and that was that their language in Quebec was in peril and the francophone culture in Quebec was in peril. In fact, it was a well justified fear at the time when, prior to the modernization of the Quebec state, virtually all of the levers of power were in the hands of members of the English-speaking minority communities. That is no longer the case. All of the levers are in the hands of the francophone majority. There is a demographer called Richard Bourhis, who specializes in doing scientific study, demographic studies of the English-speaking minority communities of Quebec.
Richard Bourhis has been stating that Quebec is in fact a secure dominant francophone majority and therefore should act as such, which means that the relationship with the English minority community should change inherently.
It's a long discussion. It's not something that we can discuss fully here, but it's something that I would urge the justice committee to ask the official languages committee to take a look at. They should be inviting Richard Bourhis to come and discuss his studies.
It varies from province to province. Our experience is very different from that of Anglo-Quebecers, who live in a single province. Francophone communities are spread out across the country outside Quebec. As a result, the situation can vary dramatically by province and territory.
Let me just say that some provinces provide more extensive services in French. There is just one province, New Brunswick, that is officially bilingual. The other provinces have French-language services acts, such as Ontario. Others have policies pertaining to French-language services, such as Manitoba and others. The availability of services in French and the way in which the province or territory offers them varies. The same is true at the municipal level. To my knowledge, three provinces currently have bilingual municipality associations or groups of municipalities that offer services in French, but they do not necessarily do so because they are required to by law. These provinces offer services in French because they have francophone communities and because they wish to offer services to them. I am referring to Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick. I do not have sufficiently detailed information to add anything further in this regard.
To return to what I said earlier, I would say that the main concern of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne at present is to identify what actions the federal government can take and, since it already has tools to enhance the vitality of official language communities, how it can use and apply them. I am referring to the Official Languages Act. It is not fully implemented but should be to ensure first that the federal government fulfills its own commitments across all provinces and territories. This is very important. In so doing, we believe that the federal government would also set the right tone and could then be an official languages champion and encourage the provinces to do more in this regard.
As to francophone communities, the conference of francophone ministers is held once per year to address a range of issues related to living in French across Canada, including Quebec. The federal, provincial, and territorial ministers review all the laws pertaining to French-language services in various provinces and discuss ways of improving them. The provinces compare notes and make slow progress. They do make progress, though, and actions can be taken. In this regard, the federal government has a key leadership role to play to ensure that the provinces and territories continue to participate in this movement to promote linguistic duality right across the country.
Such promotion could enable the 2.6 million people who want to live their lives in French in Canada to do so, and to have the space to do it in as many sectors as possible. This also includes education, health services, economic development, cultural life, and so forth.