Report on Consultations with Official Language Minority Communities

January 19, 2017


1 Introduction

1.1 Context

In the context of the requirements of Part VII of the Official Languages Act (see Appendix 6.3 on the Official Languages Act), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) held consultations over the summer of 2016 with official language minority communities (OLMCs) in order to respond to the three recommendations made by the Commissioner of Official Languages in October 2015, better understand the needs of these communities and determine how CIHR can meet those needs.

With this initiative, CIHR began discussions to identify stakeholder needs and expectations with regard to CIHR’s overall objective to ensure that Canada’s OLMCs are represented and thrive in the research community.

1.2 Objectives

With consideration for the above context, the consultation process had four objectives:

This report presents the results of the different methods of consultation (see section 2.1) undertaken by CIHR in 2016.

1.3 CIHR Action Plan

In 2011 and 2012, CIHR developed the 2012/2013 – 2014/2015 Action Plan for Official Languages in order to be better able to fulfill its obligations under all parts of the Official Languages Act.

The objectives of this first action plan were to:

Activities undertaken as part of the plan included, among others:

Building on the achievements of the first action plan, CIHR now has a second plan, which covers the period from 2016/2017 to 2018/2019 and was adopted in May 2015 by the executive management committee.

The new action plan aims to better integrate activities pertaining to official languages into all of the organization’s activities in order to give greater visibility to official language issues in all spheres of the organization and encourage more employee participation.

The new action plan presents a number of measures that fall into four categories:

In conjunction with the implementation of the 2016/17 – 2018/19 Action Plan, CIHR reorganized its internal governance system for official languages, which now includes an internal official languages committee, official language champions and resource persons at every level of the organization. The aim of these measures is to ensure that responsibility is shared throughout the organization and that the action plan is implemented in a more systematic and integrated way.

1.4 Recommendations of the Commissioner

An investigation was conducted by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in 2014 in response to a complaint filed by the French-language minority community. The investigation aimed to establish CIHR’s obligations under the Official Languages Act, particularly in terms of equal access to CIHR research funds.

The Commissioner made three recommendations following the investigation in October 2015:

2 Community consultation procedures

2.1 Methodology

In order to collect comprehensive information and ensure the success of the consultations, CIHR worked in collaboration with the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne (ACUFC) to validate its proposed consultation strategy for reaching and engaging OLMCs involved in the field of health research. Together, we agreed that the best strategy was to conduct the consultations in three stages: to offer a web-based survey, to meet with people responsible for official languages in federal departments related to CIHR and to organize round tables in select Canadian cities.

Web-based survey

The consultation survey was available on the CIHR website from July to October 2016. The survey questions (see section 2.2) were developed by the team assigned to implement Part VII of the Official Languages Act within CIHR. More specifically, the content was based on the recommendations of the Commissioner of Official Languages as well as the CIHR action plan. The questions were open-ended so that respondents could express themselves as freely as possible in developing their answers. This allowed CIHR to gather the most information possible within a reasonable time frame.

The CIHR web survey was visited a total of 303 times, 73 of which were in French. The majority of visits occurred in September and October 2016.


CIHR also met with the Health Canada and Canadian Heritage branches and managers responsible for Part VII of the Official Languages Act. The goal of the hour-long, face-to-face meetings was to discuss best practices for official languages, update plans and receive feedback and suggestions to ensure the success of the initiative.

Meeting dates:

Round tables

Between July 18 and September 30, 2016, CIHR called upon Canadian OLMC groups and organizations to participate in round tables. CIHR held a total of six round tables in different Canadian regions to meet with representatives from OLMCs.

Round tables were held in the following Canadian cities:

  1. Montréal, July 18, 2016
  2. Winnipeg, August 10, 2016
  3. Ottawa, August 12, 2016
  4. Moncton, August 17, 2016
  5. Toronto, August 29, 2016
  6. Edmonton, September 7, 2016

These locations were chosen to ensure good geographical representation of the communities in order to get an overall view of the situation of OLMCs in Canada. Representatives from OLMCs located outside of the cities and provinces in which the six round tables were hosted were invited to participate at the expense of CIHR. The Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne (ACUFC) also suggested inviting representatives from several different organizations in order to bring together community members with sufficient knowledge of health research in OLMCs (see the full list of participants in appendices 6.1 and 6.2).

The communities’ feedback on the subject was recorded through:

The round tables allowed CIHR to obtain a large amount of qualitative, nuanced information that was more detailed than what would have been gathered solely through an online survey. This method also served to demonstrate to participants the seriousness of the consultation process as a part of ongoing improvement efforts, as well as CIHR’s desire to build a good relationship with OLMC members.

