Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 1 - Evidence - Meeting of October 3, 2011
OTTAWA, Monday, October 3, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5:06 p.m.
to study the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations
and directives made under it.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Official
Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput, from Manitoba, and I am the chair of this
To begin, I ask that members here today introduce themselves starting from my
left with the deputy chair.
Senator Champagne: Hello, I am from the province of Quebec.
Senator Mockler: From New Brunswick.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: From Quebec.
Senator Tardif: From Alberta.
The Chair: Thank you. In December 2010, the Office of the Commissioner
of Official Languages published the report of its audit of the delivery of
bilingual services to the public by Service Canada. The committee invited
Service Canada to appear to speak to this report last spring, but the meeting
could not be held.
On behalf of the committee, I want to thank the officials for agreeing to
postpone the meeting and to meet with us today to talk about the delivery of
bilingual services to the public, the commissioner's report and recent
developments at Service Canada.
Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Cheryl Fisher, Acting Assistant
Deputy Minister of the Citizen Service Branch, Service Canada, Julie
Lalonde-Goldenberg, Director General of the Interdepartmental Partnerships and
Service Offerings, and Anne Duguay, Director General of the Workplace
Effectiveness and Communities from the Human Resources Services Branch of Human
Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Hello ladies. I now invite Ms. Fisher to take the floor. Senators will follow
with some questions.
Cheryl Fisher, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Citizen Service Branch,
Service Canada: Good evening, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the status of the audit
report of the Commissioner of Official Languages on the delivery of bilingual
services to the public by Service Canada.
Allow me to introduce myself and my colleagues.
I am Cheryl Fisher, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister for Citizen Service in
Service Canada. I am joined this evening by my colleagues Anne Duguay, Director
General of Workplace Effectiveness and Communities Directorate; Julie
Lalonde-Goldenberg, Director General of Partnerships and Service Offerings. They
are both responsible for the management of the respective parts of the Official
Languages Act that fall under their sectors of responsibility.
Service Canada was created in 2005 to help Canadians get easier access to the
benefits and services they need and to improve the overall quality of service
they receive from the Government of Canada. That is why one of our department's
four strategic objectives is excellence in service to citizens. We cannot attain
this objective unless we offer our clients a service of equal quality in the
official language of their choice.
At Service Canada, we serve Canadians across the country in person, by
telephone and online on our Internet services. Last year, through our more than
600 points of service, we received more than 6.3 million visits and, through the
Service Canada call centre, we answered more than 58 million phone inquiries. We
had over 667 million online visits to servicecnada.gc.ca. In fact, we have more
than 1 million service transactions with clients every day.
We received with interest the audit report of the Commissioner of Official
Languages, and we agree with the recommendations in that report. In fact, we
have developed a comprehensive action plan, and we have already made strides in
implementing those recommendations.
Our Departmental Audit Committee, which we call the DAC, comprised of three
non-government appointees and the Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills
Development Canada, approved our action plan for implementing the commissioner's
recommendations last December. Every six months, the DAC reviews progress made
to ensure that all follow-ups are done in a timely manner. Oversight of our
implementation plan is rigorous and critical to ensuring service excellence in
both official languages.
In his audit report, the commissioner expressed his satisfaction with the
measures and timelines we proposed.
He also stated that senior management at HRSDC has shown leadership and
commitment in the area of linguistic duality and mentioned that he was
encouraged to see the progress we have made in the area of active offer. The
commissioner even said that:
Service Canada could become an official language role model for other
On that note, I would like to now give you an update on how we are doing in
implementing the commissioner's recommendations.
The audit boils down to a few key points. It encourages us to adopt a more
standardized and consistent approach across the national network in regard to
our capacity to deliver bilingual services, in the way we measure performance
and in the way we interact with official minority language communities.
As per recommendation one, on governance structure for official languages, we
developed a management framework that clearly defines our obligations. We are
finalizing a communications strategy to ensure that employees continue to be
aware of their legal obligations and of the tools and resources available to
We produced a video to raise employee awareness of active offer, which will
be available shortly on our intranet as part of the training modules on official
languages that we are developing. We have taken measures to ensure that a
network of official language coordinators is in place across the country to
reinforce our existing governance structure.
