Information on complaints

Why file a complaint?

  • To ensure that your rights are respected: In Canada, the Official Languages Act establishes the equality of English and French and grants you language rights. It is perfectly normal to insist that these rights be respected.
  • To find solutions: As an ombudsman, the Commissioner of Official Languages uses persuasion and constructive dialogue with federal institutions to find appropriate, fair and long-term solutions.
  • To report a problem: Complaints are an indicator of what’s happening in federal institutions. They help the Office of the Commissioner work with federal institutions to find solutions to problems.
  • To raise awareness in federal institutions: A lack of familiarity with or a misunderstanding of the requirements of the Official Languages Act is often the reason for non-compliance with language obligations. By filing a complaint, you are helping to make federal institutions aware of these issues and promoting a change in corporate culture.

What results can a complaint get?

Generally, admissible complaints result in investigations into federal institutions conducted by the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada or in court remedies.

You will find examples of complaints that were investigated by the Commissioner of Official Languages since 2006. They are listed by part of the Act and include a short description of the situation and summary of the outcome. The title of each example contains a link to a more detailed version of the complaint. All complaints are confidential. Any names appearing in these examples are used with the permission of the parties involved.

Whom can I file a complaint against?

The Official Languages Act applies to federal institutions such as offices, Crown corporations and federal departments, as well as agencies and businesses acting on their behalf. Certain companies, like Air Canada, still have language obligations even though they have been privatized.

Note: The Official Languages Act  does not apply to municipalities, provincial government institutions or private companies.

If you have difficulty determining whether a particular organization is subject to the Official Languages Act, please do not hesitate to contact us.

In what situations can I file a complaint?

  • You go to an office that is designated as bilingual, but are greeted in only one official language.
  • You are not able to obtain services in the official language of your choice at a federal government office that is designated as bilingual.
  • You are an employee of a federal institution in a region that is designated as bilingual, and you find it difficult to use the official language of your choice at work.
  • You believe that decisions made by a federal institution will have a negative impact on the vitality of an official language minority community.
  • You believe that the language requirements of a position have not been determined objectively in light of the duties of that position.
  • You believe that the equal status of both official languages is not being respected by a federal institution.
  • You believe that one of the other provisions of the Official Languages Act has not been complied with.

How do I file a complaint?

You can file a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages by using the on-line complaint form. Complaints can also be filed by telephone (1-877-996-6368) and or by regular mail.

Please contact us as soon as possible with clear, detailed and specific information about the situation. You will need to provide us with the following:

  • your name
  • your telephone number
  • your mailing address
  • a summary of the incident or situation, including the date, time and location, as well as the federal institution in question
  • any documentation that could help us investigate your complaint

Are complaints confidential?

Yes—all complaints are confidential unless you authorize us to reveal your name.

How are complaints resolved?

Facilitated resolution process

The facilitated resolution process is an investigation process that is used to resolve complaints quickly, yet still obtain lasting results for complainants. Investigations conducted using this process are as thorough as those carried out under the formal investigation process. Before proceeding with the facilitated resolution process, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages must first obtain the complainant’s consent. The objective of this process is not to determine whether the complaint is founded, but to resolve the issue. The Office of the Commissioner will discontinue the investigation when it considers the results to be satisfactory and in the public interest, or when the federal institution has made tangible commitments to resolve the situation. If necessary, the Office of the Commissioner will verify that these commitments have been met. Complainants may ask to switch to the formal investigation process before the facilitated resolution process is complete. The Office of the Commissioner may also opt for the formal investigation process if the federal institution is uncooperative or if substantive measures to resolve the situation are slow to come about.

Formal investigation process

The objective of the formal investigation process is to determine whether the complaint is founded. A formal notice of intent is sent to the deputy head of the institution and to the person who filed the complaint. An investigation is conducted and a preliminary report is prepared. All parties are asked to comment on the preliminary report, and a final report is then issued to close the investigation. If the final report contains recommendations, it may be necessary to follow up on the recommendations and prepare a follow-up report. The formal investigation process is more traditional and usually takes longer than the facilitated resolution process.

Service standard

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages aims to respond to all requests from the public as quickly as possible and meet the standard listed below. According to the Office of the Commissioner’s service standard, complaints must be handled within 175 business days. 

Note: The standards are a guideline that the Office of the Commissioner’s analysts strive to respect. The complexity of the complaint could have an impact on the processing time; therefore, in certain exceptional cases, the standards may not be met.

Service standards for complaint handling Days
Facilitated Resolution Process – Investigation completed
175 business days from the filing of the complaint
Formal Resolution Process – Preliminary investigation report sent

Vexatious or bad faith complaints

Even if a complaint is deemed admissible, the Commissioner may at any time use his discretion to refuse or cease to investigate if he is of the opinion that the complaint is vexatious or was not made in good faith. A vexatious complaint or a complaint made in bad faith is a complaint that:

  • is filed for the purpose of harassing, harming, annoying, embarrassing or causing discomfort;
  • is for a purpose other than to report and remedy an alleged violation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act;
  • seeks to disrupt or discredit the Office of the Commissioner’s complaint investigation and inquiry process;
  • is not motivated by the complainant’s honest belief that the Act has been violated, but by a malicious, misleading, spiteful, inappropriate or dishonourable motive;
  • is intended to cause embarrassment, harassment or harm to the Office of the Commissioner or the federal institution involved; and/or
  • has an inappropriate or dishonourable purpose.

In determining whether a complaint is vexatious or made in bad faith, the Commissioner may consider the following:

  • Nature and scope of the complaint
  • Purpose of the complaint
  • Wording of the complaint
  • Conduct of the complainant before or after the filing of the complaint(s)
  • Timing of the complaint in relation to other possibly related events
  • Number of similar complaints made by the same complainant or in connection with the complaint

If a complaint is refused or an investigation is discontinued, the Office of the Commissioner will notify the complainant and inform him or her of the Commissioner’s reasons for doing so within a reasonable amount of time. If necessary, the Commissioner may also impose conditions on the complainant for filing new complaints.

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