The Federal Court defined the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Official Languages with respect to programming for official language minority communities.
In March 2009, CBC/Radio-Canada announced a financial recovery plan involving significant budget cuts. In particular, CBC/Radio-Canada chose to cut staff at, a French-language radio station in southwestern Ontario, from ten to three employees, thereby reducing the production and broadcasting of local content by CBEF. As a result of this measure, 876 complaints were received by Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages regarding CBEF’s budget cuts. In his investigation, the Commissioner concluded that CBC/Radio-Canada’s decision was detrimental to the vitality of the Windsor area Francophone community and that CBC/Radio-Canada had not assessed the impact of its decision on this community. In 2010, the Commissioner applied to the Federal Court for a remedy, and Mr. Amellal, one of the complainants, was added as a co-applicant.
CBC/Radio-Canada asked the Court to summarily dismiss the proceeding on the grounds that its radio and television programming services are subject to the Broadcasting Act, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has exclusive jurisdiction in those matters.
Federal Court decision
The Federal Court concluded that the CRTC and the Federal Court have concurrent jurisdiction. Therefore, there is no conflict between the objectives of the Official Languages Act and those of the Broadcasting Act:
In both statutes, the general will of Parliament is to foster the development and enhance the vitality of [official language minority communities], while leaving the choice of means in the hands of the federal institutions concerned and the broadcasters, including the national public broadcaster. The same may be said of the legal principles for the application of both statutes. As regards the [Official Languages Act], the federal government’s general commitment to enhancing linguistic duality is met by all of the federal institutions in their respective fields of activity, whereas as regards the [Broadcasting Act], the general purposes of the broadcasting policy for Canada are implemented by all broadcasters, taking into account their individual characteristics and the complementarity of the programs offered by the broadcasting system as a wholeFootnote 1.
It was, however, the Court’s opinion that it was preferable for the CRTC to first decide on the issue of the decrease in regional or local programming before the Court determined whether it was appropriate to either dismiss the application or further examine the issues raised on the merits. The CRTC process for renewing CBC/Radio-Canada’s licences was to take place shortly after the hearing before the Federal Court. The Court believed the CRTC process was the most appropriate forum for discussion on the decrease in local or regional French-language programming.
The Court therefore ordered a stay of proceedings to allow the CRTC to make a decision, as part of the process to renew CBC/Radio-Canada’s licences, on any complaint or intervention made in respect of the decrease in the number of hours of local or regional programming broadcast by CBEF Windsor. The Court also suggested that the CRTC examine the impact of CBC/Radio-Canada’s decisions on the vitality and development of the affected communities.