We have developed a three-year official languages action plan to address the
commissioner's recommendation two. The plan includes all the measures contained
in the audit report. It clearly defines the direction of our goals for official
With regard to recommendation three on policies and directives to support
official languages, we are in the process of developing a policy framework for
Part IV of the act. As a first step, we have reviewed our existing policies and
To date, we have a new directive on official languages obligations in
unilingual offices, which has been in effect since June 13, 2011. In unilingual
offices, we offer an on-the-spot telephone interpretation service in the
We are developing a directive on official languages' obligations in bilingual
offices, which will complement the current directive on active offer that has
been in effect since September 2008. In addition, we will also develop a policy
on the provision of services in both official languages, to be completed by
We also developed an enhanced online training module covering all aspects of
the Official Languages Act that will be available to all employees and mandatory
for those who are responsible for serving the public. These modules are
currently undergoing final testing. Launch is scheduled for this fall.
As per recommendation four, on management leadership, performance objectives
and targets reflecting the department's bilingual service obligations have been
included in the performance management agreements of executives and in the
performance and learning plans of managers and employees responsible for citizen
As per recommendation five, to ensure sufficient and adequate bilingual
capacity across the service delivery network, we are examining the current
complement of bilingual positions and assessing the appropriate standard. We
will then determine the most appropriate plan to ensure the right capacity to
meet our bilingual service delivery obligations. Our commitment is to reaffirm
that we have sufficient capacity to provide bilingual services at all times.
As per recommendation six on consultation, we established a structured
approach to consultations with official language minority communities regarding
service delivery. This will bring together, in a coordinated fashion, various
consultations occurring at the community, provincial and regional levels across
In July, Ms. Rallis and I met with the Fédération des communautés
francophones et acadienne, the FCFA, and the Quebec Community Groups Network,
the QCGN, to discuss the proposed official language minority community
engagement framework. They expressed support for our proposed approach. This
fall, the department will host an annual national dialogue session with national
official language minority community organizations.
Finally, we delivered on our commitments related to recommendation seven, on
monitoring client satisfaction by developing a performance measurement and
management framework, including performance indicators, which will be integrated
into next year's departmental management accountability framework and
As you can see, we take the recommendations of the audit report very
seriously and are well on the way to realizing the measures we undertook as part
of our response to the commissioner.
Thank you for the opportunity to report on our progress. I would now be
pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Senator Champagne: To see you here and know that there are some
problems is quite surprising because it was not so long ago that you were being
praised for the work you do at Service Canada.
All of sudden you are in turmoil because, for example, your office in
Chéticamp might lose its services in French, or because the anglophone
population in Quebec feels forgotten.
I would like you to explain how this shift happened when everything was going
so well and everyone was happy. All of sudden, you are being accused of all the
sins of Israel by both the francophone community of Nova Scotia and the
anglophone community of Quebec. Tell me how this happened and what you have done
to deal with these demands and problems.
Ms. Fisher: Thank you very much. First I would like to mention that it
is a challenge to meet the requirements of the Official Languages Act for
federal institutions that serve the public in both official languages, including
in places where bilingual services are required across the country. We take our
official language responsibilities under a structure of coordinated governance
I would like to reiterate that Service Canada is committed to the Official
Languages Act and the obligations that it imposes. We are committed to reflect
those obligations to citizens, to communities and to our employees.
There were three elements of activities that we undertook following the
discussions that occurred in March. One of the components was around the
delivery of bilingual services in unilingual offices.
That was to affirm our obligations.
What we did for the delivery of bilingual services in unilingual offices, we
have since implemented translation services in every unilingual office across
Canada. That is there to go above and beyond the obligations in the Official
The way it works is a citizen who presents themselves in a unilingual office
will first be greeted by our agent. If the person is requesting service in the
minority language, they are actively told by our employee that although this is
a unilingual office, if the employee feels comfortable speaking in the minority
language, the person is served in the minority language. The person may also be
offered a telephone interpretation service so that the person can receive the
service in the language of their choice.