Preparatory materials were sent to round-table participants a few weeks before each event. A questionnaire was shared with the communities before the round tables, and posted during the events to serve as a reminder. The duration of the round tables varied according to the number of participants, with the average being about an hour and a half. There were 10 participants per table on average, a number that created a more intimate atmosphere and gave all participants a chance to provide feedback on the questions.

One moderator and one project manager from CIHR were present at each round table. The moderator’s role was to present a brief overview of the objective of the consultations and the steps to follow as well as to facilitate the group discussions. The project manager accompanying the moderator took notes and analyzed the results. Mark Ferdinand, Director of Partnerships and Business Development, and Marilyn Desrosiers, Manager of Business Development and Analytics, took turns moderating the consultations. Ms. Desrosiers moderated the round tables held in Montréal, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Edmonton, and Mr. Ferdinand moderated the round table in Moncton. The moderators ensured that each participant had the opportunity to speak in order to gather the most information possible.

Each round table ran as follows:

  1. A review of the theme and objectives of the event
  2. A brief overview of the CIHR 2016/2017 – 2018/2019 Action Plan
  3. A quick introduction of the participants
  4. A review of the discussion questions (see section 2.2)
  5. A group discussion facilitated by a moderator
  6. A review of the discussions and the next steps for CIHR to take

Finally, CIHR committed to sharing the report on the consultations with the communities in the months following the end of the consultation process in early 2017. More specifically, the results of the consultations will be shared internally and with government granting agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), as well as with Canadian Heritage and Health Canada, so that these organizations may benefit from the knowledge acquired during the consultations. The report will also be shared with the members of official language communities who participated in the consultations.

CIHR plans to maintain open dialogue with OLMCs by sharing the progress made on implementing the activities set out in its action plan and collaborating with community members on the development of CIHR initiatives.

2.2 Questions asked during the consultations

On July 18, 2016, CIHR published a questionnaire on its website in order to add to the information that would be gathered during the round tables. This questionnaire was also used at the round tables to stimulate discussion.

Here are the questions that were asked in the online survey and during the consultations:

  1. What methods do you prefer to use for consultations with CIHR to meet official language needs?
  2. Which of the following types of data should be gathered, and why?
    1. Number of applications submitted and funded for research projects whose researchers identified as belonging to an official language minority community (OLMC) or that dealt with OLMCs, and the amounts of funding awarded.
    2. Number of researchers identified as “francophone” who are members of CIHR’s various committees (institutes, initiatives, other).
    3. Other.
  3. What would be the relevant things to consider to evaluate research projects dealing with OLMCs?
  4. What types of CIHR-funded projects should be part of the themes “Official Languages” and “Official Language Minority Communities”?
  5. What, in your opinion, constitutes a fair allocation of funding to OLMC researchers and institutions?
  6. What specific, practical steps should be taken to help develop CIHR’s strategic plan for contributing to the vitality of OLMCs?

3 Results

3.1 Overview

This section of the report presents the comments received through the online survey and during the round tables and face-to-face meetings. It does not reproduce all the feedback in detail, but rather summarizes the key messages communicated to us through these three methods of consultation.

3.2 Feedback from the consultations

There was little feedback on the proceedings of the round tables themselves. Among the organizations consulted, a few said they were pleased to see public consultations on OLMCs, as they demonstrate CIHR’s desire to support these communities and the importance of establishing a framework for health research. One organization highlighted the great transparency displayed by CIHR with regard to the recommendations of the Commissioner of Official Languages and the work to be done by CIHR.

However, one organization was opposed to the use of a consultation form for submitting comments, as it limited the range of responses. In addition, a few organizations mentioned that the period during which the consultations were held—in the summer, from July to September—was not conducive to high levels of participation on the part of the communities due to people being absent and, in some cases, having too little time to prepare.

It should be noted that, in an effort to respond to the three recommendations made by the Commissioner of Official Languages, the CIHR attempted, with this initiative, to begin the consultations quickly in order to determine the needs and expectations of stakeholders without further delaying the start of discussions with the communities.

4 Information gathered

4.1 Themes identified in the consultations

This section describes the current realities of researchers in OLMCs and the main obstacles they perceive in the research community. It is divided into five subsections that compile feedback according to the following themes:

4.1A Review quality

Findings 1 – Review quality

The assessment process plays a very important role in the scientific community with regard to grant applications as well as articles submitted for publication. The scientific community is categorically in favour of a fair and high-quality peer review process. However, researchers wishing to work in French consider it a major obstacle that Anglophone reviewers assess research projects that have been written in French and translated into English. Despite the measures taken by CIHR to ensure that consideration is given to the specific realities of French‑speaking and English-speaking minorities in Canada, many stakeholders emphasized the fact that the assessment criteria do not seem to meet the needs of applicants from OLMCs.

