Colin H Williams
School of Welsh
Cardiff University, UK
Timeline and Age. Personal thanks
to SEÁN + staff for hosting us.
• Compensation of age, dreams into reality
• 1973-5 Advocate Canadian OCOL model for
Europe, particularly Wales and Ireland
1990s With many in this room push for
OLA and LC in Ireland
2000s Push for Welsh Language Measure
and LC
Advocate Network of LCs.
2012-5 ESRC Project on LCs
The Legislative Turn
• Generation preoccupied with education, local
government and media/IT
The generic turn to individual and group rights
either to bolster promotion or to compensate for
poor recognition and inadequate services
Mainstreaming language as public good in
international law and policies
Need language law be necessarily soft?
Overarching Legal Framework
• Canadian Model-template
• Fed. Official Languages Act
• N.B. Act Recognizing the Equality of the
Two Official Linguistic CommunitiesVitality Essential if Individual Rights
• Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms-Holistic View of Citizen Rights
• Promotion+/-Regulation?
• Monopoly or Shared Responsibilities?
• Hierarchical Divisions and Impact
• Sanctions, penalties, purchase
• What real powers do Commissioners have
to influence behaviour?
Whither Commissioners?
• Advocates, educationalists, investigators
and regulators
• How are these functions balanced over
• Is there a switch in emphasis as office
• The search for cognate bodies so as to
make role more effective
Uniqueness of Language
• In plural or multilingual societies LCs can
act as bridge builders, conscience, voice
and advocate in non-threatening or partial
• Not quite the Great Physician in war-torn
or conflict-ridden societies, but a force for
good, peace and mutual understanding
Roles of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Canadian Principles and Virtues
• Language policies must be based on respect,
and have clear mechanisms to ensure that rights
of citizens are respected
Entrenched constitutional rights afforded to the
linguistic minority
Statutory mechanisms (ombudsman and court
remedy) to ensure the language rights of
citizens are respected
Education in the other official language
Room for improvement
• Language of service has improved in all regions
but there is room for further improvement
For language of work, progress is uneven
Intervention of courts still required to ensure
respect of language rights
There continues to be much room for
improvement at the provincial, territorial and
municipal levels
Independence of Office
• Canadian, Catalan, Ontario, NB, Irish,
Welsh and Finnish systems all prize the
Independence of Office Holder to Act
• Saw evidence of various threats to
independence, viz. political, fiscal,
resource-based, absorption and
integration. How to respond?
OFLSC’s Mandate and
– Conducting independent investigations under
the French Language Services Act in response
to complaints or on its own initiative.
– Preparing reports on investigations, including
recommendations aimed at improving the
provision of French-language services.
– Monitoring the progress made by government
agencies in providing French-language
Best Practice
• Canadian Active Offer of Service
Key Questions and Issues
• Administrative reticence and lack of buy-in
from senior managers
• Inconsistent citizen expectations and
realities-hence self-restrictive behaviour
and under-use of potential of official
services. Demand not an exact measure of
• Capacity, terminology and usage
Non-official languages?
• What role do non-official languages play in
articulating the particular approach to
official languages?
• Are there fundamental geo-linguistic or
territorial divides which legislation has
failed to overcome?
• Demolingusitic trends and the absorption
of migrants as new speakers.
• Established in 2004
– Ombudsman service
– Compliance Agency
– Provision of advice on rights and
– Staff of 5-7 civil servants
– Annual budget c.€600,000
Ireland: Dynamism not size is vital
5,425 complaints (28% from the Gaeltacht)
82 formal investigations
198 audits
1,736 requests for advice from state bodies
9 annual reports + 3 special reports, as well as
recommendations for amendments to the Act.
Guidebook, a website and various publications
including a multi-media educational resource on
language right for schoolchildren.
Ireland’s Questions
• The main news story emerging from
Ireland is in relation to the amendment of
the Official Languages Act here - and the
publication of those amendments before
year-end. The Commissioner’s position:
• “Will the amendment of the Act be taken
seriously? A hint at the seriousness of the
effort will come from 2 simple tests…my
personal yardsticks:
Fudge, farce and falsehood
• Will the amended legislation ensure that state employees
serving the Gaeltacht communities are Irish speaking
without question or conditions?
Will the new legislation address the issue of language in
recruitment to the public service in general?
If those two elements are not addressed in the amended
legislation, I fear it may be seen as a fudge, a farce or a
falsehood. And that it will be perceived as flawed, a
failure and soon forgotten.”
Whither Language Rights?
