Notes for an appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages concerning Bill S 205, amending Part IV of the Official Languages Act

Ottawa, Ontario, May 11, 2015
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Madam Chair, Honourable Senators, good evening.

I would like to begin by thanking you for this opportunity to present my position on Bill S‑205 tabled by Senator Chaput. I support this bill, which aims to update Part IV of the Official Languages Act.

You have received my brief, which sets out my analysis of the bill in greater detail. My remarks today will therefore be confined to a few of the highlights.

Let me say here that I believe it is necessary to update Part IV of the Official Languages Act for at least two reasons.

First, the criterion of the particular characteristics of the English and French linguistic minority populations was not incorporated into the Regulations related to Part IV (adopted in 1991), despite the importance attached to that criterion by the then Minister of Justice, the Right Honourable Ramon Hnatyshyn. When he appeared before the legislative committee tasked with reviewing the Official Languages Act, 1988, Mr. Hnatyshyn made the following statement:

[The] particular characteristics of that minority population . . . such as the existence of educational, religious, social or cultural institutions . . . may attest, perhaps better than numbers alone, to that population’s vitality and potential as a community.Footnote 1

Second, the numerical criteria that are set out in subsection 32(2) of the Act and used in the Regulations to define significant demand do not take into account all of the people who use the minority language in the public or private sphere. For example, the current criteria as they are applied exclude at least three groups of people from the evaluation of significant demand. They are individuals whose “first official language spoken” is not the language of the minority but

  • who speak the minority language at home (as can be the case for a certain number of exogamous couples, newcomers and anglophiles or francophiles); or
  • who speak the minority language in the workplace; or
  • who receive their education in the minority language.

I would now like to draw your attention to one of the provisions in the bill that your committee has discussed at greater length. I am referring to clause 5, amending subsection 32(2) of the Official Languages Act.

To be clear, the purpose of subsection 32(2) is not to define who is a Francophone or to determine who should be included in the francophone minority communities; neither is its purpose to determine who is an Anglophone in Quebec, nor to determine the size of Quebec’s English-speaking communities.

However, the numerical criteria in subsection 32(2) for assessing potential demand for services in the minority language should be inclusive and relevant, while taking into account the purpose of Part IV of the Act.

For example, not everyone who can communicate in the language of the English or French linguistic minority population will choose to receive public services in the minority language. However, people who use the minority language in the public or private sphere could make that choice. That could be the case for the three aforementioned groups of people.

In conclusion, this third bill tabled by Senator Chaput is just as important and necessary as was Bill S‑3, adopted in 2005 to amend Part VII. Bill S-205 will help fulfill the purpose of Part IV and enable official language minority communities to develop, thrive and strengthen their identity.

Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or your colleagues may have.


Footnote 1

Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence of the Legislative Committee on Bill C‑72, An Act respecting the status and use of the official languages of Canada, Issue 1, March 22, 1988, p. 37.

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