Table of Contents
Hitting the ground running
This 2017–2018 annual report marks the transition between the end of Interim Commissioner of Official Languages Ghislaine Saikaley’s tenure and my arrival in late January 2018. This past year will be remembered as a time of many stimulating challenges and great opportunities for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
It was obvious to me from my first day that, in the 13 months preceding my arrival, Interim Commissioner Saikaley and the team here at the Office of the Commissioner performed their duties with professionalism, commitment and integrity—qualities that are vital for keeping our organization running smoothly and effectively. I am privileged to have inherited a strong, healthy organization replete with dedicated professionals who are passionate about linguistic duality and with whom I have had the honour and pleasure of working since January 29, 2018.
As this annual report shows, the Office of the Commissioner’s many activities in 2017–2018 prompted federal institutions to focus their attention on official languages, a matter of key importance in a year when all eyes were on the celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary. The Office of the Commissioner engaged with federal institutions, committees responsible for organizing large-scale events, and parliamentarians who were called upon to represent the government at public events.
Considerable progress was also made in 2017–2018 in the review we began on the modernization of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations and the Official Languages Act. The Act, which will be turning 50 in 2019, needs to be updated to reflect changes in Canadian society. The Office of the Commissioner therefore redoubled its efforts in early 2018 to ensure ongoing discussions with key stakeholders—both in official language minority communities and in the public service—and to ensure that the work already under way continues.
So I had to hit the ground running when I joined the organization in January 2018. In addition to these important files, there are other issues my office and the federal government need to focus on.
Linguistic duality is a fundamentally Canadian value. It is the cornerstone on which the identity and diversity of Canadian society rests. Canada’s linguistic duality is becoming increasingly vulnerable, however, and my office needs to stay current and relevant to ensure that official languages continue to be a national priority. And so I intend to encourage parliamentarians and federal institutions to lead by example by putting official languages back on the agenda and actively helping to promote and advance linguistic duality in Canada.
Official language minority communities are the reason we do what we do. We must stay attuned to their needs and concerns to make sure they receive the services they need to be able to keep growing and thriving. I will therefore be keeping a close watch on how the government plans to coordinate and implement the initiatives described in its Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future in line with the specific needs and challenges of these communities.
I will also be keeping an eye on the process of modernizing the Act and the Regulations, and I promise to use all of the means at my disposal over the next seven years to ensure that official languages and linguistic duality continue to be a fundamentally Canadian value.
Commissioner of Official Languages
Language Portal of Canada
The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages examined 17 official languages initiatives in the federal public service in a bid to single out one that deserved special mention in this annual report. New and promising projects were reviewed, together with existing initiatives that were enhanced in 2017–2018.
The exercise gave my office an insight into federal institutions’ innovativeness and their level of commitment. All of the initiatives are worthy of mention, whether they targeted a specific group of federal employees or millions of Canadians. The initiative chosen for special mention in this annual report falls into the latter category.
The Translation Bureau’s Language Portal of Canada took on a whole new dimension in 2017–2018, with the addition of the Our Languages blog, a fascinating collection of language-related news and resources by a wide variety of contributors. The Portal, now hosted on Canada.ca, also gained a new look over the winter.
The continuous posting of relevant content on languages and official language minority communities saw the Portal’s audience grow, along with its role in Canadian society. With 4 million visitors to the site (nearly 200,000 to the blog) and 19,000 followers on its social media accounts, the Translation Bureau has succeeded in launching a platform that makes a significant contribution to the promotion of linguistic duality while meeting its obligations under Part VII of the Act, which applies to all federal institutions.
The Commissioner of Official Languages applauds Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Translation Bureau on this ambitious project, which is helping countless Canadians gain the full benefits of their two official languages.
Office of the Commissioner: A few stats for 2017–2018
workshops and presentations given to federal institutions
- 4active court cases
completed access-to-information requests
- 19media interviews
- 304Facebook posts
Chapter 1 A look back at the 150th anniversary of Confederation
In 2017, the year of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Office of the Commissioner stepped up its efforts with federal institutions and various stakeholders involved in organizing events to raise awareness of the importance of providing Canadians and countless visitors from abroad with experiences that reflect the country’s linguistic duality. It also played an active role in the celebrations by organizing events to foster ongoing dialogue among Canadians and to reflect on a shared vision of the future of linguistic duality in a constantly changing society.
