CSC l'Estrie

People served by le Centre de santé communautaire de l’Estrie, one of more than 20 AOHC members that provide French-language services to Franco-Ontarians across the province

On November 6th, 1986 Ontario’s provincial government enacted the French Language Services Act. The Act confers Francophones with the right to receive provincial government services delivered in French, notably in the 26 designated areas.

Thirty years later has the province followed through on this legislation’s intent? What’s required to step up progress? And what provisions should we look for in Minister Eric Hoskins’ soon to be passed Patients First legislation?

For the answers to these questions, we’ve turned to Marc Bisson, Executive Director of Cornwall’s Centre de santé communautaire de l’Estrie and a member of the Health Minister’s French Language Health Services Advisory Council.

Isn’t the delivery of French language services more an issue for provinces like Quebec and New Brunswick with significantly large numbers of Francophones?

I don’t think so. Over 612,000 Francophones live in Ontario. It’s the largest Francophone population living outside Quebec. What’s more, French is recognized in the Canadian constitution as one of our country’s official languages.

The passage of the French Language Services Act was a long time coming. For over a century Franco-Ontarians advocated for our language rights to be recognized. When they were, it was a huge victory, one that marked the beginning of a new chapter and greater aspirations for Franco-Ontarians.

To what extent has the provincial government followed through on the Act’s intent?

The good news is that the Act has educated and promoted Franco-Ontarian culture and needs. It has also given confidence to Franco-Ontarians to request government services in French, at least in designated areas. For example, it probably contributed to creation of Francophone Community Health Centres, like the one I lead in Cornwall.

However, thirty years after the French Language Services Act was passed, there are still many gaps to fill. Many Francophones are advocating for their rights to be honoured.

Minister Hoskins has an opportunity to step up progress with Patients First legislation which has just gone through its second reading at Queen’s Park. What are you looking for in that legislation?

Well, we’re pleased the Minister’s latest version of legislation explicitly states that advancing health equity will be a key objective of the LHINs and this objective includes meeting the requirements of the French Language Services Act. But in the final version of the Act governing the LHINs, we’re looking for stronger, more precise language. For example, the Act needs to direct LHINs to make sure Francophones are involved in system planning. This can be achieved by having Francophone representatives sitting on LHINs boards of directors, as well as LHINs’ Patient and Family Advisory Committees.

The LHIN legislation also needs wording that makes sure that when LHINs inherit home care service contract from Community Care Access Centres (CCACs), they’re obliged to ensure any third party contractors deliver services in French. In the past, many Francophones have not been able to access CCAC home services in French. This has been a serious problem in many regions in Ontario.

Finally, we need changes to the Health Protection and Promotion Act to ensure Public Health Units meet the requirements of the French Language Service Act as they plan, design, deliver and evaluate services. Public Health Units are a very important part of our health system and they must do their part.

You can find more details about the required changes to the Patient’s First legislation in AOHC’s submission to the Standing Committee now studying the Bill. 

Many Franco-Ontarians are bilingual. Tell us more about why it’s so important they receive their health services in French.

Talking about your health is not the same thing as talking about everyday activities. It’s personal. There needs to be respect, trust and understanding between the health provider and the person receiving care.
Mental health worker will tell you that to reach the right diagnosis and treatment plan, the first step is establishing a strong cultural and linguistic connection. It’s been also established that people suffering dementia will return to their mother tongue even if they spoke English during most of their life.

At our CHC, every day we see people who can barely speak English. They’ve struggled in other parts of the health system because they haven’t been able to access services in French. We know that by providing them with primary health care services in French we have a better chance keeping them well and reducing their need for other types of health services.

The Province just announced funding for a new site run by your Community Health Centre in Limoges, a small community about 35 kilometres east of Ottawa. What positive change will this bring to Francophones living there?

It is huge for them. They’ll be able to access primary care as well as services related to chronic diseases, mental health, and diabetes education. We’ll also be able to partner with other agencies to deliver other kinds of services. The site will be part of a community hub -- a great model to promote expanded access to French language services and follow through on the promises made in the French Language Services Act.