Laurentian, province broke act while cutting French programs, report finds 

Posted on April 1, 2022 in Education Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – News/Local News
Apr 01, 2022.   Harold Carmichael

French Language Services Commissioner makes 19 recommendations 

The cuts to French-language programs amounted to nearly half the French programs Laurentian was offering at the time.

The 60 complaints prompted the French Language Services Commissioner’s office to launch an investigation.

Specifically, the office looked at how Laurentian – a provincially designated bilingual university since 2014 and having a duty to provide 13 degree programs – could make such steep cuts to French-language programs while still fulfilling its mandated role.

The office also kept in mind that an estimated 20 per cent of Laurentian’s student body was enrolled in French-language programs.

“The people who contacted us were dismayed, frustrated and outraged by the university’s decision to cut French-language programs,” said Kelly Burke, French Language Services Commissioner, through a translator Thursday, as she released her investigation’s report entitled Strengthening the Designation: A Collaborative Effort, that contained 19 recommendations.

“We heard stories of students who had to transfer to other universities in order to complete their degree … These were poignant stories that cannot be ignored.”

The investigation looked at three bodies – Laurentian, the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, and the Ontario Ministry of Francophone Affairs – and their roles in what happened one year ago.

The investigation found the three bodies all failed in their responsibilities to ensure Laurentian continued to fulfill its bilingual mandate.

“I concluded that the lack of consultation in any consultative process led to the university violations of the French Language Services Act,” said Burke.

The commissioner later said, in response to a question from a reporter, that “it’s unfortunate that three partners, three institutions, did not take the appropriate measures to comply to the French Language Services Act. Unfortunately, yes, some people have been affected. All francophones have been affected by decisions that contravene French rights.”

Burke also said Laurentian interpreted its provincially mandated duty to mean it had to maintain the degrees, but not the programming, which allowed it to make cuts.

“I believe this interpretation goes against the spirit of the French Language Services Act,” she said. “The French Language Services Act should have been followed, but that was not the case.”

Burke said she is optimistic that since both Laurentian and the province have already agreed to the recommendations in her report and will report back in six months, changes will be made to ensure such a situation does not happen again.

“My goal is to create rigor and transparency into the process to strengthen French services,” she said. “My recommendations are aimed at far-reaching and sustainable change … My recommendations allow everyone to play a role … and have confidence in the government and Laurentian University.”

During the investigation, the French Language Services Unit conducted 40 interviews and reviewed documents from Laurentian and the two ministries, which all co-operated fully with the investigation.

The report determined Laurentian and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities were focused on Laurentian’s financial difficulties, while the Ministry of Francophone Affairs failed to take an active role. This led to a situation where no one was ensuring the protection of language rights under the French Language Services Act.

Evidence gathered in the investigation indicated that French programs were cut largely because of low enrolment, with very little consideration of their French Language Services Act designation.

In addition to cuts to French programs, insolvent Laurentian slashed 41 English-language programs and cut almost 200 employees.

Laurentian also implemented the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, to give it protection will its works to get in a better financial situation.

According to Burke, the violation of the French Language Services Act specifically occurred when Laurentian cut all programs leading to two designated degrees – Master of Arts and Master of Human Kinetics – without following the steps set out in the law.

Her 19 recommendations include:

– that the Ministry of Francophone Affairs clearly communicate in writing to Laurentian what its obligations are under its designation and how to comply with them – and that this explanation be made available to the public;

– that Laurentian develop an internal process that includes consultation with the two ministries before making any changes that could impact its designation under Regulation 398/93 and that the result of that consultation be presented to the Senate before it makes decisions on any changes;

– that the Ministry of Colleges and Universities notify and consult with the Ministry of Francophone Affairs ASAP when it becomes aware of any potential changes to programs at Laurentian relating to its designation;

– that the Ministry of Francophone Affairs develop a model for assessing Laurentian’s compliance with its obligations, including a review of how programming changes will be assessed in the future; and

– that Laurentian ensure it complies with all reporting requirements associated with its designation.

A full list of the 19 recommendations can be found on the Ontario Ombudsman’s website at

In a statement Thursday, Laurentian said it welcomed the report and would work with the two ministries to implement the recommendations.

“Laurentian’s bilingual mandate is core to this university’s identity and we are fully committed to continuing to attract students who wish to study in French by offering a comprehensive suite of programs leading to degrees that are relevant to them, learning important life and work skills that employers value,” the school said.

“We welcome the French Language Services Commissioner’s report and recommendations and look forward to working with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) and the Ministry of Francophone Affairs (MFA) to implement the recommendations as we work to provide the best education possible for students in our French language programs.

“Laurentian is proud to be the first bilingual university in Ontario to have been granted a designation under the French Language Services Act. We are also proud of the fact that enrolment in Laurentian’s French-language programs has steadily increased, and currently represents approximately 20% of our student population.

“While reducing both English and French-language academic program offerings was a difficult but necessary step as part of Laurentian’s comprehensive restructuring, we are confident our current academic programming better aligns with student demand and will help to ensure financial sustainability for years to come.”

Francophone Affairs critic Guy Bourguoin and New Democrat MPPs Jamie West (Sudbury) and France Gelinas (Nickel Belt), meanwhile, issued the following joint statement in response to the report.

“New Democrats welcome the French language commissioner’s report and urge Doug Ford to immediately accept her recommendations. “We are deeply disappointed by the premier’s failure to protect the constitutional rights of francophone students at Laurentian to pursue their studies in French.

“It’s clear that Doug Ford doesn’t care about francophones in Ontario. He doesn’t value historic francophone communities in Sudbury and across the North. Ontario has a duty to proactively promote the French Language Services Act. Instead, Doug Ford and his ministers prefer to sit back and pretend the law doesn’t exist. We have no confidence that the PC government will respect the French Language Services Act. Doug Ford broke it. New Democrats will fix it.



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