• Rights evolve through struggle
• Jurisdictional immaturity in several cases
• Language as part of human rights,
fundamentally important but how well
activated in practice?
How do Commissioners
• Keeping up the pressure
• Recognise the lagging departments/units
• Schedule thematic evaluations by sector
• Powers to impose sanctions if evaluations
and investigations not effective.
Who evaluates the
• Annual Reports to Parliaments
• Select Committee Q and A
• Special Investigation
Costs, neo-liberal discourse
• How real is the threat that the gains made by
stealth politics over the past generation are now
being dismantled by neo-liberal arguments and
fiscal pressures?
How can such pressures be transformed by new
discourses and needs-based, public good
Do LCs/Ombudsmen Annual Reports enter the
mainstream debates?
Majority’s inclusion and legitimacy
for policy.
• Important issue because it shows that official
language policy is not solely for the
minorities’ benefit.
Canadian Official Language Act is worded so
that federal institution should encourage citizens
and voluntary group to accept and “recognize”
official languages. Hence, you can support the
policy even if you are not fully bilingual!
Cf. Welsh policy of ‘Iaith Pawb’ (Everyone’s
Inclusive Definitions
– Since 2009, Ontario Government adopted an Inclusive
Definition of Francophone (IDF) that is based on new
criteria for calculating the size of Ontario’s
Francophone population.
– IDF is a symbolic recognition. It reinforces the sense
of belonging and takes into account the newcomers’
contribution to the Francophone community of
– E.g..: An Algerian or a Moroccan family who most
often speak Arabic at home but who also speak
French at home is now considered Francophone.
Finland: It’s Up To The Majority !
• The 25 measures of the Ahtisaari working group (March
2011) recommended Finnish government prepare a language policy action
plan for 2011-2015
Ministry of Justice co-ordinate cross-cutting measures in
to implement the language rights obligations specified by
the Constitution and the Language Act
Strategy for National Languages 2012 PM leadership,
Ministerial support essential for political progress.
It’s Up To The Majority !
• Ministry of Finance charged with providing
solutions enabling municipalities to guarantee
linguistic rights and increase the demand for,
and participation in, linguistically-related
municipal services –active dynamism, leadership
Language training courses for public servants,
improvements in the national curriculum,
financing the public broadcast remit of Swedish
YLE and reforms in the treatment, management
and documentation of patients within the health
care system
•Production of monolingual, bilingual and trilingual dictionaries
•Production of Nama booklet
•The launch of the Dr Neville Alexander Language Scholarship
•Launching of a Linguistic Human Rights Tribunal
•Back log of complaints addressed;
•There are standard operating procedures on how to lodge a complaint;
•There are standard operating standards governing the complaint administration process.
•There is a complaint management system that supports the easy accessibility to the status
of the lodged complaints and statistics of resolved or not resolved complaints.
•Language matters have been on the back seat and that is reflected by limited budget.
•Revision of the Act
•The production of monolingual, bilingual and trilingual dictionaries.
•The Launch of the Dr Neville Alexander Language Scholarship
•The establishment of reading clubs in various communities such, old age homes, prisons
and in schools
•Lack of provisions of the Act that give the decisions of the Tribunal binding powers
•Lack sufficient budget to conduct advocacy and awareness programs
• If support for bilingualism and official
languages so high, why are we so worried
and have recourse to law and specification
of language rights?
• Behaviour not principles is the acid test,
but it is far more complex than such
Key Challenges: Ireland +
• Lack of correlation between
language acquisition (through
education or as native speakers in
Gaeltacht) and subsequent usage…
a huge ‘disconnect’.
• Inadequate provision of state
services through Irish, particularly in
• How to reshape the relative balance
between the public sector, creating skills
and space for a language, and the private
and voluntary sectors where the action is
acute and language shift most evident e.g.
Catalonia, Wales and Ireland.
• LPLP input oriented rather than outcome
Crunch Issues
Where does power reside?
How is influence diffused?
Role of Supreme Courts and Legal
Articulation of Rights in Practice
Less emphasis today
Economic Imperatives
The World of Work
Skills, Science, Technology,
Where next?
• International network of Language
Commissioners and Regulatory Bodies
• European Language Roadmap
• Greater awareness of public involvement
and buy-in to official language policy and
suite of language rights and services
• Role of civil society in mobilizing pressure
From Act to Action
• The report on Language Legislation in
Finland, Ireland and Wales undertaken by
Siv Sandlund, Peadar Ó Flatharta and
Colin H Williams is published.
• Details from FIONTAR

Reflections -