Saturday, May 12

Commissioner Graham Fraser says "Harper government shirked its duty"

The Harper government shirked its duty to protect Canada's two official languages when it cut spending on social programs last fall, the official languages commissioner has found.

Commissioner Graham Fraser received 117 complaints after the government announced about $1 billion in cuts to more than 70 programs and organizations in September.

Most complaints stemmed from the government's decision to end funding for the Court Challenges Program, which financed court cases that advance language and equality rights under the Constitution.

In a preliminary report sent to the complainants on Friday and obtained by Canwest News, Fraser concludes that their allegations were "founded."

In addition to the Court Challenges Program, Fraser's review focused on eight programs, including Status of Women Canada and an adult-literacy program.

Fraser said the decision to withdraw funding for the Court Challenges Program "stands out" for its violation of the Official Languages Act.

Under the act, the federal government is committed to "enhancing the vitality" of anglophone and francophone minority communities, and "fostering the full recognition and use English and French in Canadian society."

Fraser noted "the (Court Challenges Program)'s significant contribution over the years to the advancement of language rights in this country is unquestionable."

"Just as certain are the ongoing evolution of language rights and the need of minority language communities for reasonable access to the judicial process to ensure the protection and promotion of their interests."

New Democrat MP Yvon Godin, who submitted a complaint on the cuts, welcomed the findings.

"It's a tool to make sure in our country, in a democracy, that people can get justice through the courts," he said of the Court Challenges Program.

He said the program has been crucial to upholding the language rights of French-speaking minorities in New Brunswick, where his riding is located.

Supporters of the program argue that individuals or interest groups often cannot fund lengthy court battles on their own.

The Harper government was accused of stifling such objections this week when the Conservative chairman of the Commons committee on official languages cancelled hearings on the program.

LINK: Read entire article at the Ottawa Citizen

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