Greetings in both official languages by the Parliamentary Protective Service
The Office of the Commissioner’s outreach efforts with the Parliamentary Protective Service helped to ensure that Canada’s bilingual character was reflected both at celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation and beyond. Representatives of the Office of the Commissioner met with members of the Parliamentary Protective Service to brief them on their obligations under the Official Languages Act and to discuss the importance of making official languages an integral part of their planning for major events, such as Canada 150.
Spot checks conducted in June 2017 established that the Parliamentary Protective Service had enough bilingual employees to meet its official languages obligations; however, the informal visits showed that an active offer was not always made consistently.
Did you know…
An active offer of service is an open invitation to the public to use one of our two official languages—English or French—when communicating with or receiving a service from the federal government. Active offer: A culture of respect, a culture of excellence is a tool that includes straightforward tips and practical checklists that employees and managers can use to ensure that they are on the right track.
The Office of the Commissioner shared the findings of its spot checks with the Parliamentary Protective Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and they were asked to remind their officers about the importance of actively offering service in both official languages at all times and especially as the 150th anniversary celebrations were about to begin.
Following the Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill, the Office of the Commissioner received two complaints—one about the Parliamentary Protective Service and one about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—alleging that officers had not actively offered service in both official languages or provided service in French inside the security perimeter for the 150th anniversary celebrations. An investigation concluded that the first complaint was founded. The investigation into the second complaint is still ongoing.
Complaints about Canada 150
The Office of the Commissioner also received five complaints concerning Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
The first complaint alleged that the MosaïCanada 150 website had not been fully designed in both official languages. Following the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation through the facilitated resolution process, Canadian Heritage made the necessary changes to ensure that the site was available in both official languages for the duration of the event.
The second complaint alleged that the Toronto Foundation, which was responsible for managing grant applications in Toronto under the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th on behalf of Canadian Heritage, was unable to provide service of equal quality in both official languages. The investigation into this complaint is still ongoing.
The other three complaints concerned events at the Canada 150 rink, and Canadian Heritage acted quickly to meet its official languages obligations.
Canada Games in Winnipeg
Kudos to the 2017 Canada Summer Games Host Society for its commitment and leadership in answering the Office of the Commissioner’s call to take meaningful action to ensure that the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg, a major national event held in July and August 2017, took place in both of Canada’s official languages.
While the Office of the Commissioner’s observations of the Games were generally positive, there were some shortcomings during the event, such as the level of bilingualism of some of the announcers. The Commissioner believes that Canadian Heritage, working through Sport Canada programs, would do well to work with the Canada Games Council and the various sports associations to ensure that announcers cover sporting events in both official languages.
The Interim Commissioner travelled to Winnipeg in August 2017 to meet with organizers of the 2017 Canada Summer Games and representatives of the Host Society for the 2019 Canada Winter Games, which will be held in Red Deer, Alberta. During the meeting, the Interim Commissioner reiterated the importance of demonstrating leadership to ensure that the Games are held in both official languages and of integrating both languages into the planning of the event.
The Commissioner met with 2019 Canada Winter Games officials in March 2018 to discuss the importance of linguistic duality at the Games.
The bilingual face of Canada as G7 host
The Office of the Commissioner called the attention of federal institutions involved in security preparations for the 2018 G7 Summit to the importance of ensuring that both of Canada’s official languages figure prominently in the planning and execution of the event, scheduled to be held in Quebec’s Charlevoix region in June 2018.
After working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the lead-up to the 150th anniversary celebrations, the Office of the Commissioner was invited to a discussion with organizers of the 2018 G7 Summit.
In November 2017, the Office of the Commissioner gave a presentation to representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Department of National Defence, the Canada Border Services Agency, Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard. In the discussions that followed, the Office of the Commissioner provided specific examples of issues that decision makers will need to consider when planning this event, not only when recruiting and training officers, but also when putting teams together and assigning them in the field.
