Backgrounder - Appeal of the Federal Court’s decision in the FFCB case

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In 2011, the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique (FFCB) filed several complaints with the Commissioner of Official Languages (the Commissioner), alleging that two federal institutions, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (the Commission), failed to meet their obligations to the French linguistic minority community when they entered into and implemented the 2008 Canada – British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement (the Agreement). Specifically, FFCB alleged that the change in the employment assistance service delivery model designed and implemented by the Government of British Columbia under the Agreement did not ensure the equal quality of services in English and French. FFCB also alleged that ESDC and the Commission failed to meet their obligations under the Official Languages Act (the Act) when they entered into the Agreement and that this new model undermined the development and vitality of the province’s French linguistic minority communities.

Following his investigation, the Commissioner concluded that Part IV (Communications with and Services to the Public) and Part VII (Advancement of English and French) of the Act had been infringed. The Commissioner found not only that the employment centres set up by British Columbia had failed to provide service of equal quality in both official languages, but also that ESDC and the Commission had failed to demonstrate that they had taken into account the impact of the Agreement and the new model on the vitality of the French linguistic minority community.

In 2013, FFCB brought the case before the Federal Court, seeking the following:

  • An order directing ESDC and the Commission to comply with Part IV of the Act by ensuring that the new model put in place by British Columbia provides employment benefits and support measures that are of equal quality for the French-speaking community.
  • A Federal Court order requiring ESDC and the Commission to take the necessary steps to meet the requirements of Part VII ofthe Act under the Agreement.

The Commissioner appeared before the Federal Court to argue the scope and interpretation of parts IV and VII of the Act.

On May 23, 2018, the Federal Court dismissed FFCB’s application. The trial judge ruled that the Act’s requirement for federal institutions to provide services in both official languages did not apply to the Agreement because the province was not acting on behalf of ESDC or the Commission, within the meaning of the Act.

The judge also employed a restrictive interpretation of federal institutions’ obligation to take positive measures to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and support their development, as set out in the Act.

The judge then found that ESDC and the Commission had taken sufficient positive measures to meet their obligations under Part VII of the Act and that there were no facts or evidence to the contrary at the time the complaint was filed.

Given the negative impact of the judge’s findings on the scope of Part VII and on the overall scheme of the Act, the Commissioner filed a notice of appeal of this decision on June 21, 2018.

The Commissioner is acting as appellant in this matter, and the hearing will be held in person in Vancouver on October 27 and 28, 2021.