We have also issued a directive to all of our offices across the country that
employees who feel comfortable in unilingual offices speaking in the minority
language are free, as a courtesy, to help the citizen in the language of the
citizen's choice. That has been made clear in the service delivery directives to
employees that we issued in June.
The second element is that we are doing some additional consultations with
the official language minority communities in Cheticamp and Petit de Grat. We
are committed to enhancing our services and improving our services at Service
Canada. The community offices are currently managed through a third party
private sector contractor who is responsible for delivering information services
and some pamphlets in those communities. Those offices are not able to offer
full services that citizens can receive in Service Canada centres.
Therefore, we proposed the transition to another type of service, a scheduled
outreach service, where we can send trained Service Canada officers to the
communities to provide full service. For example, in a community office, a
citizen would not be able to obtain a social insurance number or have access to
the trained resources of a Service Canada employee. With the new service option,
employees would travel to those communities and serve the citizens in the
language of their choice, in their minority language, and provide full service.
Senator Champagne: Your services are called ``mobile.''
Ms. Fisher: Mobile outreach sites, yes.
Senator Champagne: I was told that since April, 45 of your 50 offices
have been converted into mobile outreach sites. That does not happen overnight.
You then tell people to go to the Service Canada website, but not everyone has a
computer or knows how to access the site. In that case you suggest that they
call. You know as well as I do that phoning a government office is not always
possible. You are told to ``press 1,'' ``press 5,'' ``press 3.'' Not everyone
can navigate through that, even in the official language of their choice.
I would like to come back to that and I would also like to know who decides
whether an office will be unilingual or bilingual. I do not understand how a
place like Petit-de-Grat or Chéticamp can go from having a bilingual office to
having a unilingual English office, when there are so many francophones in that
region. Who decides whether it will be a unilingual office or a bilingual
office? What are the criteria for deciding who you will send to work in those
Ms. Fisher: The services are offered according to the needs of the
community and the Official Languages Act gives us the framework for deciding
what the requirements are for the community.
I will turn the floor over to my colleague, Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg, who can
explain how we make our decisions under the Official Languages Act for bilingual
Julie Lalonde-Goldenberg, Director General, Interdepartmental Partnerships
and Service Offerings, Citizen Service Branch, Service Canada: Thank you,
Ms. Fisher. We are talking about the strategy for converting community offices
into mobile outreach sites. As Ms. Fisher mentioned, this conversion was
proposed in order to improve services. At this stage, services in the community
offices are information services only. People who go to those offices are often
served by third parties who cannot make the transactions we do at our Service
A decision was made to propose this service conversion. These decisions are
made at a number of levels with the participation of a number of people. The
goal is always to have a better service. Our service strategy and our network
are very dynamic and there are many changes.
In this scenario, for the offices in the community centres that were in
designated bilingual regions, or bilingual offices, the plan is to replace them
with mobile bilingual services in the same region, not to close a bilingual
office and not offer a corresponding bilingual service.
The first phase has been implemented. In the second proposed phase, five
community offices are required under the act to offer bilingual services. Those
five offices are subject to consultations with the communities. There are three
in Alberta and consultations have been made with the Association
canadienne-française de l'Alberta. Service Canada employees have met with these
associations to explain the strategy and to make the point that this is a better
service. We are proposing to replace bilingual services with mobile bilingual
Senator Champagne: If I lived in Chéticamp or Petit-de-Grat, where
there had been a bilingual office for me to go to, and the time came for me to
apply for old age security, for instance, where would I go to find out when the
mobile service was passing through or whether I would have to drive 60, 75 or
100 kilometres to find the mobile service — which must move every day or it
would not be mobile? Where will it be tomorrow and the next day? That is what I
find extremely difficult.
Ms. Fisher: There is a strategy for letting the communities know where
the services are.
We partner with partners in the communities to offer these services on a
regularly scheduled basis, depending on the volumes and the needs of the
communities. This is typically once or twice a week or once or twice a month. It
is on a regularly scheduled basis. We often locate with community organizations
that are well known in these communities. The location of the Service Canada
office is available online, as you mentioned, but it is also available by
calling 1-800- O Canada.