Parks Canada follow-ups
The Office of the Commissioner is continuing its discussions with Parks Canada to ensure that all of the recommendations contained in the 2012 Audit of the Delivery of Bilingual Services to Visitors by Parks Canada are implemented. As of September 2016, Parks Canada had fully implemented only two of the nine recommendations that were issued to help it improve the overall experience of visitors wishing to be served in the official language of their choice, as is their right under Part IV of the Act. In March 2017, the Office of the Commissioner provided Parks Canada with ongoing feedback on the proposed measures and timelines for implementing all of the recommendations.
Parks Canada stated that it plans to exceed expectations and that it is working not only to implement the other seven recommendations, but also to improve all of its initiatives in terms of official languages.
Parks Canada is asking its monthly newsletter subscribers in which official language they wish to receive the publication.
Bilingualism in the federal government
Voice of the government
At many public events in the summer of 2017, representatives of the federal government addressed their audiences in both official languages. Others, however, including ministers, dignitaries and local members of Parliament, spoke to their audiences in only one language, as did the Governor General Designate, who, just prior to taking office, spoke mostly in English at a ceremony honouring Canadian songwriters. These were ideal opportunities for the Government of Canada to show that bilingualism is for the entire country, not just for bilingual regions.
In an open letter carried by several media outlets, the Interim Commissioner reminded Canadian leaders of the importance of speaking both official languages to Canadians in order to affirm Canadian values and to promote the vitality of official language communities. She also wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reiterate how important it is for ministers and members of Parliament to use both official languages when speaking at public events as representatives of federal institutions.
Action plan for more bilingual judges
The Interim Commissioner welcomed the announcement made by Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould in September 2017 concerning the government’s introduction of the Action Plan: Enhancing the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary. The current government’s commitment to take action on this issue is a major step forward in improving access to justice for all Canadians.
The Department of Justice Canada’s action plan addresses several of the recommendations made in 2013 by then Commissioner Graham Fraser and his Ontario and New Brunswick counterparts in their joint study, Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary. Among other things, the recommendations called for augmenting the applied component of language training programs and for adding a training module on language rights.
Achieving a level of bilingual capacity within the judiciary that meets the needs of Canadians is not possible without the complete and full cooperation of a wide variety of professionals in the justice system. The Interim Commissioner wrote to Minister Wilson-Raybould to discuss concerns and to reiterate the importance of establishing a coordinated approach with the provincial and territorial ministers of justice and superior court chief justices.
Although the Interim Commissioner was pleased with the new action plan, she noted that it does not address the recommendation to establish a common definition of the level of language skills required for bilingual judges so that they can preside over proceedings in their second official language. She also stressed the importance of implementing all of the recommendations, including the recommendation to establish a process to evaluate the language skills of prospective judges systematically, independently and objectively.
The Commissioner will continue to monitor implementation of the action plan.
The Office of the Commissioner celebrates Canada 150
Legislative and judicial bilingualism
In cooperation with the 2017 Laskin national bilingual moot court competition and the Fédération des associations de juristes d’expression française de common law inc., the Office of the Commissioner hosted a conference to mark the entrenchment of legislative and judicial bilingualism in the British North America Act, 1867.
The conference, called 150 Years of Legislative and Judicial Bilingualism: History, current reality and outlook for the future, was held in Ottawa in March 2017 and chaired by the Honourable Michel Bastarache. The event brought together Laskin contestants, parliamentarians, lawyers, academics and judges. The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, agreed to be the keynote speaker to share her thoughts on the importance of legislative and judicial bilingualism.
The topics addressed by the distinguished guest speakers helped participants to take stock of events since 1867, evaluate the progress that has been made and examine the current and future challenges that must still be overcome in terms of access to justice in both official languages. Conference participants enjoyed the event, which took an extensive and in-depth look at the evolution of legislative and judicial bilingualism and its undeniable impact on the vitality of Canada’s official language communities.
Photos from the 150 Years of Legislative and Judicial Bilingualism: History, current reality and outlook for the future conference in March 2017.
Conference on the future of linguistic duality
In November 2017, the Office of the Commissioner hosted a conference called The future of linguistic duality: Our official languages, our identity to open up a national dialogue with key stakeholders on defining a vision for the future of Canadian language policy. The conference was held in six Canadian cities at the same time and proved to be an ideal forum for discussing the future of the Act, which will be turning 50 in 2019.
