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N.B. languages commissioner reports complaints related to COVID-19 briefings

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WATCH: The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Shirley MacLean, tabled her first annual report on Wednesday. Travis Fortnum brings us the details – Dec 16, 2020

The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Shirley MacLean, has tabled her first annual report on Wednesday since the beginning of her mandate in January 2020.

Covering the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the report summarizes the complaints received during the year, and provides a glimpse of the Office of the Commissioner’s recommended amendments for the upcoming review of the Official Languages Act (OLA).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we still have a long way to go to achieving real equality between our two official languages in New Brunswick,” MacLean said in a press release.

READ MORE: New Brunswick government looking to improve second-language training for students

In March 2020, during the first month of the pandemic, the Office of the Commissioner said it has received many complaints related to government news briefings on COVID-19.

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“Deeming this situation urgent, our office made recommendations using the alternative resolution process. In times of crisis, it is important to ensure equal treatment of the province’s two official languages. Making one language available through interpretation only is not providing equal treatment of this language compared to the other,” the office said in the report.

According to the Office of the Commissioner, it has received 133 complaints between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.

Of that number, 62 were admissible, with nine based on lack of service in English and 53 on lack of service in French, the office stated.

The Official Languages Act (OLA)

The report also contains 12 recommendations to improve the OLA to “facilitate advancement towards the equality of New Brunswick’s two official languages and two official language communities.”

The Office of the Commissioner’s recommendations have been made available for the upcoming review of the Official Languages Act (OLA).

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Under the Official Languages Act, the Premier shall initiate a review of the Act, and the review shall be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2021, the office said.

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The Commissioner suggests the following:

  • Clarifying the obligations of police departments.
  • Legislating the right of provincial public servants to work in the official language of their choice.
  • Implementing measures to improve compliance with the OLA, including imposing specific deadlines for replying to investigation reports and authorizing the use of enforcement agreements for institutions that contravene the OLA on a regular basis.

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