Statement by the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada on the government of Canada’s reform document, French and English: Towards Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada
For immediate release
Gatineau, Quebec, May 10, 2021
In the wake of the release of the reform document entitled French and English: Towards Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada, Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge conducted an in-depth analysis of the federal government’s proposed measures. The analysis was conducted on several fronts and included consultations with a number of official language minority community (OLMC) organizations to obtain their views on these measures. The Commissioner then shared the results of his analysis with the government and made recommendations in order to clarify or strengthen some of the measures.
Given that a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act is expected to be introduced shortly, the Commissioner made the following statement today:
“I have examined the measures proposed by the federal government in its official languages reform document. Overall, the government’s proposals have elicited very positive reactions from OLMCs. The importance given to advancing the substantive equality of English and French in Canada and to protecting OLMCs has been particularly appreciated. I believe it is possible—essential, even—for the Official Languages Act to effectively address the significant challenges facing the French language while maintaining the equal status of English and French. The Act must continue to defend this equality and meet the needs of all Canadians.
“I do, however, share the concerns of Quebec’s English-speaking community that the addition of asymmetrical components to the Act will undermine the equal status of English and French. I therefore strongly recommend that the government focus on substantive equality rather than legislative asymmetry in order to protect OLMCs across Canada and foster the development and vitality of both of Canada’s official languages. This will help my office to intervene, when necessary, to maintain the important balance between our two official languages.
“The proposed amendments suggest increased support for the development and vitality of OLMCs, but it is essential that the federal government use more precise and explicit language to clarify the obligations of federal institutions.
“The government needs to clarify the obligations of federal institutions that deal with the public—and, in particular, the travelling public—and ensure that federal court decisions are communicated to the public in both official languages.
“I am also concerned about the lack of administrative monetary penalties for federal institutions that do not respect their official languages obligations and the creation of a fund to promote linguistic duality. These measures would certainly help me ensure better compliance with the Act.
“I had previously recommended that regulations be made regarding language‑of‑work rights under Part V of the Act in order to ensure that they are consistent with the communications and service delivery requirements in Part IV. This issue is even more important now that the federal government is planning to introduce new obligations for federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada where there is a strong Francophone presence.
“These are the main points that the federal government needs to take into consideration as it prepares to introduce the bill. I sincerely hope they will be given due attention, as they will help to make the Official Languages Act a resolutely modern and strong piece of legislation that keeps pace with the needs of Canadians.”