Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages

Ottawa, Ontario, February 9, 2022
Raymond Théberge - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Beginning of dialog

Mr. Chair, honourable members of the Committee, good morning.

Although today’s meeting is taking place virtually, I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you from Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.

I am here today to talk to you about urgent issues regarding the implementation of the Official Languages Act.

With me today are my assistant commissioners, Isabelle Gervais, Pierre Leduc and Éric Trépanier, and my General Counsel, Pascale Giguère.

These are undoubtedly turbulent times in terms of language. The unprecedented attention official languages have generated across the country over the past year clearly shows how important official languages and linguistic duality are to Canadians.

In 2021, the language question was a major issue in Canada as the result of a number of factors: Francophone immigration, education in the official language of the linguistic minority, official languages policy reform at both the federal and provincial levels, and numerous infringements of the Official Languages Act.

Federal institutions’ non-compliance with their official languages obligations is a significant and recurring issue for which we must find solutions.

The numerous complaints I receive year after year are proof of this, and the trend is on the rise. We received well over 1,000 complaints again in 2020‍–‍2021, and so far this year we have already received more than 5,500, which is five times more than we normally receive in a year.

Among the complaints we have received in recent months are a record number of complaints about Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau’s unilingual speech and a large number of complaints about Mary Simon’s appointment as Governor General of Canada.

By filing complaints with my office, Canadians—and, more specifically, French-speaking Canadians—have spoken out. They have sent a clear message to the government that we need to do more to ensure that our two official languages are respected.

I think this speaks volumes about how Canadians feel about their language rights right now, and their message must be heard: they have had enough.

They are demanding that their language rights be respected, and they expect their leaders, especially the leaders of federal institutions subject to the Official Languages Act, to be fluent in English and French.

I have been saying this for too long: despite hundreds of investigations, recommendations and special reports aimed at addressing official languages issues, and despite all the efforts that have been made to ensure compliance with the Act, Canadians’ language rights continue to be violated.

I must admit that in its current form, the Official Languages Act does not allow me to effectively fulfill my mandate to protect language rights.

The most powerful tool I currently have is making recommendations, so I need new powers to ensure compliance more effectively, such as the power to enter into enforceable agreements, coupled with administrative monetary penalties.

These mechanisms are essential to help federal institutions improve their compliance with the Act, and thus to better protect the language rights of Canadians. I hope that they will be part of the measures proposed in the new bill, which we are all very much looking forward to seeing.

The measures presented by the government in its official languages reform document are promising and seem to offer concrete solutions to many of the issues with the current Act.

I hope to see in the new bill the same commitment to truly protect the language rights of Canadians. I will be happy to share my perspective of the proposed bill with you in due course.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer your questions in the official language of your choice.

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