Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 146, Issue 32

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

2010 Winter Olympics—Bilingual Signage

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and concerns the French language and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The Vancouver Organizing Committee, VANOC, for the 2010 Paralympics and Olympics Games says its “. . . mission is to touch the soul of the nation and inspire the world by creating and delivering an extraordinary Olympic and Paralympic experience with lasting legacies.”

Honourable senators, I am concerned that this lasting legacy may become an embarrassing legacy as there is a serious danger of the games becoming unilingual. The City of Richmond recently opened an Olympic oval and the signage was only in English. The Mayor of Richmond, Malcolm Brodie, says there are no plans to add a francophone element to the large unilingual sign on the outside of the municipality’s spectacular Olympic speed-skating oval. In fact, VANOC admits they did not discuss with the City of Richmond that the signs need to be bilingual.

The mayor and VANOC were in discussions for two years, and VANOC at no time discussed the fact that the signs needed to be in two languages. As honourable senators know, these are international games. Canada is proud to have two official languages.

What message are we sending to the world and our nation, given that the Government of Canada has the responsibility of nominating the 20-member board of directors?

I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate, in light of this situation, what will the federal government do to right this situation?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): As honourable senators are all aware, Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, expressed great concern about the lack of bilingual facilities at the Vancouver Olympics.

As a result of discussions between the Commissioner of Official Languages and VANOC, an advisory committee was created. Of course, this was something the Commissioner had requested in his report last December.

VANOC has made some effort over the past two years to ensure that both of Canada’s official languages are represented at the Vancouver games. This advisory committee is comprised of Canadian members with expertise in the subject, as well as the former French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who acted as the observer for the Francophonie at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The government has and always will defend and promote the linguistic and cultural duality of Canada. We will certainly continue on this track. We are working with our partners in the Olympics to ensure that our country’s linguistic duality is showcased at the 2010 Olympics, thereby making all Canadians, regardless of their linguistic background, proud of our games in Vancouver.

Senator Jaffer: I appreciate what the leader has said. In light of what she has said, since VANOC has made this mistake of not discussing that the signs need to be in two languages, will the federal government pay to ensure the signs will be in two languages?


Senator LeBreton: In as much as the federal government is involved in the Vancouver Olympics, I am not certain, honourable senators, where the responsibilities lie. The Minister of Canadian Heritage — the completely bilingual minister from British Columbia and the minister responsible for the enforcement of our Official Languages Act — has made every representation possible.

In terms of signage, I imagine signage is part of the planning for the games. I know the situation; I saw the reports about the facility in Richmond. There seems to be a question about when the facility is turned over to VANOC. I can say with great certainty, honourable senators that anything that the federal government is involved with will continue, as always, to involve Canada’s two official languages.

With regard to the amount of money, the Canadian government has invested a significant amount of money, as honourable senators know, into the Olympic Games. I believe that Canada’s linguistic policy, the Official Languages Act, is very much a part of any expenditures we make. For further clarification, however, I will raise the matter with my colleague, Minister Moore.