Mandate and roles
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada is an agent of Parliament appointed by commission under the Great Seal, after approval by resolution of the Senate and House of Commons, for a seven-year term. The Commissioner reports directly to Parliament and is supported by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. The Commissioner’s mandate is set out in section 56 of the Official Languages Act:
It is the duty of the Commissioner to take all actions and measures within the authority of the Commissioner with a view to ensuring recognition of the status of each of the official languages and compliance with the spirit and intent of this Act in the administration of the affairs of federal institutions, including any of their activities relating to the advancement of English and French in Canadian society.
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada therefore has a mandate to take all measures within his power to ensure that the three main objectives of the Official Languages Act are met:
- Ensure the equality of English and French in Parliament, the Government of Canada, the federal administration and the institutions subject to the Official Languages Act;
- Support the preservation and development of official language minority communities in Canada;
- Promote the equality of English and French in Canadian society.
To achieve the three main objectives of the Official Languages Act, the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada carries out the following roles:
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada protects the language rights of Canadians and promotes the equality of both official languages in Canadian society. As an ombudsman, the Commissioner receives and reviews complaints and, if required, investigates them. This is done either through a facilitated resolution process or a formal investigation process. He also conducts investigations on his own initiative, when appropriate. Areas of investigation include:
- the right of any member of the Canadian public to use English or French to communicate with and receive services from federal institutions, as provided for in the Official Languages Act;
- the right of federal public service employees to work in the official language of their choice in designated regions;
- the right of all Canadians, whether English- or French-speaking, to equal opportunities for employment and advancement in federal institutions;
- the development and vitality of Canada’s official language minority communities and the promotion of linguistic duality in Canadian society.
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada plays a proactive role by conducting audits to measure federal institutions’ and other organizations’ compliance with the Official Languages Act and by making recommendations.
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, with support from the regional offices and liaison officers, works with federal institutions and other organizations, various levels of government and official language minority communities throughout the country. This collaborative official languages network helps the Commissioner to gain a better understanding of the needs and concerns of communities, make relevant recommendations and intervene judiciously in major official languages issues.
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, monitoring role involves acting pre-emptively by intervening at the stage where laws, regulations and policies are developed to ensure that language rights remain a primary concern of leaders.
Promotion and education role
One of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada's main responsibilities is to support linguistic duality in both the public service and Canadian society. To meet this responsibility, the Commissioner raises Canadians’ awareness of the benefits of linguistic duality, works with community organizations and tries to convince various organizations subject to the Official Languages Act to give official languages and minority communities the attention they deserve. The regional offices play a key role in promotion and public awareness.
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada fulfills the promotion and education role mainly by creating educational tools and by carrying out research, studies and public awareness activities. He also delivers speeches and participates in conferences and workshops to inform all Canadians of the status and importance of Canada’s official languages.
Court intervention role
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada contributes to the advancement of Canadians’ language rights by intervening, when appropriate, before the courts in any proceeding related to the status or use of English or French.
Each year the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada submits an annual report to Parliament that addresses current issues, findings and recommendations.
Who else has a role to play with respect to official languages?
While each federal institution is responsible for implementing the Official Languages Act within its area of jurisdiction, the following federal departments and agencies have special responsibilities with respect to official languages.
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is a central agency responsible for approving the strategic directions and policies related to Parts IV, V and VI of the Official Languages Act. It also plays a role in implementing other provisions of the Official Languages Act (including Part VII). In 2009, the parts of the Treasury Board Secretariat that deal with compensation and human resources were consolidated into the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, which is housed within the Treasury Board Secretariat. The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is responsible for verifying how divisions within federal institutions are meeting their language requirements and for evaluating official languages programs in federal institutions. In general, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is responsible for the overall development and coordination of principles and programs related to:
- communications with and services to the public in both official languages,
- the use of English and French as language of work, and
- the equal participation of English- and French-speaking Canadians in federal institutions.
Canadian Heritage is responsible for coordinating the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. This part of the Official Languages Act pertains in particular to the federal government’s commitment to enhance the vitality of English and French minority communities and support their development. To achieve these goals, the Department negotiates agreements with provincial and territorial governments to promote the teaching of English and French as second languages and to promote education in the language of the Anglophone or Francophone minority. It also supports various organizations that work with official language minority communities.
Since 2006, the Official Languages Secretariat has reported to Canadian Heritage. The Secretariat plays a central role in implementing the Roadmap for Official Languages. It is responsible for coordinating files related to official languages in the government and for assisting the Minister of Canadian Heritage in their horizontal management.
Department of Justice Canada
The Department of Justice Canada was responsible for developing the 1988 Official Languages Act and retains overall responsibility for it. The Department advises the government on legal matters relating to the status or use of official languages and represents the government in cases involving language rights. It also has specific responsibilities for the administration of justice in both official languages and works in cooperation with the Treasury Board Secretariat and Canadian Heritage.
Public Service Commission of Canada
The Public Service Commission of Canada is a central agency responsible for implementing the Public Service Employment Act. It plays a major role in monitoring the implementation of language provisions for staffing in the public service. It is also responsible for language evaluation and testing and oversees the application of the Public Service Official Languages Exclusion Approval Order.
Canada School of Public Service
The Canada School of Public Service offers a selection of Language maintenance on-line tools on GCcampus, including courses on Official Languages and preparation for the Public Service Commission second language competence tests.
Since 2016, the provision of language training has been fully outsourced to the private sector. Departments can use the Official languages training services of Public Services and Procurement Canada or enter into a direct relationship with the service provider of their choice. The School no longer provides any advice on language learning and quality assurance services for language training and now focuses on the development of language skills maintenance products.
Standing committees on official languages
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages monitor the implementation of the Official Languages Act and review reports to Parliament submitted by the Commissioner of Official Languages, the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.