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Commissioner recommends clearer language act

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 13/06) - The territory must decide which services warrant official language services, says Shannon Gullberg, NWT Official Languages Commissioner.

Gullberg made this recommendation at the commissioner's annual report to the government standing committee on accountability and oversight last Wednesday.

"Unlike Parliament, the legislative assembly of the NWT never went on to develop regulations to define the concepts of 'significant demand' and 'nature of the office,'" wrote Gullberg in her report, referring to paragraph six of the NWT Official Languages Act's preamble in which a citizen's right to receive government services in their official language is defined.

"I suggest scrapping that and decide which services warrant official language services," she told the committee.

With 11 official languages and a dispersed population, Gullberg suggested using a TeleHealth model of translators-standing-by in a central location as one potential option to provide language services to remote regions or in unique circumstances.

The current lawsuit between the territorial government and Federation franco-tenoise over provision of GNWT services in the French language was also addressed in Gullberg's report. In this section, Gullberg refers to the legislative assembly's communication with the public as "unco-ordinated and chaotic."

While the GNWT is appealing Justice J.M. Moreau's ruling that directed it to provide essential services in French, Moreau's order that the government define "significant demand" and "nature of the office" is similar to Gullberg's recommendations.

Since the ruling, the NWT legislative assembly's Speaker of the house Paul Delorey opted to halt all publication of Hansard, the official transcripts of house proceedings, on Oct. 26, rather than risk a contempt of court charge for not publishing it in French as well as in English.

In her report, Gullberg notes the five per cent population benchmark, required for the federal government to provide English or French services in a given community. Gullberg said that if such a system were employed in the NWT, aboriginal language speakers could lose out as several communities' populations contain less than five per cent who still speak their traditional language.

Kam Lake MLA Dave Ramsay agreed with Gullberg.

"It's important we come up with some game plan as to how our services can be provided in the official languages," he said.

As of 1990, the official languages of the NWT included Cree, Tlicho, Chipewyan, South Slavey, North Slavey, Gwich'in, Inuvialuktun, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English and French.