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Shirley MacLean, the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, delivers her 2021-22 annual report on Dec. 12, 2022. Image: Submitted

Official Languages Commissioner Releases Annual Report

By Brad Perry Dec 13, 2022 | 1:32 PM

Two-in-five complaints received by New Brunswick’s official languages commissioner last year involved health care.

Shirley MacLean released those findings on Monday as part of her office’s annual report for 2021-22.

MacLean said her office received 206 complaints, including 104 that were deemed to be admissible.

“The situations described in these complaints vary in their nature, but at the end of the day, they all have one thing in common: they prevented someone from receiving a government service in the official language of their choice,” MacLean told reporters.

Eleven of the admissible complaints involved a lack of service in English and 93 dealt with a lack of service in French.

MacLean said 41 of the total complaints involved health care, whether it was the Department of Health, the Horizon Health Network, or the Vitalité Health Network.

The commissioner spoke about one complainant who was undergoing dialysis treatment at the Saint John Regional Hospital and preparing for an eventual kidney transplant.

“In her view, the provision of services primarily in English by the Horizon Health Network triggered a chain of events that endangered her safety due to a language barrier,” said MacLean.

“She received a package of important documents for patients awaiting and preparing for a kidney transplant, and the majority were in English only.”

MacLean’s office determined the complaint was founded and made a series of recommendations aimed at preventing something similar in the future.

Survey on Official Languages Act, bilingualism

MacLean also presented the results of a recent public opinion survey on the Official Languages Act and bilingualism.

The survey, conducted last fall, found 81 per cent of New Brunswickers support official languages legislation and bilingualism, compared with 82 per cent in 2009.

“Opposition to bilingualism was found among a small minority who cited the increased costs of government services, a perceived preference for French speakers, the need to be bilingual to obtain government jobs, and a perceived obligation to learn French as the primary reasons for their opposition,” said MacLean.

“A good number of these themes are long-standing myths that the office of the commissioner has been observing for many years. My office continues to try to debunk these myths as part of its promotional activities.”

Overall, she said, New Brunswickers have a very high level of confidence in being able to receive government services in the official language of their choice.

However, she noted 39 per cent of respondents indicated they do not know where to turn to report a breach of their language rights, and only 16 per cent said they would contact her office.

“The results showed us that it’s important for the Office of the Commissioner to become better known to New Brunswickers,” said MacLean.

In response, the office launched a promotional campaign, with the first phase being rolled out last winter.

MacLean said she firmly believes there is an inherent respect for New Brunswick’s two linguistic communities.

“Our latest survey clearly demonstrates to me that the great majority of us believe in the principles of equality that our Official Languages Act enshrines,” she said.

“We must, however, be careful not to take this mutual respect for granted. Along with trying to understand, let’s also stand up for each other.”


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