Who can file a complaint?
Even if you are not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you can file a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages if:
- you believe your language rights have been infringed;
- you have witnessed another person’s language rights being infringed; or
- you are aware of a situation that contravenes the Official Languages Act.
You can also file a complaint on behalf of another person; however, that person must consent to the investigation and agree to be contacted directly by the Office of the Commissioner for more information.
Whom can I file a complaint against?
The Official Languages Act applies to federal institutions, including:
- the federal courts;
- Crown corporations (e.g., CBC, VIA Rail, Canada Post);
- the main airport authorities;
- the main port authorities;
- federal government institutions and the organizations that act on their behalf;
- certain companies, such as Air Canada, Canadian National Railway and NAV CANADA, which retained their language obligations after being privatized.
Note: To avoid any conflict of interest, the Office of the Commissioner does not investigate complaints about itself. These complaints are referred to an independent investigator.
What is not covered under the Official Languages Act?
Unless they are acting on behalf of a federal institution, the Official Languages Act does not apply to:
- provincial or territorial governments;
- municipal governments; or
- private businesses.
However, some provinces and territories have adopted policies and legislation to protect official languages. To learn more about these policies and laws, please visit the website of the province or territory that interests you.
Why should I file a complaint?
You can file a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner if you believe that a federal institution’s behaviour, practice, decision or action contravenes the Official Languages Act. For example, this is the case if a situation:
- undermines the official status of English or French;
- infringes on the right to use the official language of your choice or to receive services in the official language of your choice; or
- may result in consequences contrary to the Official Languages Act.
Your complaint must also be specific. You need to be able to explain in detail what you have experienced or what you know. If your complaint contains only vague or general allegations, it may be refused.
- Vague and general allegations: “XYZ Canada does not respect the equality of both official languages in its second language evaluations.”
In this example, there are no specific facts to be able to determine the exact problem that needs to be investigated. A detailed explanation should be provided as to exactly how the assessments do not respect the equality of both official languages. Are they poorly written or difficult to understand in one language? Are they less accessible or more expensive in one language than in another? Are they more difficult in one language than the other?
- Specific allegations: “At approximately 2:30 p.m. on January 18, 2019, I went to the XYZ Canada counter located at 123 Street Name in City ABC. The agent who served me said, ‘Hello, bonjour,’ but when I asked for help in French, he asked me to repeat in English. I repeated my request in French, and he replied, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.’ I then continued as best I could in English and managed to get the services I requested, but I was not served in the official language of my choice.”
Are complaints confidential?
The Office of the Commissioner is bound by investigative confidentiality. Your identity will never be disclosed to the federal institution that is the subject of your complaint without your consent.
Please note that if you choose to file your complaint anonymously, you will not be able to, for example:
- add information to your initial complaint;
- participate in the mediation process;
- receive updates on the investigation;
- comment on the Commissioner’s investigation of the complaint;
- be informed of the findings of the investigation; or
- challenge the Commissioner’s decision.
What protections does the Official Languages Act offer me?
If you are threatened, intimidated or discriminated against after making a complaint, you can notify the Office of the Commissioner to determine whether a reprisal has occurred.
Obstructing the work of the Office of the Commissioner
The Official Languages Act prohibits any interference with the work of the Office of the Commissioner or the people who work there. In the event of any obstruction, the Office of the Commissioner may investigate the situation on its own initiative.