Since 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act of Canada, the time has come to think about its modernization.
The first Act was adopted in 1969. Apart from the 2005 amendments concerning areas such as federal institutions’ support for the vitality and development of official language minority communities, the Act has had only one major review—in 1988.
Why modernize the Official Languages Act?
Canada has changed in many ways since 1988. These changes include the following:
- social and demographic transformation;
- the significant contribution of immigration in official language communities; and
- the impact of technological development on new ways of delivering services to the public and work arrangements in the federal public service.
Linguistic duality is an integral part of the Canadian identity and a fundamental value of our country.
This anniversary is the perfect opportunity to ensure that the Official Languages Act meets the needs of today’s Canadian society. Public consultations are essential to our discussion.
As part of the modernization of the Act, the Office of the Commissioner has set out a number of issues for you to comment on.
1. Access to justice
In recent years, the Office of the Commissioner has identified barriers that may affect people’s ability to use their preferred official language before federal courts. These challenges include the lack of an obligation for Supreme Court judges to be bilingual, or the fact that some federal court decisions posted on their respective websites are not available in both official languages.
This section concerns Part III of the Official Languages Act, which addresses the administration of justice.
2. Advent of new technology and delivery of federal government services
A number of technological phenomena have emerged since the only major review of the Act, in 1988. On-line services and social media have changed the habits of Canadians when it comes to their use of both official languages. The federal institutions’ use of the Internet and new tools to communicate and interact with the public, as well as the possible use of machine translation for services, raise key questions regarding the implementation of the obligations under the Act.
This section concerns Part IV of the Official Languages Act, which addresses communications with and services to the public.
3. Federal public service
In some regions, employees of federal institutions have the right to work in their official language of choice. This means, for example, that these public servants can access work tools, receive supervision and training, prepare documents or speak during meetings in their preferred official language. The list of these regions, set out in a 1977 circular, no longer takes into account the realities of today’s federal public service, such as the practice of working remotely and the implementation of virtual work teams.
This section concerns Part V of the Official Languages Act, which addresses the language of work of federal public servants.
4. Development of Canada’s linguistic minorities
To ensure the proper development of official language minority communities, the time has come to clarify how federal institutions’ obligations must be implemented in order to be better understood and applied.
This section concerns Part VII of the Official Languages Act, which addresses the advancement of English and French.
5. Mandate and roles of the Commissioner
The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada ensures respect for official languages by playing a number of roles. The Commissioner acts as an ombudsperson; conducts audits; promotes and educates; intervenes before the courts; submits reports; and fulfills the liaison and monitoring roles. However, the time has come to determine whether the Commissioner’s mandate and roles still meet the needs of Canadians.
This section concerns Part IX of the Official Languages Act, which addresses the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
6. Official languages and Indigenous languages
The Act is inclusive and specifies that it does not abrogate or derogate from any legal or customary right with respect to any language that is not English or French. First Nations, Métis and Inuit languages and culture are an integral part of the Canadian identity.
A number of actors are responsible for implementing the Act. Over the years, the governance of the Act has changed in several ways and has presented an increasing number of challenges. The time has come to ask ourselves whether the role and responsibilities assigned to the different actors still help achieve the objectives of the Act.
For more information on the Official Languages Act, visit the Understanding your language rights page.
Where and when?
The on-line consultations on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, which were held from April 19 to May 31, 2018, are now over. The Office of the Commissioner is currently analyzing your comments.