Official languages in emergency situations

Communicating in both official languages is essential during emergency situations

During an emergency, it is crucial to communicate relevant information to Canadians in both official languages in order to inform them, reassure them and give them instructions that they can understand and carry out .

In times of crisis, you must be able to rely on government authorities to provide you with the information you need to protect your health and safety and that of your family.

If you believe that your language rights have been violated , you can file an official complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

How does this issue affect you?

From June 8 to 26, 2020, more than 2,000 people completed a questionnaire administered by the Office of the Commissioner and described how shortcomings in terms of bilingualism in emergency situations had affected them and their families during the current COVID‑19 pandemic and during previous crises.

What is the Commissioner doing to fix this recurring issue?

The health crisis triggered by the COVID‑19 pandemic, like a number of other emergency situations, has exposed many shortcomings in terms of communications in both official languages.

The Commissioner of Official Languages examined the issue and has presented his findings in his report, A matter of respect and safety: The impact of emergency situations on official languages. This report provides an overview of what Canadians have experienced during emergencies over the past decade.

The report also presents potential solutions and recommendations to the federal government to address recurring official languages problems that Canadians are having to deal with in crisis situations.

Comments received through the questionnaire:

“I’m concerned that official bilingualism is quickly called into question during emergencies. Whether it’s labelling on disinfectant bottles or RCMP notices about dangerous situations, speed trumps accessibility for those who speak the official language of the minority. [translation]

“Although federal communication was fine, I found Quebec information in English was lacking. Several times I felt the ‘French only’ communication I received may have put me as an Anglo Quebecer at greater risk than my Francophone friends. ”

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