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French Language Services Commissioner has received 60 complaints against Laurentian

Commissioner’s annual report says office is conducting interviews and reviewing documents, with final report on LU forthcoming
2021 Alphonse Raymond Building Laurentian University Sized
(File)

Though the investigation into the cuts made to French-language programming at Laurentian University are ongoing, an update to the proceedings was included in the Ontario Ombudsman’s French Language Services Commissioner’s annual report, released on Dec. 7. 

As of Sept. 30, the office had received 60 complaints regarding Laurentian’s insolvency and subsequent restructuring.

The investigation is centring on questions related to whether or not Laurentian has met its obligations as a partially designated agency under the French-language services act, if the Ministry of Colleges and Universities met its obligations under the act during the financial restructuring of Laurentian, and whether the Ministry of Francophone Affairs fulfilled its obligations as administrator of the act during the restructuring. 

The investigation by French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke was announced June 16. 

On April 12, Laurentian announced it would cut 69 of its programs, including 28 French-language programs.

The Ontario Ombudsman’s office received complaints about the elimination of these programs, which raised questions, in their eyes, “about the fairness and transparency of the process that led to the cuts,” reads the report. 

There were many people in the community who felt that the cuts would profoundly affect their ability to be educated and to work in French in Northern Ontario. 

It was an investigation predicted by François Larocque, Canada Research Chair on Francophone rights and issues and professor at University of Ottawa, when he spoke to Sudbury.com in May. 

He spoke of Hôpital Montfort, a teaching hospital located in Ottawa that once faced the issues plaguing Laurentian right now. Coincidentally, the commissioners report was released on the 20th anniversary of the Ontario Court of Appeal releasing its decision in favour of the hospital. 

On February 24, 1997, The Ontario Health Services Restructuring Commission (HSRC) recommended the hospital be closed. 

The backlash from the Francophone community was swift. Protestors formed under the banner of SOS Montfort and took the government to court, suing under the French Languages Services Act.

The case was heard in front of the Ontario Divisional Court, awarded to the community, but then appealed and heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Dec. 7, 2001 saw the Francophone community win the appeal.

“They won because the Court of Appeal said the hospital is designated under the French Language Services Act,” said Larocque in May. “It was a mistake for the government to even attempt to restructure or cut the program to the hospital without considering what impact such cuts would have to an institution that is so vital to the Francophone community.”

You can read more about that here

The complaints against Laurentian University, under the French-Language Services Act, are much the same. 

“If the Act was able to save the Montfort hospital, in theory, it should also serve to protect the French language programming in Sudbury,” said Larocque. 

“But what's going on, on the ground, is that there's been a broken faith between Laurentian University leadership and the Francophone community. When the leadership filed its materials to the court under the bankruptcy restructuring rules, all these are public documents that are filed in court, they've made no effort to protect its bilingual mandate, or French language programming. No mention even of the French language Services Act.

“Basically, the Francophone community in Sudbury feels like they've been thrown under the bus by Laurentian,” Larocque said.

The report states that the investigation is ongoing, and the commissioner’s office has so far “conducted several interviews and reviewed a large number of documents related to this investigation.” 

The commissioner's findings and any necessary recommendations will be released “in the coming months,” once the investigation is completed. 

You can find the full report here.