In addition to questioning the self-evaluated functional bilingualism of assessment committee members, researchers also mentioned that the preponderance of reviewers from large academic institutions, regardless of language, could constitute an obstacle. This problem was noted in particular by Francophone researchers working in small universities in minority settings. According to round-table participants, large institutions seem to get more recognition than smaller institutions during assessments.

Participants thus asked that the assessment criteria be improved and adapted according to the requests and particular realities of OLMC institutions. They asked that applications written in French be assessed by Francophone reviewers who are sensitive to the particular situation of scientific communities in minority settings. Some suggested that it would be necessary to review applications that deal with community issues separately, as they do not seem to be competitive in the pool of applications of an open competition.

4.1B Research capacity

Findings 2 – Research capacity

Participants in the consultations pointed to a lack of funding from academic institutions. Students and young researchers need appropriate professional training and funding in order to increase the capacity for research on OLMCs.

Some researchers still believe there is a bias toward large universities in official language majority communities and that it is pointless to participate in competitions—they do not believe they have an equal chance of receiving sufficient funding from federal organizations that support research.

Some cited the importance of investing in sustainable infrastructure and structures, such as research centres, to support small universities and to ensure the sustainability and retention of good researchers in the field of OLMCs.

It was also noted in the feedback that there is a certain amount of catching up occurring following the abolition of the CIHR initiative on OLMCs. The goal of this initiative was to promote research on the specific health needs of French-speaking and English‑speaking minority communities in Canada. According to the participants consulted, this initiative contributed greatly to strengthening research capacity in this field, and the loss of the targeted investment created a backlog.

The stakeholders also mentioned the need to invest in networking among communities of researchers across Canada and research networks in order to combat the lack of information on the health status of OLMCs and to learn more about the research funding programs available. As the stakeholders pointed out, there would be an opportunity here for CIHR to guide this networking and to facilitate discussions.

Some participants also brought up the potential effect more direct collaboration with the CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health would have on communities. Some even suggested that it would be interesting to have an institute mandated to support research and health in Canada’s OLMCs.

4.1C Research quality

Findings 3 – Research quality

The stakeholders almost unanimously mentioned that research conducted in universities is of high quality due to the CIHR initiative that increased the capacity of researchers. However, there is a clear need when it comes to the data available to help researchers defend the relevance of conducting research on OLMCs. The CIHR should develop measurement tools to obtain a clear picture of the funding for research in OLMC institutions and of how OLMC considerations have been incorporated into research in general.

Several of the researchers surveyed who came from smaller universities noted the time constraints related to heavy teaching and institutional governance workloads. Several factors influence their ability to participate in research competitions and to produce quality research. According to them, research communities in OLMCs are far from being on equal footing when competing with organizations in majority settings to obtain the limited financial resources allocated for research. They feel that researchers from small institutions face more challenges than those from McGill University, Concordia University, the University of Ottawa or even the University of Moncton.

Further to this point, some people emphasized the pressing need to improve collaboration between small and large Canadian universities and to work on common research projects or projects with similar themes. This could improve the quality of research while offering smaller institutions a chance to participate in large-scale research projects. Moreover, researchers working in French in a minority setting outside of Quebec often find themselves in institutions that are not only smaller, but also bilingual or associated with large English-language universities.

The great distances that separate these researchers from their Francophone colleagues who are working on the same research topics increase the costs and complexities of personal relationships and scientific collaboration, despite electronic communication technologies. As we might expect, networking among these researchers is far from well established. There is a role for CIHR to play in this area in order to support collaborative work between organizations.

The importance of creating a research ecosystem among stakeholders in the same community was often mentioned in the consultations. It would seem that, in the field of health in French‑speaking communities, there are fewer innovation projects than there are projects to adapt the standards of majority groups for the minority community. The participants consulted suggested promoting innovative research within OLMCs.

On the subject of ensuring good-quality research, stakeholders emphasized the importance of providing appropriate support in a variety of ways to the students that will make up the next generation of young researchers conducting research on OLMCs. This aspect is also related to the above comments on the importance of investing in sustainable infrastructure and structures to ensure the sustainability and retention of good researchers in the field of OLMCs.