Senator Champagne: Press 1, press 2, press 4.
Ms. Fisher: No. I wish to state that the 1-800-O Canada telephone is
answered by a live person every time. There is no integrated voice response on
that line. The phone is answered in bilingual format and people can feel very
comfortable that they will get a person at the other end of the line, and that
person will let them know when and where those services are available in their
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: My question relates to Senator Champagne's.
I read about a rather bizarre case in Nova Scotia. Employees were prohibited
from speaking French to clients who were requesting help in that language.
CBC reporters talked to Dean Snelling, an anglophone who lived in Switzerland
for 15 years. Since returning to Canada five years ago, he has been running a
seniors home in Nova Scotia. He had received pension documents from Switzerland
in French. He went to the Service Canada office in Kentville. He did not expect
to be served in French, but to his surprise, when he got there a francophone
employee told him that she could not help him. I will quote the woman, whose
French was very good:
Sorry, this is an English only office and I am not allowed to speak French
with you. It's the rule.
Mr. Snelling complained to Service Canada, who did not want to follow up with
him because it was protecting the employee and not disclosing her name.
I would like to know whether you have a policy in place whereby in a certain
region the office absolutely must be unilingual English and francophones have to
use the phone? I find this a bit odd. I do not think this is a sign of progress.
I think it is a step backward.
I would like your opinion on this and then I have another quick question for
you after that.
Ms. Fisher: I wish to reiterate that Service Canada is committed to
implementing the Official Languages Act and respecting its obligations. In the
case of unilingual offices, we feel that we are going above and beyond our
Currently, in a unilingual Service Canada centre, if a person comes in
requesting service in French, in the minority language, we have reiterated with
all of our employees —
But when one of our employees feels comfortable using the second language, a
francophone in your example. . .
We encourage them to serve the client in the other official language — in
French in this case. We do let the citizen know that it is a unilingual office,
but if the employee is comfortable serving in the other language, we absolutely
permit and encourage that.
That is a directive, a service directive to all of our employees across the
country. It applies in all unilingual offices.
If a client encounters an employee who does not speak the second or minority
language, we have clear procedures that allow them to engage a telephone
interpretation. It is an instant telephone interpretation service now available
also in all of our unilingual offices.
There are two avenues to serve that citizen. Both of them would give language
of choice to the citizen. That service has been implemented across the country
and is being followed.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you.
Service Canada is planning to close or reorganize some of its community
offices. Has an impact study of the official language communities been done and,
if so, was it done before the announcement of the closures?
Also, have you consulted the official language communities affected by the
announced office closures?
Ms. Fisher: When we look at our service delivery network, it is very
dynamic, changing all the time. We make every effort to ensure we engage with
all of the stakeholders in communities when we are updating, modernizing our
network and making changes.
You asked about the impact study. There was no impact study done in terms of
the transition to a scheduled outreach for these communities. Right now we are
at the stage where we are consulting the official language minority communities
and the stakeholders, the community groups that are engaged in the service, and
we are getting their views. We are ensuring that we have the best suitable
options and suitable solutions to meet the needs of the communities. That is our
focus, is engaging in a coordinated and structured way so that they have input
into the service that is available and the best options for them.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: You have not done an impact study, as such?
You are holding consultations with people who are to be served in both official
languages, but no impact study has been done.
Ms. Fisher: No, not yet. No.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for being here today.
Ms. Fisher, you indicate in your report that you hire third parties for some
of the contracts in your offices. What measures are in place to ensure that the
third parties you hire comply with the Official Languages Act and the
obligations under it?
Ms. Fisher: I will have my colleague Julie Lalonde-Goldenberg explain
our requirements. Thank you.
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: Service Canada is indeed committed to meeting
its obligations under the act. Nothing changes when services are delivered by a
third party. When services are delivered by a third party, the department
ensures that there are contractual commitments included in the service contract,
as well as provisions to ensure that these obligations are met.
