Commissioner investigating after complaints pour in about next governor general's lack of French

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages says it has received more than 430 complaints about the nomination of Mary Simon to the post of governor general. Simon is bilingual in English and Inuktitut but does not speak French.

Investigation will focus on nomination process, not on Mary Simon herself

A portrait of a woman.
Mary Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, has been named Canada's next governor general — the first Indigenous person to be named to the office. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages says it will investigate the process for nominating governors general after receiving hundreds of complaints from Canadians upset that the newest nominee, Mary Simon, cannot speak French.

The office says it has received more than 430 complaints and that it considers many of them to be admissible.

Simon is Inuk and was educated in a federal day school in the Nunavik region, where she was not given the opportunity to learn French as a child.

She has promised to try to learn it in her position as governor general. Many francophones have questioned why she did not do so during the nearly 20 years she spent working for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Commissioner Raymond Théberge said he was not surprised by the number of complaints.

"I expected a lot of complaints because, for a great number of Canadians, the question of official languages and linguistic duality is very important," he said. "The complaints keep coming."

Théberge said his office recognizes Simon's "personal qualities, her contribution but the question is: are we setting a precedent for the nomination of senior officials in Canada for years to come?"

Théberge said the investigation will look not into Simon personally but rather examine the process used to nominate a governor general.

"The Official Languages Act applies to federal institutions," Théberge said, "not to individuals. The investigation will look into the Privy Council Office. It will not look into Mrs. Simon but into the process that led to her nomination."

Simon will be installed as Canada's governor general on July 26. She will be the first Indigenous person to hold the position.

with files from Radio-Canada