Nunavut minister tight-lipped about language laws and the private sector
Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik presses Languages Minister George Kuksuk on enforcement of language laws
Important sections of Nunavut’s two language laws that apply to the private sector are still legally unenforceable, but George Kuksuk, the territory’s minister of languages, isn’t ready to say why, or state when those sections will be brought into legal force.
Iqaluit MLA Paul Okalik, who had written to Kuksuk about the issue in June 2016, asked the languages minister about it during question period Feb. 27.
In part of his question, Okalik asked Kuksuk if, as promised last year, he would bring the relevant sections into legal force by April 1, 2017.
That’s what Kuksuk had said in his reply to Okalik’s June 2016 letter, which bears his signatures and is date-stamped for October 2016.
But when questioned this week, the languages minister could not say when the entire act would acquire the force of law.
“We have to work with other departments and the other departments still haven’t gotten back to us. For that reason, I will take his question as notice,” Kuksuk said in reply to Okalik.
The issue came to light late last month, when Manitok Thompson, a former MLA and cabinet minister, discovered that the Office of the Nunavut Languages Commissioner does not have the legal power to investigate complaints about Government of Nunavut services offered by private companies through contracts.
That’s because sections 3 to 5 of the Inuit Languages Protection Act, which apply to private businesses offering services to the public, are not yet in force.
Section 4 of the ILPA requires that companies providing services to the public under GN contracts must comply with the act.
That includes extended care facilities, whether they are located inside or outside Nunavut, and other businesses serving the public.
Two other sections, 9 and 10, apply to daycare centres and pre-schools. Most such services in Nunavut are offered by private, not-for-profit societies.
Another section, within the ILPA’s companion law, the Official Languages Act, would require that GN managers have the duty to ensure that contracts with third parties in the private sector are in compliance with Nunavut’s language legislation.
After an acrimonious battle between the GN and Nunavut’s Inuit organizations, the two language laws passed the in Legislative Assembly in 2008.
In 2007, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association even wanted the GN to bring in a Nunavut version of Quebec’s Bill 101, which would mean removing official status from English and French and declaring Inuktitut the only official language in the territory.
But nearly 10 years later, the capacity-starved GN has been slow to implement the language laws they did pass and they have been slow to impose them on the private sector.
In his letter to Kuksuk last year, Okalik reminded him that the GN, in its Uqausivut Plan for implementing the two language laws, had promised to extend enforcement to the private sector by April 1, 2016. That deadline flew by and now the GN appears unable to say if it can meet the April 1, 2017 deadline either.
Until the relevant parts of the two acts are given legal force, the Office of the Nunavut Languages Commissioner will not have the ability to investigate complaints involving GN-contracted firms that deliver government services.
Kuksuk did say last October that, since 2014, the Department of Economic Development and Transportation has provided some money to small businesses to help them comply with the act, but “there has been minimal requests for it to date.”
He also said the GN has produced a handbook entitled “How to Comply with Nunavut’s Language Acts.”