September 12, 2016 - 7:00 AM
OTTAWA - A document obtained under access-to-information laws refutes former Conservative cabinet minister Julian Fantino's claim that an email at the heart of an official languages complaint had been doctored.
In 2013, an email from Fantino's office asked that all correspondence signed by the minister be sent in English, even if the addressee was French-speaking.
"I would like to reiterate that ALL correspondence signed by the minister be sent in English," said the email, dated Feb. 14 of that year.
"In special cases, ie (Haitian Prime Minister Laurent) Lamothe, then it makes sense, but for example, for the Ethiopia trip thank you letters to staff, we noted twice that we had some in FR (French). I understand that we know the recipients' first language is French however the minister can write in English if he chooses to do so. That is also in line with the OL (Official languages) act."
The Canadian Press wrote about the email at the time after receiving a copy from a source.
That prompted Fantino, the then-international co-operation minister, to state in a letter sent to various media that the email had been doctored.
"The source of these allegations has either altered documentation before giving it to the reporter, or the reporter has selectively edited what they were given," he said.
Fantino claimed concluding words to the email — "for review" — had been removed.
The extra words would have meant Fantino just wanted to approve the emails in English without necessarily sending them only in English, even to francophones.
A request to Fantino's office at the time for a copy of what he claimed was the original email was turned down for privacy reasons.
In March 2014, when the Conservatives were still in power, a completely blacked-out version was obtained from the Canadian International Development Agency.
In explaining the redacted version, the department invoked articles in the access-to-information law allowing for passages in a document to be edited out, notably if it contains recommendations from a federal institution or minister.
The Canadian Press then filed an access-to-information request with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada to obtain a copy of the email. The communication is identical to the one obtained from the source in 2013.
Fantino did not return calls for an interview request for this story.
The 2013 email prompted NDP MP Yvon Godin to file a complaint with Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser.
"The complaint was deemed to be well-founded and (it was determined) there had been a breach of the official languages (act)," said Robin Cantin, a spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
Cantin said the official languages office did a follow-up in October 2015.
"We then recommended that the instructions for ministerial correspondence be reviewed to ensure that language preference of the addressee was fully taken into account," he said.
Fantino, a former Toronto police chief, was first elected to the Commons in 2010. Following his stint as international co-operation minister, he was named veterans affairs minister before being stripped of the portfolio in 2015 after being criticized for his performance.
He lost his seat in the 2015 election.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016