Laurentian University broke the French Language Services Act when it cut programs: report

Laurentian University in Sudbury broke Ontario’s French Language Services Act by cutting 29 programs in April 2021, according to a new report from the province’s French Language Services Commissioner.

Kelly Burke, Deputy Ombudsman and French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, concluded that the Ministry of Francophone Affairs “also did not play an active role in monitoring Laurentian University’s compliance with its designation, which contributed to a situation where no one ensured the protection of language rights”. under the French Language Services Act. »

In February 2021, Laurentian filed for insolvency and entered into creditor protection. In April of the same year, the university cut 72 programs, including 29 in French. The university has also cut more than 100 faculty and staff positions.

After the cuts, Burke said he received 60 complaints from students, teachers and Franco-Ontarians directly affected by the cuts in French education.

On June 16, 2021, his office launched its investigation to determine whether or not Laurentian, and the Ministries of Francophone Affairs and Colleges and Universities had violated the French Language Services Act.

A new report from Ontario’s French Language Services Commissioner found that Laurentian University in Sudbury violated the requirements of the French Language Services Act when it cut programs in April 2021. (Erik White/CBC)

“The university violated the requirements of the law by ceasing to offer two designated degrees [master of arts and master of human kinetics] without following any of the prescribed procedural steps,” the report said.

“I also found that there was no process in place to assess how eliminating programs leading to designated degrees may impact students’ ability to earn those degrees in French.”

At a news conference Thursday morning, Burke said the university had not consulted with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities or the Ministry of Francophone Affairs about the potential impacts of cuts to French-language programs.

“Why is that?” she asked.

19 recommendations made

Burke said he made 19 recommendations, which touch on three key areas: evaluation, consultation and collaboration.

“I have concluded that the lack of consultation in any assessment process led to the university’s violation of the French Language Services Act,” she said.

“I also noted that the lack of consultation, evaluation and collaboration process stemmed from the lack of proactivity on the part of the three organizations.

Burke noted in his report that all of his recommendations have been accepted by provincial ministries and Laurentian University.

French education ‘an afterthought’, says lawyer

Denis Constantineau, spokesperson for the Northern Ontario Coalition for a French Language University, said there was “a lot of buzz” in the Francophone community after the report was released Thursday morning.

The coalition is pushing for the University of Sudbury to take over the provision of French programs and a university by and for Francophones.

Denis Constantineau, spokesperson for the Coalition Nord-Ontarienne pour une Université de Langue Française (Northern Ontario Coalition for a French-Language University), says there was “a lot of buzz” in the Francophone community after the publication of the report. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Constantineau said the commissioner’s report reinforces that argument.

“[Laurentian] presents itself as a bilingual institution, but it did not take into account the impact on the Francophone community when it closed programs. It just goes to show that the French language element at Laurentian is an afterthought, as it always has been. »

The students react

Former Laurentian student Maël Bisson said he was not entirely surprised by the contents of the report. Bisson left Laurentian after his program, theater, was cut. He is now studying at the Université de Moncton.

“I saw all my friends, my community crumble under the pressure and just the surprise that Laurentian brought to us,” Bisson said.

A theater student, Maël Bisson left Laurentian University after its program was cancelled. (Submitted by Mael Bisson)

Current student Philippe Mathieu said he doesn’t believe Laurentian should be able to call itself a bilingual university.

“Even before these cuts were put in place it was already struggling, but since you know this last year has kind of come into play, it’s very clear that it’s just an establishment Anglophone post-secondary, there is no doubt about it,” said Mathieu.

“To me, it’s clear they didn’t care about violating the French Language Services Act.”

Laurentian University declined CBC’s interview request.

In a statement, Laurentian said its bilingual mandate is “essential” to the university’s identity. The university said it welcomed the commissioner’s report and recommendations and was “fully committed to continuing to attract students who wish to study in French”.

Marilissa Gosselin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, said in a statement that Laurentian “is an autonomous institution and has sole discretion in its academic and administrative matters. The government expects the university to act in the best interests of all students, including Francophone, Indigenous and Extra Support students. »

The Ministry of Colleges and Universities made a similar statement to CBC.