The Interim Commissioner impressed upon the event’s 265 participants the impact that socio-demographic changes are having on Canada’s linguistic landscape. The goal of the conference was to gather a broad range of viewpoints rather than come to a consensus; however, participants did identify some common issues, including the importance of immigration, of minority and second-language education, of strong leadership when it comes to bilingualism in the federal public service, of considering the challenges and opportunities that multiple identities present, and of promoting linguistic duality as a fundamentally Canadian value.
Photos from The future of linguistic duality: Our official languages, Our identity conference in November 2017.
Chapter 2 New opportunities for official languages
The Office of the Commissioner conducts ongoing monitoring activities to ensure that decision makers continue to give the proper attention to issues that may affect the vitality and development of official language communities and to ensure that work on these files continues to progress. The Commissioner applauds the government’s renewed commitment in key areas, including its support for early childhood development, and the initiatives contained in its Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future, which will help to create future opportunities to enhance the status of Canada’s two official languages. However, there are some important details in the 2018–2023 Action Plan that still need to be clarified, such as accountability measures and the process for strengthening horizontal coordination. The Office of the Commissioner will therefore be engaging with the government on a regular basis to obtain those clarifications.
Prioritizing early childhood development
The Interim Commissioner welcomed the announcement made in September 2017 concerning the creation of a strategic alliance between the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne, the Commission nationale des parents francophones and the Réseau de développement économique et d’employabilité. The three national organizations joined forces to increase the availability of early childhood services in French across the country.
Through their alliance, these organizations will be helping to improve access to early childhood services in Francophone minority communities, which are currently experiencing an unprecedented shortage of these services. The alliance will also be able to introduce initiatives for training skilled workers to meet labour market needs in this area.
Announcement by Minister Jean-Yves Duclos
One of the recommendations in the Office of the Commissioner’s 2016 report, Early Childhood: Fostering the Vitality of Francophone Minority Communities, was addressed to Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos and concerned holding consultations with Francophone minority communities as part of the development of the national framework on early learning and child care. The Interim Commissioner was pleased to note that these communities were involved in the consultations, and the Minister announced the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework in June 2017. The Commissioner will be closely monitoring implementation of the Framework.
Under the terms of the Framework, which was signed with provincial and territorial governments on June 12, 2017, the federal government will invest in education infrastructure that will benefit the early childhood sector in Francophone minority communities. Through bilateral funding agreements, the government plans to allocate $1.2 billion to the provinces and territories over the next three years to help create more high-quality and affordable child care spaces in Francophone minority communities across Canada.
The Commissioner was pleased to see the importance the government is giving to early childhood development in its Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future through support for opening more daycares and child care services, for early childhood health initiatives, and for professional development for early childhood educators. He will also be monitoring implementation of the action plan and the bilateral agreements between the federal government and the provinces and territories to ensure that they meet the needs of official language communities.
New official languages action plan
Many of the Office of the Commissioner’s priorities are reflected in the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future, which was unveiled in March 2018. The plan provides for investments of nearly $500 million more than the previous plan, bringing the total to $2.7 billion.
There are some notable highlights in the 2018-2023 Action Plan. French-language services in the territories are to be improved, and core funding is to be increased for official language community organizations. This more stable funding will meet the communities’ needs.
The 2018–2023 Action Plan also acknowledges the challenges faced by Quebec’s English-speaking communities, especially in terms of health care services in rural areas.
The Commissioner will be closely monitoring implementation of the new plan.
Toward a new Court Challenges Program
The Commissioner was pleased to hear not only about the reinstatement and modernization of the Court Challenges Program, but also about the decision to select the University of Ottawa—an organization independent of the government—to implement and manage the Program.
The new Program will increase funding for challenges, and its scope will be considerably expanded: for example, it will be possible to fund cases seeking to clarify language rights guaranteed under the Act, including those concerning the development of official language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality (Part VII of the Act).
Over the years, the Court Challenges Program has helped clarify and advance language rights in Canada. It has also helped to foster the vitality and development of official language communities.
The Commissioner hopes that the members of the independent expert panel on official languages rights, which is responsible for making funding decisions, understand the realities of these communities.
Intervention before the courts
In May 2017, the Interim Commissioner intervened in a Federal Court case between the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique and Employment and Social Development Canada.