In some service delivery situations, the obligations do not apply, but when
third parties supply service delivery for us, we always ensure that the
legislative obligations are applied and met under contract.
Senator Tardif: Two things stand out in your response. Is there a
language clause in the contracts signed with these third parties?
When you say you proceeded to transfer the responsibilities, what does that
mean exactly? Can you give us an example of what that would imply in certain
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: I am talking about a language clause in the
contract where the third party commits to respecting the obligations under the
Situations of transfer of responsibilities are situations that are not
related to the third party contractors, but are situations where a service is
transferred from federal to provincial.
If your question simply concerns the third parties, those who offer service
delivery, in those situations, when they offer service delivery for us, there
are always language provisions.
Senator Tardif: What percentage of your work would be assigned to
contractors who might transfer the contracts to someone else who would not be
responsible for respecting your obligations?
This would represent what percentage overall?
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: I cannot answer that question with any
Senator Tardif: Would it be 10, 25 or 50 per cent? Roughly what number
are we talking about?
Ms. Fisher: To clarify the question, you are asking what percentage of
our services is delivered by a third party.
Senator Tardif: Yes.
Ms. Fisher: At Service Canada?
Senator Tardif: Yes, please.
Ms. Fisher: I do not have an immediate answer, but I might have some
figures that could determine the percentage. We have more than 600 service point
offices at Service Canada. Including third parties, there are roughly 633 across
the country, which includes 331 Service Canada centres, 274 mobile outreach
sites and 28 community offices that are third parties.
Senator Tardif: The community offices are the third parties?
Ms. Fisher: Yes, 28 of them. They usually have lower volumes, which
represent information volumes only. The other volumes, the mobile outreach sites
and the Service Canada centres, that provide much more comprehensive services
such as passports, pension applications, employment insurance claims, social
insurance numbers; a number of those services are not delivered by third
parties. That is why it is very difficult to give you an accurate number.
Senator Tardif: Would it be possible, I think you mentioned it, to
have a list of the third parties that offer services to the Canadian public on
behalf of Service Canada?
Ms. Fisher: Yes, of course.
Senator Tardif: Perhaps you could send it to the committee.
Ms. Fisher: The list of the 28 community offices?
The Chair: Yes, you can have it sent to the clerk.
Senator Tardif: Have these 28 community offices been devolved to the
Ms. Fisher: No. The devolution is not to the provinces. The devolution
is the conversion to mobile outreach sites, which can offer even more services
that the public needs. It is truly an improvement.
Senator Tardif: If I understood correctly, Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg said
that there was compliance, that there were language clauses for third parties
that are responsible for delivering the information Service Canada has, but that
there were other third parties that were not bound by these obligations because
of the devolution?
Ms. Fisher: Excuse me. There are Service Canada information services
that are delivered by 28 third parties.
Senator Tardif: Yes.
Ms. Fisher: And among those 28, there are 5, that I will identify on
the list, that have an obligation to deliver these services in both official
Senator Tardif: And the other 23 are not required to do so?
Ms. Fisher: No, they are unilingual community offices. So, of the 28
offices, 23 are unilingual and 5 are bilingual.
Senator Tardif: Thank you, Ms. Fisher.
The Chair: And these unilingual offices were unilingual before and
still are? And the same thing for the bilingual offices?
Ms. Fisher: Yes.
The Chair: There has been no change as such?
Senator Poirier: Thank you for your presentation and I apologize for
my slight delay.
Given that New Brunswick is an officially bilingual province, is the
obligation of the Service Canada offices in New Brunswick different than in the
Ms. Fisher: I will ask Ms. Duguay to explain the requirements with
regard to the New Brunswick offices.
Anne Duguay, Director General, Workplace Effectiveness and Communities,
Human Resources Services Branch, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada:
Hello and thank you for the question.
In fact, there is a difference because New Brunswick is a designated
bilingual region for the purposes of language of work. That means that employees
in New Brunswick can work in the language of their choice.
Senator Poirier: My second question follows on Senator
Fortin-Duplessis' comments about Nova Scotia, which is not an officially
bilingual province, and the case of a person who went to an office in Kentville.
