After filing a complaint

Reception of complaint and analysis of admissibility

After you complete and submit the online complaint form, an automated acknowledgement of receipt from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages will appear on your screen.

The Office of the Commissioner will start by analyzing the admissibility of your complaint. Under the Official Languages Act, only complaints that meet all three of the following criteria can be investigated:

  1. The complaint concerns a federal institution or any other organization that is required to comply with the Official Languages Act.
  2. The complaint alleges a contravention of the Official Languages Act.
  3. The complaint is about a specific situation.

If any one of these criteria is not met, the Office of the Commissioner will be obliged to refuse your complaint.

Investigation process

Flexibility in the decision to investigate

When a complaint is deemed to be admissible, the Commissioner of Official Languages has an obligation to investigate.

However, the modernized Official Languages Act gives the Commissioner greater latitude and flexibility to determine whether, in certain exceptional cases, the complaint should not be investigated.

In general, the Commissioner will investigate if:

  • your complaint involves a situation that has an impact on the equal status of the two official languages;
  • your complaint is made honestly and in good faith and is aimed at resolving a concrete problem;
  • your complaint is regarding a violation of the Official Languages Act and falls within the Commissioner’s jurisdiction;
  • your complaint is filed within a reasonable timeframe after the incident occurred;
  • the incident cited in your complaint is not already fully covered in a final investigation report in which the Commissioner concluded that there had been a violation of the Act;
  • the federal institution cited in your complaint has not already taken corrective measures to address the problem; or
  • the subject of your complaint is not already fully covered by a compliance agreement between the Commissioner and the federal institution involved.

Learn more about flexibility in the decision to investigate

Mediation

The Office of the Commissioner may offer the parties—you and the federal institution cited in your complaint—the opportunity to participate in a mediation process during which an impartial mediator from the Office of the Commissioner will help the parties find a mutually acceptable solution to the issues raised in the complaint. The mediator will not make a decision and the parties may terminate the process at any time.

If the mediation does not result in an agreement between the parties, the complaint will continue through the investigation process.

Note: Since the adoption of Bill C-13 to modernize the Official Languages Act, the Office of the Commissioner has been actively working to establish a mediation process to resolve your complaint through an informal agreement rather than a formal investigation. This new process will be available to you as soon as possible.

Investigation report

The Office of the Commissioner gathers information to prepare a preliminary investigation report that presents the findings of the investigation. The parties—you and the federal institution cited in your complaint—are then invited to comment on the report. The comments received are taken into consideration in the final investigation report, which will conclude the investigation. In the final report, the Commissioner may make recommendations to help the federal institution comply with the Official Languages Act.

Note: An investigation summary may be posted on the Office of the Commissioner’s website.

Examples of investigation summaries

Compliance agreement

If, during or after an investigation, the Commissioner has reasonable grounds to believe that a federal institution has contravened the Official Languages Act, he may enter into a compliance agreement with that institution. The Commissioner may decide to invite you, as a complainant, to be a party to the compliance agreement.

By entering into a compliance agreement, the federal institution accepts the terms and conditions of the agreement and is therefore legally bound to comply with them, as opposed to the recommendations made in an investigation report.

If the Commissioner is satisfied that the federal institution has honoured the compliance agreement, the Commissioner will issue a notice of compliance, which will end the process.

If the Commissioner is of the opinion that the federal institution has not honoured the compliance agreement, he may apply to the Federal Court for an order requiring the federal institution to comply with the agreement.

Note: The ability to enter into a compliance agreement is a new power given to the Commissioner of Official Languages as a result of the adoption of Bill C-13 to modernize the Official Languages Act. The Office of the Commissioner will use this power as soon as possible.

Follow-up of recommendations

The Office of the Commissioner may decide to follow up on whether the federal institution that is the subject of your complaint has implemented the recommendations made in the final investigation report. As part of the follow-up, the institution will be asked to document its progress in implementing the recommendations.

The information provided by the institution is analyzed and compiled into a preliminary follow-up report. The parties—you and the federal institution cited in your complaint—are then invited to comment on it. The comments received are taken into consideration in the final follow-up report, which will conclude the follow-up. In the final follow-up report, the Commissioner describes the extent to which the federal institution has implemented the recommendations.

Court remedy

If an investigation does not produce the desired results, or if the federal institution cited in your complaint does not implement the Commissioner’s recommendations, you have the option of taking legal action in Federal Court against that institution.

Learn more

Report to Governor in Council or Parliament

In cases where an investigation report contains recommendations and the federal institution cited in the complaint does not take appropriate action within a reasonable time, the Commissioner may send a copy of the report and its recommendations to the Governor in Council with a request for action. The Governor in Council may take any action it considers appropriate with respect to the report and the implementation of the recommendations.

If no appropriate action is taken by the federal institution after the investigation report is sent to the Governor in Council, the Commissioner may table the report in Parliament to inform parliamentarians of a particular compliance issue.

Commissioner’s order

At the end of an investigation that relates exclusively either to communications with and services to the public or to language of work, the Commissioner may formally order the institution to take any action he considers necessary to remedy the contravention identified.

To make an order, the Commissioner must have:

  • reasonable grounds to believe that the federal institution has contravened the Official Languages Act;
  • made recommendations as part of his final investigation report; and
  • given the federal institution the opportunity to enter into a compliance agreement.

Unlike a compliance agreement, which requires an agreement between the Commissioner and the federal institution cited in the complaint, an order is made unilaterally by the Commissioner.

If the federal institution complies with the order, the process is complete. If the institution does not comply with the order, the Commissioner may file the order with the Federal Court to be enforced as an order of that Court.

The federal institution may challenge the Commissioner’s order in Federal Court.

Note: The ability to make an order is a new power given to the Commissioner of Official Languages as a result of the adoption of Bill C-13 to modernize the Official Languages Act. The Office of the Commissioner will use this power as soon as possible. Orders apply only to complaints about events that:

  • occurred after the passage of Bill C-13 (June 20, 2023); or
  • are still ongoing—that is, cases where the contravention has been confirmed as still existing after the passage of Bill C-13.

Administrative monetary penalty

At the end of an investigation that relates exclusively to communications with and services to the public provided by certain designated institutions that operate in the transportation field and serve the travelling public, the Commissioner may decide to impose an administrative monetary penalty on the institution cited in the complaint. The purpose of imposing a penalty is not to punish the institution, but rather to promote compliance with the Official Languages Act.

Note: The ability to impose an administrative monetary penalty is a new power given to the Commissioner of Official Languages as a result of the adoption of Bill C-13 to modernize the Official Languages Act. It will not come into force until an order in council is issued by the Governor in Council and regulations are adopted. This means that the Commissioner cannot use this power at this time. However, he is closely monitoring the progress of this matter.