By The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has received nine complaints related to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s French-only answers to English questions at a public meeting in Quebec.
Spokesman Nelson Kalil said Thursday the office is launching an investigation into the complaints.
Trudeau angered some anglophones by insisting on answering English questions in French at a town hall meeting in Sherbrooke on Tuesday.
On Wednesday he said that on reflection he maybe should have answered partly in English and partly in French.
Because the office cannot investigate individuals, the probe will focus on whether the Privy Council Office violated the Official Languages Act in its role of supporting the prime minister.
Kalil said the investigation could take three to six months.
The controversy erupted when Trudeau answered English questions in French on Tuesday night — including one about how English speakers could get help to gain access to mental health services.
“Thank you for using our country’s two official languages, but since we’re in Quebec I’ll respond in French,” Trudeau replied.
His unilingual performance drew an angry response from groups that represent Quebec anglophones, with some calling on the prime minister to apologize for showing what they called disrespect toward the English speakers in the audience.
At first, Trudeau defended his stance when grilled about it at a news conference Wednesday. He pointed out he answered a French question in English at a recent town hall meeting in Peterborough, Ont.
But Trudeau changed his tune a few minutes later when a reporter revisited the topic.
Asked whether the English-speaking people in the audience Tuesday night did not deserve to understand him, he replied: “I understand how important it is in these public meetings to be able to answer questions about people’s concerns.”
“So, yes, I maybe could have answered partly in English and partly in French and, on reflection, it would have been a good thing to do,” he said.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was asked about the brouhaha Thursday as he attended the Davos economic summit in Switzerland.
“It’s true we speak French in Quebec, it’s our common language,” Couillard said. “When English-speaking Quebecers address me, I answer them in their language and I will continue to do that.”
When asked whether Trudeau should adopt such an approach, Couillard said he was talking only about his own conduct.