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Francophones not giving up the fight
Letourneau warns GNWT could end up back in court

Katie May
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009

HAY RIVER - The new president of the Federation Franco-tenoise said the organization is not going to stop fighting the GNWT for more services in French.

NNSL photo/graphic

Richard Letourneau: sometimes frustrating to fight GNWT for French-language services. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"We've been fighting for 10 years," said Richard Letourneau of Inuvik. "We're not going to give up. The government has got to understand that."

Letourneau was acclaimed leader of the territorial francophone organization at its Nov. 28 annual general meeting in Hay River.

The new president said it is sometimes frustrating dealing with the GNWT, adding it seems the federation has to go to court for every little thing.

"But, if we have to, we're going to do that again, because we know we're going to win," he said. "We're always winning, but it's just so long."

Letourneau said it would be less expensive on taxpayers if the GNWT paid for French-language services instead of lawyers, both their own and the federation's lawyers when the government loses a case.

In March, a decade-long legal battle between the GNWT and the federation over French-language services came to an end when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case.

During the course of the case in other courts, judges issued several orders which are still in effect, including that a joint committee of GNWT and federation representatives be set up to create an implementation plan for 1988's Official Languages Act.

However, the makeup of that committee is in dispute.

Letourneau said the GNWT told the federation it could put anyone on the committee, but the government would only pay for people from the NWT.

The federation wants to name southern experts a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, a former language commissioner of Canada, and professors from the University of Moncton and the University of Alberta.

The committee needs experts to get the implementation right, Letourneau said. "Not fight for the next 20 years."

The GNWT has to use some common sense, he said. "We feel that it's not much money to get the committee going and, in the long run, we don't think it's going to cost that much to implement (the act)."

Letourneau, 33, said the federation tries to work in good faith with the GNWT.

"It's not fun to always look like the bad guy," he said. "Sometimes the public thinks that French people are the ones that show their teeth all the time, but it seems like that's the only way that we can get something done."

Letourneau, a French immersion teacher at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, has been a vice-president of the federation for five years.

The Quebec native is president of the Association des Francophones du Delta du Mackenzie, but he plans to resign from that position in the next few weeks.

Letourneau succeeds former president Fernand Denaud, who served for nine years before resigning in February.

Hay River's Christian Girard filled in as interim president since then.

Letourneau said he decided to run for the presidency after no one else expressed an interest in the position.

"I said it would be best for the organization to have some continuity and somebody who knew the agenda and the fights for these past years," he said.

Among the other issues the new president will face is hiring a new executive director, since the current one Leo-Paul Provencher is leaving in a few months.

Letourneau said another issue is finding more space for the federation in Yellowknife, especially in light of its recent creation of a French-language college.

"We need room for that, and our building right now is just too small," he said.

The College des Territoires du Nord-Ouest was formed in February with a director as its first and so far only employee.

The college, which Letourneau describes as a work in progress, has offered some language and computer courses through contracted instructors.

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