Ontario’s government watchdog on Wednesday announced it will investigate cuts to French-language programs at Laurentian University.
The investigation comes after Ontario’s ombudsman received 60 complaints about the transparency and fairness of the process by which the programs were shelved after the northern Ontario university sought creditor protection and declared itself insolvent in February.
The university underwent financial restructuring under third-party supervision after it initiated court proceedings to seek protection from its creditors using the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). On April 12, Laurentian announced it would be cutting 69 programs, including 28 in French, and laying off 100 faculty members.
“Many Franco-Ontarian students and others in the community have told us this situation profoundly affects their ability to be educated and work in French,” French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke said in a statement.
“I have officially notified the ministries and the president of Laurentian University of our investigation,” Burke said.
The probe will be the first formal investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario under the French Language Services Act (FLSA) and will be led by the office’s French Language Services Unit. The investigation will examine whether Laurentian University upheld its obligations as a partially designated agency under the FLSA while it underwent restructuring.
The Ombudsman’s office will also investigate whether the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, led by Minister Ross Romano, and the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, led by Minister Caroline Mulroney, met their obligations under the FLSA.
Officials at Laurentian and the ministries, as well as the complainants, will be interviewed by investigators. “Pertinent documentation” will also be reviewed, the ombudsman’s office said.
In a statement sent to iPolitics on Wednesday, Romano’s office said the ministry will “work cooperatively” with Burke as she undertakes her investigation.
In February, Romano’s office appointed a special adviser to inform the ministry of options to “support Laurentian’s path to return to financial sustainability.” At the time, the government said it was exploring its options, including legislation, to ensure better oversight of university finances.
“It is deeply concerning that Laurentian University has found itself in a position where such drastic action was necessary,” a spokesperson for Romano told iPolitics on Wednesday. “Laurentian made the decision to enter into CCAA proceedings as an autonomous institution, and the Government of Ontario is not a party to the CCAA.”
Because Ontario isn’t party to the CCAA court proceedings, the government can’t comment in further details, the spokesperson said.
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