If I understood correctly, you said that even though this office is
unilingual, employees could speak the language of the client, if they were able
to. But you also said that these employees were to point out that the office is
unilingual. Why could they not just answer the client in their language? Why do
they have to indicate that it is a unilingual office?
Ms. Fisher: That is a good question. The reason employees are asked to
tell the clients that they can be served in the language of their choice, since
the employees are comfortable using both languages, is in the event that one of
the clients has to return to the office, we want them to know that every
employee in that office can offer services in both languages. It is done as a
courtesy to the client.
We tell the citizen that telephone interpretation service is always
available. However, if they wish to speak to someone in a bilingual office, we
will tell them the location of the nearest bilingual office where they can be
served, and that is consistent with our obligations.
Senator Poirier: I understand what you are saying; I just do not see
the purpose. If I go into an office and someone is speaking to me in English,
and I can respond in English, I will respond. If they are speaking to me in
French and I can respond in French, I will respond in French. Personally, I do
not feel that that is setting up an expectation for the next time I go. In any
event, I respect your explanation.
Ms. Fisher: Can I turn the floor over to Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg for
The Chair: Yes, Ms. Fisher.
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: Indeed, as Ms. Fisher said, we want to manage
expectations. However, as indicated in the act, it is important to ensure that
in the offices where we must serve clients in both official languages, that the
employees indeed have the capacity to do so.
The language profiles for the officers, the positions for the officers in the
unilingual offices will not be bilingual. When we hire employees in unilingual
offices, we are not looking for people who are competent in both languages, who
have been tested and so on.
It could be that during a transaction at one of the unilingual offices, the
clerk is able to welcome you and process your case in French, but when faced
with a more complex situation in a file, might not have the skills to provide a
service of equal quality. It is important to say so at the beginning of the
transaction, for the person to say that serving us in French exceeds his or her
ability and that he or she would like to refer you to a bilingual officer.
It is bureaucratic in a way, but it is a rule. It is important to offer
bilingual services of equal quality. It is an obligation under the legislation
Senator Champagne: You say that you recruit unilingual people and
bilingual people. Do you recruit any unilingual francophones?
Ms. Fisher: In our Quebec offices, we hire unilingual francophones.
Senator Champagne: Thank you.
Ms. Fisher: Allow me to clarify: I do not believe there are any
unilingual francophones outside Quebec, except perhaps in New Brunswick.
The Chair: Could you forward us that information? Are the rights of
anglophones in Quebec, given that English is the second official language,
respected in the offices where unilingual francophones are recruited? I am not
looking for an answer, but I would like you to look into it.
I have a complementary question to that of Senator Poirier with regard to the
offices in New Brunswick, the only designated bilingual province in Canada. If I
understand correctly, you told the senator that the offices are designated for
language of work. Does that not mean that it is the employee who has the right
to work in the official language of their choice?
Ms. Fisher: Yes.
The Chair: What happens in these offices in terms of communication and
services to the public? If they are designated in terms of language of work, are
they not also designated in terms of communication and service to the public?
Ms. Fisher: That is the question I am going to clarify.
The Chair: Very well. Thank you.
Senator De Bané: Madam Deputy Minister, you have clientele that
reaches you by Internet: 67 million. Another clientele reaches you by phone: 58
million. And a third group goes to your offices in person: 6.3 million. For the
first group, using the Internet, is there room for improvement or are all the
pages on the site in both languages?
Ms. Fisher: No content is published on our website unless it is in
both official languages and of equal quality. In terms of public access to the
services, we are always looking for ways to improve. However, our basic
principle is for the information to be distributed in both languages and of
equal quality across the country.
Senator De Bané: Are you aware of any complaints from your anglophone
or francophone clientele with regard to the online service?
Ms. Fisher: My colleague has more details about any complaints, but I
would like to say that we have a rather high volume of traffic on the Web with a
million service transactions a day. Obviously we are going to receive some
complaints about our service.
We have different mechanisms for managing complaints, including filing
complaints with the Commissioner of Official Languages. We have a good
reputation and receive very few complaints.
