All of the above
It is the Commissioner’s duty to take all actions and measures within his authority to ensure recognition of the status of each official language and compliance with the spirit and intent of the Official Languages Act in the administration of the affairs of federal institutions, including any of their activities relating to the advancement of English and French in Canadian society.
54,409, to be specific. In the past 10 years, more than half of the admissible complaints filed with the Office of the Commissioner have been about communications with and services to the public, and 22% have been about federal public servants’ language-of-work rights.
Raymond Théberge took office as Commissioner of Official Languages on January 29, 2018. He is the eighth person to hold this office.
Commissioner Théberge has a PhD in linguistics from McGill University, a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Ottawa and a bachelor’s degree in history from the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface. He held a number of leadership positions before coming to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and he has significant experience with official language minority communities. He also has extensive experience in academia and has worked across Canada.
Keith Spicer was appointed as Canada’s first Commissioner of Official Languages in 1970. He would go on to play an important role in implementing the Official Languages Act.
After observing that French was practically non existent in most federal offices, even in Quebec, Keith Spicer sought to strengthen linguistic duality in the government. The first Commissioner was a talented communicator and devoted many of his efforts to explaining the Act and its objectives. He distributed information kits, gave speeches and launched several promotion and advertising initiatives.
His entry into office on April 1, 1970, signified the official creation of the Commissioner’s Office, which is now called the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada.
“It was my life’s work. I was happy from morning to night, even in the worst of times, the worst crises, including the air traffic control crisis in 1976.”
In 2003, the Government of Canada launched the Action Plan for Official Languages, endowed with an initial budget of $750 million.
The Action Plan had three main objectives: enhance the vitality of official language minority communities, improve bilingualism in the federal public service and strengthen the country’s linguistic duality. It included the Official Languages Accountability and Coordination Framework, which set out the roles and responsibilities of federal institutions regarding support for the development of official language minority communities.
A turning point in the interpretation of language rights in Canada
The 1999 Beaulac case, in which Commissioner Goldbloom was an intervener, marked a turning point in the interpretation of language rights. In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that institutional bilingualism means “equal access to services of equal quality.”
The Court explained that language rights must in all cases be interpreted purposively and in a manner consistent with the preservation and development of official language communities. They must also be understood as remedial in nature, having been introduced to correct previous injustices. In short, the idea that language rights should be interpreted restrictively because they are based on political compromise (a view upheld, for example, in the MacDonald, Société des acadiens du Nouveau-Brunswick and Bilodeau cases) was rejected.
As a federal law, the Official Languages Act applies only to federal institutions and cannot be applied to provincial, territorial or municipal governments or to private businesses.
Its main goal is to ensure that Canadians have access to federal services in the official language of their choice. In Quebec, the public has the right to be served by federal institutions in either English or French where numbers warrant.
The first Official Languages Act, enacted in 1969, recognized the equal status of English and French throughout the federal administration. However, some provinces and territories have also adopted their own policies and legislation to protect official languages.
Relevant, dynamic and strong
The government is currently reviewing the Official Languages Act. In May 2019, the Commissioner of Official Languages made recommendations for modernizing the Act. For more details, see this backgrounder.
The city of Winnipeg
The regions designated as bilingual for language of work purposes at the federal level are:
Having the right to work in the official language of your choice includes:
In addition to making sure that these rights are respected, federal institutions must also ensure that the work environment is truly conducive to the use of both official languages.
Linguistic duality in Canada
Linguistic duality is the recognition of two official languages—English and French—each of which is equal to the other in status and both of which belong to all Canadians. English and French are the languages of the national conversation: the languages of Canada’s government and parliamentary democracy, the languages of its educational institutions, justice system and cultural spaces, the languages used by the country in trade and international relations, the heritage and cultural languages of millions of Canadians, and the languages that integrate hundreds of thousands of newcomers into the country. English and French, together with Indigenous languages, are foundational to our history.