New Brunswick

Languages commissioner stands her ground in security case

Commissioner of Official Languages Katherine d'Entremont stood her ground Friday in response to political challenges about her handling of an investigation into the provision of security services in government buildings.

Katherine d'Entremont responds to challenges about security investigation

Commissioner of Official Languages Katherine d'Entremont responded on Friday to criticisms over her handling of an investigation into the provision of security services in government buildings. (CBC)

Commissioner of Official Languages Katherine d'Entremont stood her ground on Friday in response to political challenges about her handling of an investigation into the provision of security services in government buildings.

D'Entremont said she doesn't normally respond publicly in such cases, but was doing so "in order to protect the integrity of our office and the Official Languages Act."

The controversy started in May, when d'Entremont approached the front desk at Chancery Place, the main government office building in Fredericton, and was unable to communicate in French with the commissionaire on duty.

The official languages commissioner subsequently wrote to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to ask what its policies were on bilingual service.

The commissionaire involved then saw his hours reduced, although d'Entremont made no requests or recommendations about his job status and addressed that in her news conference.

"I do not have the authority to intervene in the management of public servants or employees who provide service on behalf of government," she said.

"The measures concerning the security officer discussed in the media were not suggested or imposed by me."

D'Entremont again pointed out the Official Languages Act gives her the right to initiate her own investigations.

"How can I ensure respect for the rights of anglophones and francophones if I must remain silent when I am witness to a situation where the act not respected," she said.

D'Entremont has been criticized because in her notice of investigation to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, she referred to 'the complainant' without stating that she was the one who initiated the investigation.

"Some people have suggested that the notice should have specified that the investigation was launched by me," said d'Entremont.

"I take note of these comments, however, I wish to point out that it changes absolutely nothing in the way in which an investigation is conducted."

She told reporters that she did not specify in the letter that it was her initiative because she did not want department staff to give the complaint more importance.

The commissioner's office did initiate an investigation in 2014-15, but it was not done so by d'Entremont herself, she said.

The official languages commissioner said she was at Chancery Place to meet a government official when she had her encounter with commissionaire Wayne Grant. She didn't set out to make a deliberate check of the provision of security services in both official languages.

The commissionaire involved, Wayne Grant, spoke publicly about the case for the first time this week, resulting in some political backlash aimed at the d'Entremont.

Alliance renews call for ouster

The People's Alliance was the first to release documents showing d'Entremont was likely the person behind the complaint. 

Commissionare Wayne Grant says his hours were cut back after the province received a language complaint. (CBC)
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said on Friday that the language watchdog did not go far enough in explaining her actions at her news conference.

"It is apparent that Ms. d'Etremont refuses to do the right thing and step down, therefore we will continue to push the government and Opposition to take action to remove her from her position as commissioner," Austin said in a statement.

"New Brunswickers are upset because they expect better. We will continue to fight to have Wayne Grant's hours returned, as well as press for a review of the Official Languages Act itself so this never happens again."

The official languages commissioner is an independent officer of the legislature and can only be removed from the position through a two-thirds vote of the 49 MLAs.

D'Entremont said she has given no thought to leaving her job and said she understood, when she accepted the position, that it was "not easy."

NDP Leader Dominic Cardy issued a statement saying he felt the commissioner did not adequately address concerns that she was investigating her own complaint.

"You can't be your own judge and jury," Cardy said in a statement.

"Ms. d'Entremont should have someone else in her office, or a qualified person from another office, undertake the investigation into the complaint she filed."

Jeanne d’Arc Gaudet, the president of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick, said d'Entremont was just following her act when she filed the complaint with the provincial government. (CBC)
The commissioner's news conference did receive some support from the province's largest Acadian organization.

Jeanne d'Arc Gaudet, the president of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick, said she believes d'Entremont's statement should clear up confusion among politicians about her role.

"It is obvious that the people don't understand [the act] and she had the right and she did what she had to do," d'Arc Gaudet said.

"I think it is very important that all people and all members of government, elected government officials, knows this also. She is doing her job."

Gallant, Arseneault comments 'sad'

Earlier this week, Premier Brian Gallant stated he believes d'Entremont's office has "enough issues, enough things to work on," without initiating its own investigations.

"She should also be promoting why official languages are good for the province," said Gallant.

"Instead of looking for issues from across the province, why not promote the positive?"

D'Entremont pointed out Friday that her office published the first study on the economic benefits of bilingualism in New Brunswick.

Donald Arseneault, the government's minister responsible for official languages, also indicated he had a problem with d'Entremont's approach.

"I'm not going to hide from the fact that if I was the commissioner, we wouldn't be dealing with this issue today," he said.

The Acadian Society's d'Arc Gaudet called Gallant's and Arseneault's comments on the commissioner's complaint "sad."

"I think the way they reacted, it is obvious, they don't understand the mandate," she said.

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