4.1D Equal access

Findings 4 – Equal access to grants

Despite CIHR’s work to promote equal access to its programs and services for stakeholders working in health research in OLMCs, it would seem that there are still some shortcomings in this area according to the feedback received.

Many stakeholders cited the need to review application forms. Some of these forms do not seem to offer equal access in terms of both the translation of documents and the content. Some stakeholders even noted that some of the terms used in English were not correctly translated in French, thus limiting the information provided on the forms. Moreover, the page limit is inconvenient for researchers submitting applications in French, as the French language generally requires the use of more words to express ideas.

One comment that was made on several occasions was that there does not seem to be enough French-speaking specialized reviewers. Like Indigenous researchers, Francophone researchers act in some ways as spokespersons for the minority. As a result, reviewers must understand the real meaning of the research questions and be conscious of the health and well‑being issues faced by OLMCs rather than focusing solely on the scientific component proposed by the researcher.

Similarly, the stakeholders mentioned that there does not appear to be an established research culture in small institutions and that there seems to be a lack of expertise and support in terms of secretarial and administrative services for preparing high-quality proposals that can compete with grant applications presented by colleagues working in large universities.

A few additional points were also raised, including the need to offer training for applicants so that they can properly fill out applications and the need to facilitate access to funds by assessing community-based research projects in a separate pool.

4.1E Awareness

Findings 5 – Awareness

The subject of awareness was raised frequently during the consultations, in particular by Francophone researchers from small universities in minority settings. They lamented the lack of sensitivity for their specific reality and the additional obstacles they must overcome, which they believe scientists in large universities are not aware of.

In addition to raising the question of ability to read and understand texts written in one’s second language, researchers in OLMCs also expressed doubt about the abilities of their “passively bilingual” peers to appreciate the cultural nuances, values and sensitivities associated with a linguistic minority situation, which transcends a simple ability to communicate.

Stakeholders also raised the issue of the importance of understanding cultural disparities. The different communities targeted by each study will have different needs. For example, the needs of French speakers in British Columbia differ from those of French speakers in New Brunswick—studies of each community would thus touch on different aspects and cannot be assessed in the same way.

Francophone researchers attribute the frequency of rejections based on a single external review to the difficulty of finding reviewers with sufficient knowledge of the language in which the research projects were written, especially in highly specialized fields.

We observed that the suggestions that came up most often during the consultations were for an increased level of awareness regarding OLMCs and for better promotion of activities and services involving OLMCs, in both cases on the part of CIHR.

During the consultations, stakeholders requested better dialogue and collaboration between the Institutes and among the units responsible for the Official Languages Act. They pointed out that consulting researchers and promoting greater collaboration with them would help in the creation of a strategic plan to promote the development of solid expertise in health research in OLMCs.

Some people also mentioned the importance of joint participation on issues related to raising awareness of the needs of OLMCs. Several institutions said they were ready to collaborate with CIHR to take the necessary measures to ensure the vitality of French-speaking and English‑speaking minorities in Canada.


The information gathered during the consultations conducted with researchers and representatives of OLMC organizations allowed CIHR to validate and consolidate the recently developed official language action plan and to take their needs into consideration.

The consultations led to potential solutions that now allow CIHR to begin the next steps necessary to better meet its obligations under Part VII of the Official Languages Act in light of the recommendations made by the Commissioner of Official Languages.

In line with the objectives of the consultations (see section 1.2), CIHR will now be able to:

CIHR also plans to organize consultation round tables with CIHR staff in order to address the current challenges raised by OLMC members and undertake the steps necessary to respond to the linguistic obligations set out in Parts IV, V and VI of the Official Languages Act.

5 Appendices

5.1 List of organizations consulted

5.2 List of participants

5.3 Official Languages Act

The Official Languages Act (the Act) derives from the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Act reaffirms the equal status of English and French as the official languages of Canada and establishes equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions.

According to the parameters specified in the Act, each federal institution, including Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), must ensure Canadians’ rights to receive services from and work in federal institutions in the official language of their choice are respected.

In addition, section 41 of the Act requires all federal institutions to take positive measures to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities (OLMCs), to support and assist their development and to foster the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

The purpose of the Act is to:

Official language minority communities (OLMCs) are groups of Canadians for whom English or French is their first or preferred language and who live in a province or territory in which that language is a minority language. Therefore, OLMCs are English-speaking communities in Quebec and French-speaking communities in a territory or a province other than Quebec.

Under part VII of the Official Languages Act, the Government of Canada is committed to:

Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation of the government’s commitments.

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