Statement from the Commissioner of Official Languages on the Government of Canada’s reform document, English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada
For immediate release
Gatineau, Quebec, February 19, 2021
Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge made the following statement today:
“I have read the federal government’s intentions for official languages released today in its reform document entitled English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada.
“I am pleased to see that the principle of substantive equality of English and French is the central element guiding the government in its reform of the Official Languages Act. The measures proposed by the government seek to ensure that the Act truly defends the language rights of Canadians.
“Canadian society has changed significantly in recent years, both demographically and technologically, and the government’s proposed overhaul of Canada’s language policy is timely. As I have said repeatedly, the Official Languages Act is the cornerstone of our federal language policy, and it needs to be reviewed in depth to make it relevant, dynamic and strong. That is why I am pleased with the scope of the government’s proposed measures. At first glance, it seems like these measures could breathe new life into efforts to protect and promote both of our official languages and to strengthen linguistic duality.
“I note that the government’s strategy reflects many of the recommendations I made in 2019 regarding the modernization of the Act. The following are a few examples of measures that have particularly caught my attention:
- The increased recognition of official language minority communities—through the clarification of the obligations that federal institutions have toward them—suggests stronger support for their development and vitality.
- The enhanced toolbox proposed for the Commissioner of Official Languages promises to support my office’s mandate more effectively and ensure improved compliance with the Act by federal institutions.
- The expansion of the scope of the Act to include more businesses should ensure that more people can work in the official language of their choice.
- The appointment of bilingual judges to the Supreme Court of Canada should help to ensure that everyone appearing before the Court can be heard and understood in the official language of their choice.
- The explicit reference to Indigenous languages in the modernized Act would recognize the importance of these languages in Canadian society and, more importantly, contribute to our common goal of maintaining, revitalizing and promoting them.
- The review of the Act every 10 years should ensure that it continues to evolve and is able to respond even better to the changing needs of Canadians.
“The federal government now has a unique opportunity to make the Act resolutely modern and adapted to our new reality. This reform document looks very promising, and I call on the government to put its words into action and introduce legislation to modernize the Act as soon as possible. I also urge all parties to work together to ensure its swift passage.”