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Communications breakdown

by The Concordian September 13, 2011

Graphic by Katie Brioux

A former leader of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste wants the Canadian Human Rights Commission to investigate the appointment of Angelo Persichilli as the new communications director at the Prime Minister’s Office. Gilles Rhéaume believes Persichilli’s lack of fluency in the French language and the fact that he has engaged in “Quebec bashing” violates the human rights of French speakers in Quebec.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced the appointment of Persichilli, a veteran of Canada’s ethnic media scene, late last month. In addition to writing for the Toronto Star, Persichilli has worked as an executive at OMNI Television and served as political editor at the Italian-language publication Corriere Canadese. Along with criticism regarding his lack of fluency in French, his appointment has been criticized by some as being a blatant pander to certain of Canada’s ethnic communities.
The decision to hire Angelo Persichilli was a bad one, but not for the reasons put forward by Rhéaume.
There appears to be no law dismissing someone who supposedly engaged in “Quebec bashing” from joining the PMO and is not considered a violation anyone’s human rights. It is true that, 18 months ago, Persichilli wrote in the Toronto Star that many Canadians were “tired of the annoying lament” coming from Quebec, and that many (and presumably himself) were “concerned by the over-representation of francophones in our bureaucracy, our Parliament and our institutions.”
While it may have been a political mistake to appoint someone who has made such statements to such a high office, it is hardly a human rights abuse. Neither the Canadian Human Rights Act nor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes any mention of any sort of right to be free from being served by a civil servant who has made remarks that are likely to be unpopular among certain segments of society.
The decision to hire Angelo Persichilli as director of communications at the Prime Minister’s Office is a mistake because it presents certain practical problems and inefficiencies that would easily be avoided by hiring someone who is bilingual. While the Prime Minister’s Office assured worried French-speaking Canadians that Andrew MacDougall, who is bilingual, would be the primary spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office in both official languages, certain problems cannot be avoided.
It is not inconceivable that, at some point or another, in a country where French is an official language and some seven million people speak it, Persichilli might have to converse with a French speaker in his official capacity. When this likelihood occurs, and it will many times, Persichilli will simply not be able to perform his job as the Prime Minister’s communications director as easily as someone who is fluent in both official languages.
Gilles Rhéaume is right to be concerned about the appointment of Persichilli, but is worried for the wrong reasons. While certainly prompted by his own motives, Rheaume’s complaint to the Human Rights Commission has put focus on a problem that does not exist.

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