Senator De Bané: I am talking about online services only.
Ms. Fisher: I will ask my colleague Julie Lalonde-Goldenberg.
Senator De Bané: Where do things stand, Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg, in
terms of complaints about the online services?
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: Out of 131 million transactions last year, we
received nine complaints about service delivery. Out of those nine complaints,
you want to know if there were any about the quality of bilingual services on
Senator De Bané: What types of complaints do people make about the
service? There are the 67 million who consult Service Canada online.
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: We have received very few complaints about the
online service. I cannot say whether it was one or two complaints, but they were
about the quality of French.
Senator De Bané: In that case you complain to the Translation Bureau
at Public Works?
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: No, to the Commissioner of Official Languages.
Senator De Bané: But who does the translation?
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: We do.
Senator De Bané: How many translators do you have?
Ms. Fisher: We hire people for our translation services and we have a
number of ways to deal with very short texts.
We have people who work for us; I am not sure how many, for rather short
texts. They translate directly from an original document into the other
language. For more complex texts, we turn to the private sector or to Public
Senator De Bané: My second question is on the telephone requests. I
have a cell phone that I take with me across the country. When I want to call my
cell phone provider's information service, I call them no matter where I am in
Canada. I presume that the office taking my call is somewhere in Vancouver or
Toronto or somewhere else. Then I ask to speak with an agent who speaks French.
Every time I call, I am instantly transferred to someone who speaks French.
I could be anywhere in the country. Where that office is, I do not know, but
I assume the majority of their clientele is English-speaking; but when I ask for
somebody who speaks French, I have it on the spot. Can you offer the same
service for the 58 million people who reach you by phone?
Ms. Fisher: Yes, we offer fully bilingual services. All of our
services are offered fully in English and in French.
Senator De Bané: Whoever phones Service Canada and says, ``I would
like to speak to someone who speaks English or French,'' there is no problem?
Ms. Fisher: That is no problem.
What we do have is, to avoid that person having to ask, if they are calling
for English to ask for French, or if they are calling French, to ask for English
— we have separate lines or separate telephone numbers to better serve
people. It is completely accessible in English and French.
Senator De Bané: Now for people who show up in person. Everyone in
Canada knows that if you want to live in Chicoutimi or Alma, you can expect that
the people there speak French. However, it is possible that an anglophone in
Arvida, for instance, might need services from Service Canada. Is there at least
one employee in the different offices who can respond in the other official
language, even if it is not a designated bilingual region? Everyone understands
that the city you move to will be predominantly French or English, but can there
not be at least one person in the group who could help out a member of the other
official language community? Do they instead say they will comply with the
legislation that says this and not that? What do you think Ms.
Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: In the unilingual offices we cannot guarantee
that there will be a bilingual officer. There are more than 600 service points
at Service Canada. In every unilingual office, there is a telephone service
people can use to get answers to their questions in the minority language. In
some cases, officers might refer the client to an office that offers bilingual
telephone services. We cannot guarantee that there is a bilingual officer in
every unilingual office, but there are a number of ways of serving people who
want service in a minority language in the unilingual offices.
Senator De Bané: Take French, for example. Some 86 per cent of
francophones whose mother tongue is French live in Quebec. How many bilingual
francophones or anglophones live outside Quebec? Imagine that 25 per cent of the
people who can speak French live outside Quebec. It is not just the 14 per cent
of francophones whose mother tongue is French, but there are also millions of
anglophones who are bilingual.
As far as I am concerned, in these 600 offices, having an employee who could
help out a unilingual person is not about the letter of the law, but the spirit
of the law. We have two official languages. That is the point that I, as a
member of this committee, respectfully wish to make.
Senator Mockler: I would like to join the other senators in thanking
you for being here today.
Roughly six months ago, we received a press release announcing that the
Atlantic region now had a unilingual English service office. Different
communications appeared. Is it indeed true that it is a unilingual English
Ms. Fisher: We have taken steps to clarify any confusion that may have
occurred. Service Canada did not designate the Atlantic as a unilingual region
for service delivery. Service Canada offices, including those that are in the
Atlantic, are designated bilingual offices according to the criteria in the
legislation, and New Brunswick is a bilingual region of work. Service Canada's
administrative organization does not in any way change that designation in the
Official Languages Act.
