Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Official Languages

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 committee.

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 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 federal institutions.


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 support them.

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 languages.

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 directives.


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 minority language.

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 March 2012.

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 services.

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 the country.

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 performance report.


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 seriously.


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 Languages Act.

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 regions?

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 locations.

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 Canada offices.

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 services.

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 communities.


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 obligations.

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 situations?

Ms. Lalonde-Goldenberg: I am talking about a language clause in the contract where the third party commits to respecting the obligations under the act.

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 accuracy.

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 provinces?

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 languages.

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 other provinces?

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 clarification?

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 as well.

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 the Internet?

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 Works.

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. Lalonde-Goldenberg?

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 service?


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 region.

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 choice.

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 requirements.

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.

(The committee continued in camera.)