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Commissioner wants French services available everywhere in Ontario

TORONTO – Ontario’s French language commissioner says francophones should be able to get government services anywhere in the province, not just in 26 designated regions.

The Ontario French Language Services Act is 30 years old, and commissioner Francois Boileau says it’s time to update the legislation and expand its reach.

Currently, the Ontario government and designated agencies must provide services in French in communities with 5,000 or more francophones or in areas where francophones make up more than 10 per cent of the population.

But the government can simply designate an area where it will be required to provide services in French even if the numbers don’t warrant.

Boileau says it makes sense to make Ontario one large designated area for the provision of government services in French, and he wants them to be “active offers” so people don’t have to ask to be served in French.

The designation of the entire province would not be the same as declaring Ontario officially bilingual like New Brunswick.

The commissioner also called on Ontario politicians to make online posts in both official languages, not just in English.

“Provincial ministries and agencies are using the web, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and so on to get their message out quickly,” said Boileau. “Yet social media are also a form of direct communication with citizens, and all communications from ministries and agencies should be initiated in both official languages.”

Ontario updated the definition of francophones under the act in 2009, but Boileau says it should be updated periodically through regulations.

“We need to consider whether the time has come to review the definition to ensure that it is sufficiently inclusive,” he said.

Ontario defines francophones as: “persons whose mother tongue is French, plus those whose mother tongue is neither French nor English but have a particular knowledge of French as an official language and use French at home.”