The case, which concerns a transfer payment agreement between the federal government and the Government of British Columbia, focused on the language obligations set out in Parts IV and VII of the Act. The Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique took the federal institution to court following the latter’s decision not to renew funding that some organizations were receiving from the provincial government under the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement.
In this case, the Court has to decide whether the province is acting on behalf of the federal government within the meaning of section 25 of the Act in providing benefits and measures for worker training and education under the federal-provincial agreement. The Court also has to examine the duty of federal institutions under transfer payment agreements to take measures to promote the development and vitality of Canada's official language communities .
As of the writing of this annual report, the Court had yet to hand down its ruling on this case. This could be one of the first major decisions to consider the application of Part VII of the Act.
Special Report to Parliament on Air Canada
In studying then Commissioner Graham Fraser’s June 2016 Special Report to Parliament – Air Canada: On the road to increased compliance through an effective enforcement regime, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages made good on the report’s single recommendation.
The Committee completed its study and tabled its report, Air Canada’s Implementation of the Official Languages Act: Aiming for Excellence, in the House of Commons in November 2017. In its report, the Committee made seven recommendations, two of which were addressed to the Government of Canada. The first calls for the introduction of a bill amending the Official Languages Act to grant more powers to the Commissioner of Official Languages and to create a new administrative directorate at the Office of the Commissioner that is responsible for handling remedies and penalties and that is distinct from the Investigations Directorate. The second calls for an amendment to the Carriage by Air Act to stipulate that the Montreal Convention cannot infringe on rights guaranteed under the Official Languages Act or the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In March 2018, the government responded to the Committee’s recommendations, stating that it would be useful to consider how the Official Languages Act could be modernized. The Commissioner encourages the government to make this file a priority in order to identify the legislative amendments needed to develop an effective enforcement mechanism with regard to Air Canada.
Modernizing the official languages regulations
After the government announced its decision in November 2016 to review the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, the Office of the Commissioner clarified how the five guiding principles outlined in its 2016–2017 annual report could be applied. It also shared its views with key stakeholders.
The Office of the Commissioner continued its discussions with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat on the regulatory reform process, and the Secretariat held preliminary consultations and discussions about the importance of maintaining bilingual offices, particularly in rural official language communities.
The Office of the Commissioner also consulted with official language communities and other interested parties to gather input for the initiative to modernize the Regulations. The Interim Commissioner and members of her staff met with the Experts’ Advisory Group, which was set up in June 2017 by Treasury Board President Scott Brison.
Legislation that reflects contemporary Canada
Where are we now?
Following its review and discussions with the public, with Canadian language rights organizations and with the federal public service, the Office of the Commissioner has concluded that the Act needs to be amended to reflect the many changes that have shaped Canadian society since 1988, when the Act underwent its last major revision.
Potential amendments concern issues such as linguistic equality in the justice system, the Commissioner’s role as advocate and educator, and the need for the Act to keep pace with changes in Canadian society—for example, by adding a clause about a mandatory periodic review.
To provide input into the internal review process that it launched in the summer of 2017, the Office of the Commissioner conducted a series of informal consultations the following fall with official language community leaders and other key stakeholders to bring them up to speed on its initiative and to discuss issues related to potential amendments to the Act.
Consultations began in the spring of 2018, and the Commissioner will be releasing his position on modernizing the Act at an appropriate time.
Modernizing the Official Languages Act: The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages’ review
2016–2017 annual report
“As the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act approaches, the Interim Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Prime Minister, the President of the Treasury Board, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada assess the relevance of updating the Act, with a view to establishing a clear position in 2019.”
Office of the Commissioner’s internal review
Discussions with key stakeholders to solicit their ideas for approaches and their views on selected general topics
Broad consultations to gather input from more stakeholders
Starting in fall 2018:
Commissioner’s position based on the internal review and on the opinions gathered during consultations
Standing Senate Committee study
The government has yet to declare its intentions on modernizing the Act. However, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages has begun a study of Canadians’ views on modernizing the Act. The Commissioner will be following the Committee’s work with interest and will be providing input.
Media and official language communities
Complaints about Netflix
In the fall of 2017, the Office of the Commissioner received four complaints concerning the five-year $500-million agreement with television and digital content provider Netflix, which was announced by Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly in September 2017. The complainants alleged that no consideration was given to French-language productions outside Quebec and that the use of English and French in Canadian society is not fully recognized.
