Feds worry there won’t be enough French-language content at 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Feds worry there won’t be enough French-language content at 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games

After getting burned at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the federal government is concerned the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto won't have enough French content.

CBC News reports it has obtained a government that shows the Department of Canadian Heritage is worried there's a "risk" the Pan Am Games may not meet its requirements to provide for both official languages.

The July 2013 document says Sport Canada is keeping tabs on the issue, though the agency would not comment on the situation.

The love-in that was the 2010 Vancouver Games was marred by complaints about a lack of French content, including comments from then-heritage minister James Moore.

"I thought that the opening ceremonies were brilliant but there should have been more French, just period, full stop," Moore said at the time, according to the Toronto Sun.

[ Related: CBC trolled for ‘hard French’ pronunciation of Olympic medallists’ names ]

The lavish opening of the Olympics featured francophone artists such as Garou, the Sun noted. Vancouver Olympics boss John Furlong's address was almost exclusively in English, while International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge spoke mostly in French and then-governor general Michaelle Jean opened the Games in English and French, which are the Olympics' two official languages.

In a report following the Games, Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser said organizers had a lack of understanding of their official languages responsibilities and the lack of French at the opening ceremonies undermined the chance to showcase Canada's "linguistic duality."

"The problem — and where we got the bulk of the complaints — was the show, the cultural content in which the host country at the Olympics presents the face of the country," Fraser told The Canadian Press in an interview.

"There were a lot of francophones who felt, 'This doesn't reflect my country, this doesn't reflect who I am,' and there were a lot of English-speaking Canadians who said to me, 'I kept thinking all the way through this: Where's the French?' "

Critics ridiculed Furlong's explanation that a lack of French at the opening ceremonies stemmed from the fact that Quebec nationalist Gilles Vigneault's refusal to allow organizers to use his iconic song "Mon Pays" for the show.

Fraser found the agreement signed by the Vancouver organizing committee and Canadian Heritage was too vague and unclear. He recommended that requirements at future events be "specific and clear to ensure that organizing committees grasp the importance of linguistic duality, understand their official languages obligations and plan adequately."

"I would like to see the linguistic legacy of the Vancouver Games carry over to future Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as other large-scale sporting events in Canada," Fraser said in a news release accompanying his December 2010 report.

The Canadian Heritage memo seems to suggest the Pan Am Games may be headed down the same path as the Vancouver Olympics.

Ontario's French-language commissioner, Francois Boileau, said he hopes that isn't the case.

[ Related: Security costs for Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games now more than double first estimate ]

"If you don’t plan ahead, then of course, there will be problems," Boileau, who's been working with Games organizers for the last two years, told CBC News.

The Ontario minister responsible for the Games couldn't say what's being done to fulfil the official language requirements. Michael Chan said he doesn't deal with the "nitty gritty" details but told CBC News he'd talk to his deputy minister to get information about the language issue.

Games organizers pointed out a senior manager has been tasked to ensure there's plenty of French at the event, CBC News said, including the hiring of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil to produce the opening ceremonies.

"I have been working personally with Canadian Heritage and Sport Canada on a robust, official languages plan and policy to engage francophones across the country," official languages senior manager Louise Gavreau told CBC News.

Gavreau said that includes ensuring that francophones have access to all the information they need, whether that pertains to volunteer, employment or procurement opportunities.