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Commissioner to probe Laurentian cuts to French programs

Ombudsman’s Office also reviewing complaints about how university handled cuts to English programs

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Ontario’s French Language Services Commissioner on Wednesday announced her office would investigate recent cuts to French-language programs at Laurentian University.

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Also Wednesday, the Ombudsman’s Office, which takes in Burke’s office, said it is reviewing whether cuts to Laurentian’s English programs were handled properly.

“We have received about 60 complaints which raise questions about the fairness and transparency of the process that led to these program reductions,” Kelly Burke said in a release. “Many Franco-Ontarian students and others in the community have told us this situation profoundly affects their ability to be educated and work in French.”

On April 12, the financially troubled Sudbury university announced it was cutting 69 programs, 28 of them in French. On Feb. 1, Laurentian said it was insolvent, could no longer pay its bills and sought protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

Since then, besides cutting programs, Laurentian has laid off about 200 faculty and staff, ended federation agreements with the University of Sudbury (which offered French-language programs), Thorneloe University and Huntington University, and is considering selling off some of its real estate holdings.

Burke said she initiated the investigation to determine three issues regarding the university’s cuts to French-language programs:

– whether Laurentian University upheld its obligations as a partially designated agency under the French Language Services Act during its restructuring process;

– whether the Ministry of Colleges and Universities fulfilled its obligations under the French Language Services Act during Laurentian University’s restructuring process; and

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– whether the Ministry of Francophone Affairs fulfilled its role of administrating the French Language Services Act during Laurentian University’s restructuring process.

“I have officially notified the ministries and the president of Laurentian University of our investigation,” Burke said.

This is the first formal investigation by the Ombudsman’s Office under the French Language Services Act, and the office’s French Language Services Unit will lead it. Investigators will speak with officials at Laurentian and both ministries, as well as complainants, and will review pertinent documentation.

The Ombudsman has also received more than 20 complaints about cuts to English programs at Laurentian and other matters related to its restructuring. These complaints are under review.

Burke encourages anyone who has information relevant to this investigation, or who wishes to file a complaint, to contact staff online (www.ombudsman.on.ca/have-a-complaint), to email sffls@ombudsman.on.ca, or to call 1-866-246-5262).

Although there is no set timeline for this investigation, it will be completed as quickly as possible, Burke said.

The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature who resolves and investigates public complaints about provincial government bodies, as well as French-language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards.

The Ombudsman recommends solutions to individual and systemic administrative problems. Within the Ombudsman’s Office, the French Language Services Commissioner resolves and investigates complaints, makes recommendations to improve the delivery of public services in French, and ensures the linguistic rights of Ontarians and the obligations of government bodies set out in the French Language Services Act are respected.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SudburyStar

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