Newsletter — April, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic and services in French

The year 2020 was marked by the global spread of the coronavirus. This unprecedented situation, to which governments had to respond, illustrated the need to ensure the efficient flow of information to official language minority communities. Faced with this new reality, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments have shown resilience and have implemented a number of initiatives to ensure they reach their Francophone communities.

Table of contents

The importance of translating and disseminating information in French

The health crisis has required the production of numerous documents, ranging from general information about the pandemic, public health orders and vaccination plans to financial, social and economic support measures. As a result, each government has increased its translation capacity to be able to publish critical information in French. In Alberta, the year 2020 saw an over 50% increase in words translated compared to the previous year, from 135 documents translated and disseminated to French-speaking Albertans to 299. In Nunavut, translation volumes have exploded in order to share information, not in two, but in all official languages of the territory. The Translation Bureau of the Government of Canada developed a COVID‑19 glossary, available online and updated weekly. The Northwest Territories and Prince Edward Island have made their translation services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including on public holidays. To keep its Francophone population informed, the Government of British Columbia has implemented a new communication system: French-speaking organizations now receive an email notification as soon as information related to COVID‑19 is posted online in French.

Use of technologies

In order to make translated information accessible to their communities, all governments have updated their websites to compile essential information related to COVID‑19 in a web section in French. This includes, for example, travel restrictions and guidelines. The website of the Government of Nova Scotia provides the Safe Check-in form and procedures for entering the province entirely in French. The websites of the governments of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador also compile communications from the Ministry of Education that are of interest to Francophone institutions, parents and students.

Some governments have the capacity to host press briefings in both official languages, including British Columbia, where the Minister of Health and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, the Honourable Adrian Dix, provides his updates in English and French. This is also the case in the Yukon and in Prince Edward Island, where the bilingual chief medical officers of health allow the media to ask their questions in the language of their choice. In fact, these two doctors have made it to the 2020 list of the 10 most influential personalities in the Canadian Francophonie. In several provinces, when the main speaker cannot speak French, simultaneous interpretation is available live, as in New Brunswick and Ontario, or for differed viewing, as in Manitoba. For the vast majority, government press briefings are archived and made available on social media or government websites.

In addition to simultaneous interpretation, and in order to reach as many people as possible, the federal government and the Government of New Brunswick offer interpretation in Quebec Sign Language in addition to American Sign Language. The Government of Ontario has opted to provide French subtitles.

New services and projects

To maintain contact with official language minority communities, bilingual hotlines have been set up. In the Yukon and New Brunswick, the hotline provides non-medical information about COVID‑19 in the caller’s preferred language. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador provides linguistic support services, via telephone, to employees in charge of border control.

In addition, the Government of Quebec, through its Programme d’appui à la francophonie canadienne, has supported more than 90 projects and invested over $1.7 million, to promote the Canadian Francophonie during the pandemic. One of the projects was to fund an illustrated magazine for children about COVID‑19, produced in May 2020 by Manitoba’s weekly French newspaper, La Liberté, in collaboration with the newspaper Le Soleil. This support for Francophone and Acadian culture was also demonstrated through the funding allocated to the Canada-wide Fédération culturelle canadienne-française Regards sans masques project promoting the revival of the Francophone arts and culture community in Canada. The Centre de la francophonie des Amériques, for its part, provided several online resources and broadcast several concerts, thereby helping to bring Francophone culture to the homes of a confined population across Canada.

Special publications

Several governments have used their community media to keep in touch with their citizens by placing public service announcements. Notably, the Government of Saskatchewan has invested in numerous pandemic-related advertisements in the newspaper L’Eau vive. The Government of Ontario launched a multi-phase awareness campaign; the content of each phase was fully translated into French and distributed through the many traditional and digital media. Several websites, social media and outdoor advertising were included in this campaign. The Government of Yukon published an eight-page dossier in L’Aurore boréale listing all the recommendations and special measures in effect in the territory. In Manitoba, an awareness campaign destinée aux jeunes a été lancée simultanément en français et en anglais; elle visait à inciter au respect des consignes de la Santé publique.

Intergovernmental collaboration

The Government of Canada has launched the bilingual COVID Alert application, which sends a notification to individuals who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID‑19. This new application has been promoted to provinces and territories during federal press conferences.

As early as April 2020, the Government of Quebec produced an adapted version of its Self-Care Guide that could be used by all Francophones across the country. The guide provides reliable and comprehensive information on the pandemic.

Lastly, this unprecedented health crisis has made it possible to highlight the number of elected officials able to speak French in almost all provinces and territories. They are no longer the exception. They are numerous. Whether they are premiers, ministers or senior officials, more and more people in the public service can communicate directly with their Francophone minority. Many of them are members of the Ministers’ Council on the Canadian Francophonie and are committed to ensuring the well-being of Francophones and Acadians across the country.

This text identifies some government initiatives, but is not an exhaustive list of government actions.