Canada’s language watchdog investigating John Baird for mostly English tweets

Andy Radia
Canada Politics
August 20, 2014

Canada's 'language police' have struck again.

In a story that sounds almost too ridiculous to be true, both La Presse and the Toronto Star are reporting that John Baird's Twitter account is being investigated by Graham Fraser — Canada's language watchdog — after someone complained that the foreign affairs minister's tweets were mostly in English.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages' asserts that, by investigating, it's just doing its job. Its mandate, according to its website, is to ensure federal institutions comply with the Official Languages Act, upholding the language rights of Canadians, and promoting linguistic duality and bilingualism.

But Baird's press secretary, suggests that there is a clear distinction between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter account and John Baird's account.

"We are surprised that the official languages commissioner has chosen to investigate the minister’s personal Twitter account that falls outside of the scope of the [Languages] Act," Rick Roth told the Star.

"The minister’s personal Twitter account is just that, his personal account. That said, he tweets from that account in both of Canada’s official languages."

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This isn't the first time that the office of the federal watchdog has made some controversial, if not odd, pronouncements.

In 2011, the Ottawa Sun reported that Fraser approved a $40,000 initiative to send "mystery shoppers" posing as unilingual francophone tourists into private downtown Ottawa stores to do a "review" of available French-language services in our nation's capital.

And last year, he ordered Baird to dispose of all his unlingual English-only business cards. Baird had always carried bilingual cards — at the ready — when needed but the watchdog wasn't in the mood for compromise.

Fraser's office — established in 1970 — has an annual budget of just over $20 million.

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In an email exchange with Yahoo Canada News, it seemed political pundit Gerry Nicholls couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry at this latest investigation.

"This exercise in tax dollar waste, is the latest evidence that Language Commissioner Graham Fraser is a bureaucratic zealot, who enforces the law with the fanatic intensity of a Spanish Inquisitor," said Nicholls.

"It's long past time to abolish his office."

Nelson Kalil, a spokesperson for the commissioner's office, told La Presse that this investigation, involving a federal minister, was the first of its kind.

We can hope, but maybe not expect it to be the last.

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