What is important is that for all of our employees who work in bilingual
positions in New Brunswick, they have the right to work and be supervised in the
language of their choice.
It is up to the employees who are in a bilingual position to work in the
language of their choice.
If I may, I will ask my colleague, Anne Duguay, to explain the situation at
Service Canada in the Atlantic administrative region. It is very different from
the New Brunswick region. She can explain a bit about the activities in that
Ms. Duguay: Thank you. I am happy to explain the situation. As Ms.
Fisher was saying, Service Canada must meet all of its obligations, whether that
means respecting service to the public or language of work of its employees.
Language of work for the designated bilingual regions is set out in law. We know
that New Brunswick is a designated bilingual region for the purposes of language
of work; therefore Service Canada employees have the right to work in the
language of their choice. That means having tools at their disposal in their
language, being able to attend meetings in the language of their choice and, for
employees in bilingual positions, being supervised in the language of their
Over the summer, in order to eliminate any confusion and to set things
straight, the Atlantic region confirmed its commitment to meeting all its
obligations, including to its employees. A conference was held during which
senior managers of the region talked about official language obligations and
Service Canada's commitment to meeting all its obligations.
What is more, language training is complete. I am pleased to say that every
employee in the 16 designated bilingual positions in the Atlantic region meet
the language requirements of their position. Every one of those officers is
bilingual. In the entire Atlantic region, there are 26 officer positions
including 16 that are designated bilingual and every officer meets the
It is interesting to note that the Atlantic region wants to go beyond its
obligations in terms of language of work. It has implemented a very robust
training plan in order to achieve its own goals, in other words to make 80 per
cent of its officers bilingual within the next 18 to 24 months.
It is truly a matter of exceeding obligations. We also talked about the
various awareness videos for managers. On our department's website, there is a
host of tools for managers to encourage them and help them create an environment
that is conducive to using both official languages. Of course this also applies
to managers in the Atlantic region.
The Chair: Thank you. You have another question, senator?
Senator Mockler: Yes, thank you. Ms. Fisher, you also say on page 10
of your brief that in July, you met with the Fédération des communautés
francophones et acadienne and the Quebec Community Groups Network to discuss the
department's proposed official language minority community engagement framework
and that they expressed support for the proposed approach.
Allow me, Madam Chair, to ask one last question on this: can you reassure us
and tell us that in Chéticamp and Petit-de-Grat, we have the same service, an
accelerated service or better?
Ms. Fisher: The Service Canada community offices are managed by a
third party contract, as we explained earlier. To improve access to citizen
services for the full range of Service Canada services, we are consulting the
communities on transitioning from the Service Canada community offices to a
scheduled outreach model that would bring the services into their communities on
a regularly scheduled basis.
We are in the process of consulting with stakeholders in the region to better
understand their needs, to better understand the situation of these communities.
We are holding consultations with the stakeholders in Chéticamp and also in
Petit-de-Grat, Nova Scotia, to better understand their needs and to move forward
with a conversion.
Those consultations are scheduled to start in mid-October, I believe on
October 18 and 19. Following those consultations, we will arrive at the most
suitable solutions to meet the service needs in those communities.
Senator Mockler: Let us assume that they want additional services.
Would you be open to that?
Ms. Fisher: We are going to hold consultations with the communities.
It is very important to have time for consultation and we are going to do that
before implementing any solutions.
Senator Mockler: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, senator. Ladies, it was a pleasure to welcome
you to the committee this afternoon. The committee will await the additional
information we asked you for and the clerk will ensure that the questions asked
and information requested are forwarded to the members.
On behalf of the committee, I want to thank you. I believe it is safe to say
that you show leadership and commitment. You also show that you want to make
progress and ensure better service. I thank you and wish you much success.
Honourable senators, we will adjourn for a few minutes while we go in camera.