For two days, the Commissioner of Official Languages has received eleven complaints related to Justin Trudeau’s decision to respond only in French to questions asked in English on Tuesday during his visit to the Eastern Townships. The official languages guard also received three complaints in the opposite direction on Thursday – because the Prime Minister had responded in English only to two questions asked in French in Ontario last week.
Mr. Trudeau irritated some anglophones by deciding to respond in French only to questions asked in English during a discussion session in Sherbrooke on Tuesday as part of his “citizen tour”. One of these questions was about the access of the anglophone minority in Quebec to mental health care in their own language.
The Prime Minister then pleaded that he wanted to speak French because he was in Quebec, just as he had responded in English last Friday to a lady who had asked him questions in French in Peterborough, Ontario. That decision had not raised any waves, but since then, three complaints have been filed with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
On Wednesday, as the criticisms of anglophones increased on social media, Mr. Trudeau admitted that he could have replied “in part in English” to the citizen of Sherbrooke who had asked her two questions in English. He argued that this kind of open discussion requires precisely that the answers to the citizens’ concerns be clear.
Official Languages Commissioner Nelson Kalil said on Thursday that the office will investigate these 14 complaints to determine whether the Prime Minister has violated the Official Languages Act. Since the commissioner can not investigate a particular individual, it is the Privy Council Office – the “Prime Minister’s Office” – that is targeted here. According to Mr. Kalil, the investigation could take three to six months.
Couillard and Lisee react
“Next time I’m going to make sure I get a bit more bilingualism,” Mr. Trudeau promised on Wednesday, which did not convince an anglophone rights organization. The Quebec Community Groups Network is asking for an apology and a meeting with the Prime Minister. “We are dismayed, disappointed and particularly shaken by the fact that the Prime Minister has turned a deaf ear,” said Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of the organization.
Questioned on this matter Thursday, at the Davos Summit in Switzerland, the Prime Minister of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, was careful not to lecture Justin Trudeau. However, he recalled his own line of conduct in this area: “It is true that in Quebec, we speak French, it is our common language,” he said. “When English-speaking Quebeckers call me, I answer them in their own language, and it will continue that way.”
The leader of the official opposition, Jean-François Lisee, fully agrees. “In an assembly (in Sherbrooke) where the predominance of French had been widely respected, (Mr. Trudeau) had the right to answer in English,” the PQ leader maintained at a press conference in Montreal.
“As a minister of the metropolis, I answered questions in English, answered all the press conferences, I made events in English only with the English-speaking community. For us Quebeckers and Quebec politicians and politicians, French is the official and common language – and we are sometimes courteous. ”
According to Mr. Lisee, Prime Minister Trudeau demonstrates that “he has never properly reflected on identity issues,” that he “does not have his feet solidly grounded on an understanding of the linguistic and identity reality from Canada”. The PQ leader quoted Mr. Trudeau’s statements on the English unilingualism of the national capital and Bill 101, or his idea of a Canada that would be the “first post-national country in the world”, “without a central identity” .
Mr Lise replied in English to the same question in that language.