The Commissioner of Official Languages - Biographical Notes
Ghislaine Saikaley has worked in the public service for 31 years, 16 of them as an executive. She has considerable and varied experience as a senior manager from her work in commissions, boards and administrative tribunals, where she provided advice and support to executives. With her extensive experience in operations at both the regional and national levels, she developed numerous partnerships with community and paralegal groups. She has a wide knowledge of the issues in the fields of law and corrections, as well as immigration and official languages. During her academic and professional careers, she has developed an expertise in investigations, audits, conflict resolution and competency-based staffing. She is currently completing a certificate in Lean Management.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in criminology, Mrs. Saikaley began her career with Correctional Service Canada in 1985 and over the next 14 years held various positions, many of which were in management, both in the regions and at headquarters.
In 1999, she took her skills in developing conditional release policies and joined the National Parole Board as the Director of Investigations/Audits and Clemency/Pardons. From 2000 to 2003, she was the Director of Operations at the Public Service Commission of Canada’s Recourse Branch.
In 2003, she joined the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) as the Director General of the Immigration Division, one of the three IRB tribunals. From 2003 to 2008, she was the official languages champion at IRB.
Mrs. Saikaley joined the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in July 2008 as the Assistant Commissioner of the Compliance Assurance Branch. For eight years, she was responsible for investigations, audits and performance measurement pursuant to the provisions of the Official Languages Act. In December 2016, Mrs. Saikaley was appointed as Interim Commissioner of Official Languages by the Governor in Council.
A brief look at our former commissioners of official languages
In the wake of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Parliament of Canada adopted the first Official Languages Act in July 1969. The Official Languages Act created the position of Commissioner, whose dual role was described by the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission as “
the protector of the Canadian public and the critic of the federal government in matters respecting the official languages.”Footnote 1
The longest serving Commissioner of Official Languages was appointed in October 2006 and served until December 2016.
Graham Fraser handled such high-profile language issues as the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, created the Award of Excellence – Promotion of Linguistic Duality, and tabled the Special Report to Parliament on Air Canada.
He was involved in many court cases and appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as a co-appellant in the DesRochers case, which resulted in the Court’s broadening the interpretation of Part IV of the Official Languages Act and recognizing the public’s right to receive service of equal quality in both official languages.
“Cultural diversity and linguistic duality are two key Canadian values—values that complement each other. Canada’s openness and spirit of accommodation, which are the result of the development of its two major language groups, have helped to encourage immigration and diversity in the Canadian population. The fact that there are two official languages in Canada helps convey these values.”Footnote 2
Graham, Commissioner of Official Languages
Commissioner Dyane Adam: A revival founded on communities, duality and diversity
Dyane Adam, a Franco-Ontarian, became Canada’s fifth commissioner of official languages on August 1, 1999. Commissioner Adam paid particular attention to the changing composition of Canada’s linguistic landscape. As she saw the country become increasingly cosmopolitan and multilingual (nearly 20% of the population was of neither British nor French descent), she believed that this new reality should transform our vision of linguistic duality. During her tenure, the government presented its Action Plan for Official Languages 2003-2008, and the Official Languages Act was amended in 2005.
“Duality and diversity are far from being contradictory. In fact, it is the very dualist tradition at the root of our society which has made us particularly open to diversity. In turn, it is now Canada’s diversity that can and should contribute to our linguistic duality.”Footnote 3
Dyane Adam, Commissioner of Official Languages
Commissioner Victor Goldbloom: Linguistic duality at the heart of national unity
Victor C. Goldbloom, a native of Montréal, was appointed Canada’s fourth commissioner of official languages in 1991. During his tenure, Commissioner Goldbloom carried out two comprehensive studies. The first study addressed the availability of services in both official languages at designated bilingual offices, reinforcing that the federal government’s bilingualism still had a long way to go. The second study, concerned the federal government’s implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act and, suggested a number of possible courses of action to jumpstart the application of section 41, such as assigning the role of coordinator of the entire language policy to the Privy Council Office.
“We cannot preserve the unity of Canada if we set aside the historic premise that we have two official languages.”Footnote 4
Victor Goldbloom, Commissioner of Official Languages
In order to illustrate the composition of Canadian society, Commissioner Goldbloom had a symbol of linguistic duality designed, known today as the “
Canada’s Social Fabric” emblem.
Canada’s social fabric
A fabric is woven of many threads. English- and French-speaking Canadians from myriad cultural backgrounds make up the social fabric we call Canada. The gold fabric at the centre of the pin symbolizes the coming together of our two language communities and the richness of the dialogue between them.
Wearing the emblem of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages shows our commitment to fostering harmony between the English and French fibres of Canada’s social fabric.
Commissioner D’Iberville Fortier: A more solid framework
D’Iberville Fortier, originally from Montréal, was appointed Canada’s third commissioner of official languages in 1984. In his first report, Commissioner Fortier called for a re-launch of the official languages program, based on an in-depth review of the 1969 Official Languages Act. Following repeated requests from the Commissioner and English- and French-speaking communities across Canada, the government tabled a bill in 1987 for a new official languages act that was adopted in 1988 under the leadership of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
“[O]ur past, present and future are marked by language, whether we like it or not.”
D’Iberville Fortier, Commissioner of Official Languages
Commissioner Maxwell Yalden: Constitutional recognition of the equal status of English and French
Maxwell Yalden, a Toronto native, assumed his duties as Canada’s second commissioner of official languages in 1977. Confronted with the language tensions that marked several years of his term, he helped mitigate the backlash from a large segment of the population against the Official Languages Act. He also opened regional offices in Moncton, Winnipeg, Montréal, Sudbury and Edmonton in order to improve Canadians’ access to the services of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Commissioner Yalden ended his term by speaking of the need to review the 1969 Official Languages Act so as to ensure its compliance with the language provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The enshrinement of language rights in a made-in-Canada Constitution was a very substantial landmark in that process… But there it unquestionably is: a set of constitutional guarantees which effectively says that English and French are our two official languages…”Footnote 5
The first commissioner Keith Spicer: Laying the foundations
Keith Spicer, a fluently bilingual Toronto native from a unilingual English family, was appointed Canada’s first commissioner of official languages of in April 1970 for a seven-year term. Spicer established the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages during his first year as Commissioner. He saw institutional bilingualism as an ideal of human dignity that called upon the mutual respect of the two language groups (English and French). One of his main tasks was to explain the meaning of the Official Languages Act, which had received a rather lukewarm response from the public. Spicer was driven to reach the next generation and contributed to the creation of Canadian Parents for French in 1977.
“[T]he Office [of the Commissioner] seeks… to consider justice in State bilingualism simply as an ideal of human dignity and as one of the much-needed long-term bridges to understanding among Canadians.”Footnote 6
Keith Spicer, Commissioner of Official Languages
- Footnote 1
André Laurendeau and A. Davidson Dunton (co-chairs), Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, “
Book I: General Introduction – The Official Languages,” Ottawa, Queen’s Printer, 1967, p. 141.
- Footnote 2
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 2014-2015, Ottawa, 2015, p. 9.
- Footnote 3
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 2002-2003, Ottawa, 2003, p. 9.
- Footnote 4
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 1991, Ottawa, 1992, p. i.
- Footnote 5
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Annual Report 1982, Ottawa, 1983, p. 2.
- Footnote 6
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, First Annual Report 1970-1971, Ottawa, 1971, p. 4.
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