January 19, 2017 12:49 pm
Updated: January 19, 2017 2:04 pm

Justin Trudeau’s French-only responses at town hall under investigation by commissioner

WATCH ABOVE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision after he answered questions only in French during a town hall in Sherbrooke. Global's Sarah Volstad reports.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s decision to answer questions only in French at a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que., Tuesday night is under investigation by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

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As of Thursday morning, the commissioner’s office told Global News it had received nine complaints about the incident it deems admissible, which will “therefore be investigated.”

“Part IV of the Official Languages Act is linked to these complaints, in terms of the obligation of the federal government to communicate and offer services to the public in both official languages,” the commissioner’s office told Global News in an email.

READ MORE: Senior claims she was yelled at for requesting English services at Quebec Hospital

“Part VII of the Act is also linked to these complaints, in terms of the obligation of the federal government to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development, and to foster the full recognition of English and French in Canadian society, and adopt positive measures in order to implement this commitment.”

While on his cross-Canada tour on Tuesday, the prime minister was asked by a woman — in English — if there were any plans for the federal government to do anything to help anglophones in the province of Quebec seeking mental health services, since they are often only available in French.

READ MORE: Verdun Hospital patient files complaint over French-only care

Instead of responding in English, Trudeau answered in French to the woman’s concern about only being offered vital health services in French.

At a press conference Wednesday in Lennoxville, Que., Trudeau was confronted about his French-only responses the night before.

“Can you please answer, on behalf of 700,000 in Quebec, why you couldn’t answer a single question in English?” asked a man, who had interrupted a journalist asking a question.

Trudeau defended his decision, pointing out he purposely answered a question that was asked in French in Peterborough, Ont., a few days earlier in English.

“It is important for me to demonstrate that I defend bilingualism,” Trudeau told the man.

WATCH: Trudeau’s media availability interrupted by man demanding to know why he answered only in French during a town hall

Trudeau said he believes deeply in “defending the French language in Quebec,” adding that the difficulties faced by linguistic minorities must be respected.

“Next time, I will make sure to bring a little more bilingualism with me, no matter where I am in the country.”

But Trudeau’s French responses have prompted more than just reflection on the prime minister’s part: The Privy Council Office (PCO), which has a support and advice role to the prime minister, will be investigated by the official languages commissioner.

The commissioner does not investigate individuals, but federal institutions, “Therefore, the complaints are being investigated against PCO,” the commissioner’s office said.

“More generally, communications made by ministers, including the PM, in their capacity as ministers or heads of federal institutions, can be subject to the Act.”

This is the second investigation spurred by Trudeau’s actions in recent weeks.

WATCH: Ethics commission launches investigation into Trudeau’s vacation at the Aga Khan private island in the Bahamas

The prime minister is currently under investigation by the ethics commissioner for his free vacation to the Aga Khan’s island over the holidays, and his acceptance of a ride on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter.

The free trip and helicopter ride are potential breaches of federal conflict of interest laws.

With files from Rachel Lau

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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