ARCHIVED - Ombudsman Concerned that Significant Official Languages Issues Still Unresolved

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August 7, 2008

Mr. Graham Fraser
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
344 Slater Street, 3rd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0T8


Dear Commissioner Fraser,

In November 2006, the former Ombudsman conducted an outreach visit to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden. During his visit, a number of Francophone students raised serious concerns regarding the difficulties that they were experiencing in accessing instruction and services in their first official language.

These concerns were brought to the attention of the Chief of the Defence Staff on January 8, 2007, and immediate short-term action was requested to correct what was clearly a fundamental unfairness. Specifically, improvements were sought in the overall awareness of linguistic rights, the establishment of a complaint mechanism, the provision of adequate bilingual staff to ensure services and training in both official languages, and access to second language instruction for personnel awaiting other training.

Ombudsman investigators were dispatched to CFB Borden on June 19-21, 2007, to confirm whether progress was being made. During this visit, our investigators determined that no concrete steps had, in fact, been taken, and that the situation was far worse and more widespread than previously understood.

In order to determine if the problems at CFB Borden were systematic of a broader, more widespread unfairness across the Canadian Forces, the former Ombudsman directed investigators to conduct assessments at the two other major Canadian Forces training establishments, CFB Gagetown and St-Jean Garrison, on December 3-7, 2007. At the same time, a second team of Ombudsman investigators was tasked with determining if progress was finally being made at CFB Borden. A second follow-up was conducted on January 28- February 1, 2008.

I understand that you and the former Ombudsman discussed our concerns and observations on a number of occasions in the past, as these problems fall within your legislated mandate to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act. The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to continue this exchange by providing you with our most recent observations. Specifically, there are two main areas of concern that we wish to bring to your attention: training and services.

Training: Our office has determined that many courses are not being provided to Francophone students at CFB Borden and CFB Gagetown. As a result of insufficient numbers of bilingual instructors, a lack of quality training material in French, and/or the availability of training, Francophone students have not had equal access to training opportunities, consequently delaying their career progression. Indeed, our visits to CFB Gagetown and CFB Borden indicate that there appears to be inequitable access to training in both official languages.

Services: We found that the services provided to Canadian Forces students, staff, and their families at CFB Gagetown, St-Jean Garrison and CFB Borden were generally not available in both official languages. Of particular concern to me are the following health and safety issues: the communication of food allergies, the conduct of fire drills, the commands provided on the firing ranges in both official languages at CFB Gagetown and St-Jean Garrison, and a lack of services in both official languages at the Pharmacy and the Military Police section at CFB Borden.

We have communicated our findings in greater detail to the Chief of the Defence Staff. I am enclosing a copy of this letter. I will ensure that your office is kept informed as to the timing of the public release of this information.

You will note in my letter to the Chief of the Defence Staff that I have advised the Department that I am now referring to your office the overall issue of accessibility to training and services in both official languages. However, my office continues to be concerned about these issues from the point of view of basic fairness, and we will continue to investigate any individual complaints we receive on these issues in accordance with our mandate.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to discuss them with you at your convenience.

Yours truly,

Mary McFadyen
Interim Ombudsman

Enclosure: Ombudsman Advises Chief of the Defence Staff of Intention to Refer Official Languages Issue to Commissioner

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