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Ottawa should offer Indigenous-language training, exemptions to public servants: memo

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OTTAWA — Senior civil servants explored offering Indigenous-language training to federal employees and possible exemptions to those who already speak one from requiring fluency in both English and French, newly released documents show.

Deputy ministers from several departments discussed the issue last fall.

A memo, released to The Canadian Press under federal access-to-information laws, flagged a “growing tension” between official-language requirements and Indigenous languages.

Under Canada’s Official Languages Act, federal institutions must offer working environments for employees to communicate in both French and English, and offer services to Canadians in either language.

As such, communicating in both is expected for senior executives and there are a number of public service jobs where bilingualism is mandatory. There is room, however, for an employee to take classes and learn French or English as a second language.

The memo issued last fall said a working group was held about making changes to the official-language requirements. It said some Indigenous public servants belonging to a network of around 400 who work for the federal government asserted the need for a “blanket exemption.”

“My own personal view is there are opportunities for exemption — if the individual speaks an Indigenous language,” Gina Wilson, a deputy minister who champions the needs of federal Indigenous public servants, wrote in an email to colleagues last November.

“Our GG (Governor General) is a good example.”

Inuk leader Mary Simon’s appointment in 2021 sparked a discussion — and some controversy — over bilingualism in Canada’s highest offices, given how Simon, the first Indigenous person named as Governor General, spoke English and Inuktitut, but not French.

Simon, who was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, said she attended a federal day school and wasn’t able to learn French.

She committed to doing so after her appointment and has been taking lessons, delivering some French remarks in public speeches.

Commissioner of official languages Raymond Théberge said more than 1,000 complaints about Simon’s lack of French were lodged with his office after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named her to the role.

Language training has been identified as one of the issues preventing Indigenous employees in the federal public service from advancing in their careers.

A report authored by public servants around the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary recommended those who are Indigenous be exempt from official-language requirements and instead be provided with chances to learn the language of their community.

It’s unclear if Ottawa plans to move ahead on changes to language requirements, training or exemptions.

A spokeswoman for Crown-Indigenous-Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said both that ministry and Indigenous Services Canada “have no plans to offer department-wide Indigenous language training,” noting employees have offered workshops in the past.

It said Indigenous employees are encouraged to talk to their managers about language training.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, an anglophone who speaks French and is learning Mohawk, said in an interview that the idea of an exemption is a sensitive issue.

“Inevitably, when you have to make one of those decisions, it is more often than not, and almost always, at the expense of jettisoning French,” said Miller, who represents a riding in Montreal.

“I don’t think that’s something that most people would find palatable … there are resources to learn it and I think there is the availability to do so.”

In their talks last fall, senior officials proposed ways to address concerns from Indigenous public servants about languages.

Ideas included providing more time to learn a second language and even offering Indigenous-language training, including to non-Indigenous public servants, as a show of reconciliation.

“I certainly recall during my French classes having this nagging thought in the back of my mind that I would be so much more open to this if I had the opportunity to be given training in my own Algonquin language,” Wilson wrote in her email.

“I had a pretty good base in both, but of course my French is much better than my Algonquin now.”

Miller said he supports the idea of Ottawa providing classes, particularly to Indigenous public servants who were not provided the chance to learn these languages for themselves.

He said one challenge to doing so would be making sure Ottawa wasn’t taking language teachers away from communities.

“When you look at the fragility of Indigenous languages across the country, you would not want to be in a circumstance where we’re taking really valuable assets … people in many circumstances that are quite older, and just walking dictionaries out of their communities where communities are struggling to regain their languages.”

The same concern was highlighted by government officials. Both they and Miller said Ottawa faces calls to ensure it provides services to Inuit in Inuktitut.

“We could do better on that,” he said.

One change Lori Idlout, Nunavut’s federal member of Parliament, said should happen — and which officials also pitch in the memo — is for Ottawa to extend the $800 annual bonus it pays to employees who are bilingual to those who speak an Indigenous language.

The representative says she’s been approached by a union about federal employees in Nunavut who speak Inuktitut but are unable to access the compensation because they are not bilingual in French.

“Meanwhile, they’re providing valuable services to Inuit in Inuktitut,” she said. “It’s a huge issue.”

Idlout said Nunavut residents face many barriers when it comes to accessing federal services in general, including in Inuktitut.

According to the memo, officials recommend the government explore a pilot in Nunavut where jobs that require they speak Inuktitut “would not require competency in a second official language.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Joly to raise abortion, sexual violence in closing UN speech

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is urging countries to uphold women’s rights and abortion access while rooting out sexual violence, as the United Nations General Assembly comes to a close.

In a speech today in New York, Joly will summarize Canada’s priorities and concerns in foreign relations.

That includes being part of “a global coalition in support of equality” that will “defend against the growing attacks on women’s rights and freedoms,” according to drafted remarks in French.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls are being rolled back or denied in too many countries,” Joly’s drafted remarks say.

“Canada will always stand up for your right to choose.”

Though the drafted section on women’s rights does not mention the United States, Joly’s comments come after months of backlash to the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to ban abortions, with some seeking to prosecute those who help women end their pregnancies in other jurisdictions.

Joly’s remarks instead mention women targeted by autocratic governments, such as the Taliban preventing Afghan girls from attending school. She calls out Myanmar’s military junta imprisoning female democracy activists and sexually assaulting Rohingya women.

The speech cites Iran’s crackdown on protesters seeking accountability after the death of Mahsa Amini, when morality police arrested her for “unsuitable attire” in allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. Joly also notes Ukrainian women have been subjected to sexual violence by occupying Russian forces.

Joly argues deliberate policy choices are resulting in rising violence against women, who are excluded from “the negotiating table, the boardroom, the classroom.”

The speech is likely to take place around noon local time, and will include some of the themes raised last week in New York by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His remarks surrounded climate change and international development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Military en route to assist with recovery efforts

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Residents of Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec are coming to terms with the full scope of the damage left behind after post-tropical storm Fiona tore through the region over the weekend as one of the strongest storms Canada’s East Coast has ever faced.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to help with recovery efforts, with federal Defence Minister Anita Anand saying Sunday that about 100 troops a piece were either in place or en route to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to provide assistance with the cleanup effort.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the immediate need is to provide food and shelter for those displaced by the storm, which is why the federal government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.

However, he added that Ottawa will work with provinces to determine what is needed for recovery from a financial perspective, especially for Canadians who have lost everything. He said the first priority is the restoration of power and utilities, as well as clearing roadways to get essential supplies to those who need them.

At Fiona’s peak on Saturday, more than 500,000 customers across Atlantic Canada were without power, but by early Monday morning that number had been lowered to less than 300,000, with the vast majority in Nova Scotia. But even as crews workaround the clock to repair downed lines, some utility companies warned it could be days before the power is back on for everyone.

Authorities in western Newfoundland confirmed Fiona’s first Canadian fatality on Sunday. RCMP said a 73-year-old woman’s body was recovered from the water more than 24 hours after a massive wave struck her home, tearing away part of the basement. Her name was not immediately released.

The cause of death of a second person on P.E.I. has yet to be determined, but the Island’s acting director of public safety told a news conference that preliminary findings pointed towards “generator use.” No further details were provided.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Industry minister to represent Canada at former Japanese PM’s funeral

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OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday’s funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.

Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.

Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn’t know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.

But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.

“Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front,” he said.

“And we’ll be meeting with a number of people. I just don’t know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening.”

Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.

The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.

“I was literally giving a speech,” Champagne said. “I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened.”

Abe’s state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed.

Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.

In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

⁠— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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