National Newswatch

MONTREAL — Events broadcast live on the prime minister's Facebook page must be accessible in French and English, according to the commissioner of official languages, who said the Privy Council Office failed to meet its obligations under Canada's language laws.

More than a dozen people complained to the commissioner about the lack of French-language translation of a July 6 news conference announcing the appointment of Mary Simon as governor general.

Complaints also involved the moderator’s choice to speak mostly in English, according to a preliminary report by commissioner Raymond Théberge tabled last month and obtained by The Canadian Press. 

“During a public event, like the press conference announcing the nomination of the new governor general, who is a key figure in Canada’s parliamentary democracy, it is crucial that everyone can participate and appreciate its importance in the official language of their choice,” Théberge wrote.

The Privy Council, which is the civil service department that supports the prime minister and his cabinet, provided logistical and communications services for the July 6 news conference. The office, Théberge said, failed to meet its obligations under the Official Languages Act.

Neither Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet nor the Governor General were faulted in the preliminary report because unlike the Privy Council, they are not “federal institutions” under the country's language legislation.

Théberge recognized that no simultaneous translation or subtitle service in either official language is currently offered on the Facebook Live streaming platform. But the commissioner said it would have been possible to include links — in both official languages — to the CPAC news channel, which was streaming the event and offering simultaneous translation in English and French.

The commissioner recommended that within three months of receiving his final report, the Privy Council put in place rules so that all Canadians "receive communications that relate to government information in the two official languages” during events streamed live on the prime minister’s Facebook page. 

The Privy Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The nomination of Simon as governor general led to hundreds of complaints to the language commissioner because she does not speak French. In response, Théberge's office launched an investigation into the nomination process for the governor general.

Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, is the first Indigenous woman to be appointed governor general. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2022.

Frédéric Lacroix-Couture, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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