The investigation launched by the Interim Commissioner is still ongoing.
Investigation into increasing Internet use
In June 2017, the Interim Commissioner issued three recommendations to Public Services and Procurement Canada and Canadian Heritage following an investigation in 2016–2017 into federal institutions’ increased use of the Internet and the impact on the media that serve official language communities. The investigation found that neither department had analyzed how federal institutions’ increased use of the Internet would affect official language communities, nor had they tried to find solutions to address—or at least mitigate—any negative impact.
Despite the Internet’s increasing popularity as a communications tool, federal institutions are still required not only to meet their official languages obligations when communicating with the public, but also to take positive measures to enhance the vitality of official language communities and promote their development under Part VII of the Act.
Did you know…
The federal budget released in February 2018 includes $50 million over five years to support local media; however, it does not specify whether media in official language communities will be specifically targeted. This comes after the Government of Quebec’s December 2017 announcement of the creation of an assistance program to help local print media adapt to new technological advances.
The complaints come at a time when media in general are struggling. While major media outlets are able to invest in digital platforms in order to generate advertising revenue, official language community media are struggling to make their Internet presence felt. A number of community media outlets in English-speaking communities in Quebec and in French-speaking communities outside Quebec reported that they were facing serious financial challenges that could possibly result in closures for some of them, which could have a negative impact on the vitality of the official language communities concerned.
In March 2018, the Commissioner initiated a follow-up to the recommendations contained in the investigation report.
In its Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future, which was unveiled in March 2018, the government announced that it would create a community media strategic support fund to give financial support over the next five years to projects that help sustain official language community media, both radio and newspapers.
The Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario releases White Paper
In September 2017, the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario released its White Paper on Francophone Media in Ontario to raise awareness of the importance of Franco-Ontarian media in official language communities and to identify strategies to ensure that they not only survive, but also thrive. The White Paper includes 15 recommendations on media advertising and funding, two thirds of which are addressed to the federal and provincial governments. It draws largely from information contained in an investigation report released by the Interim Commissioner in 2017 after complaints were received about the significant decrease in federal advertising in official language community media in Canada.
The investigation report stated that over eight years, federal advertising had fallen 78% for newspapers in Francophone minority communities and 74% for community radio stations. This situation bodes ill for the vitality of official language communities and for the future of their local and regional news media.
Language of publication for tribunal decisions
In May 2016, the Office of the Commissioner launched an investigation after receiving a complaint against the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, alleging that two interlocutory decisions had been posted solely in English on its website. The investigation sought to determine whether a federal tribunal's on-line publication of interlocutory decisions in only one language complies with Part IV of the Act, which governs communications with the public.
Much like the Commissioner's November 2016 report to Parliament on the Courts Administration Service, the investigation report found that the obligations set out in Part IV of the Act apply to the publication of decisions on websites and that posting on websites constitutes communication with the public and thus comes under federal tribunals’ administrative functions, not their judicial functions. Consequently, decisions that are published on websites by federal courts or tribunals must be posted simultaneously in both official languages.
Chapter 3 Leadership in the public service
The Commissioner encourages federal institutions to demonstrate the leadership and commitment needed to fully meet their obligations under the Act. In 2017–2018, the Office of the Commissioner continued its discussions with federal institutions to identify compliance issues and to ensure that this leadership leads to tangible and timely measures. It is also continuing to develop tools and strategies―and to improve existing ones―to help institutions improve their official languages performance.
Clerk of the Privy Council's report on language of work
The Interim Commissioner took a keen interest in the Clerk of the Privy Council’s September 2017 report, The next level: Normalizing a culture of inclusive linguistic duality in the Federal Public Service workplace, which is based on the findings of the working group co-chaired by Patrick Borbey and Matthew Mendelsohn. The report gives a good overview of the status of language of work and related issues in the federal government.
It is encouraging to see that one of the recommendations in the Clerk’s report echoes another made in 2011 by then Commissioner Graham Fraser in his 2010–2011 annual report, which was to raise the linguistic profile of the positions of supervisors whose employees work in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes to at least CBC/CBC. Implementing this recommendation would be a major step forward for employees who work in these regions and who have the right to work in the official language of their choice.
The Clerk’s report has sparked debate in official language communities, however, and particularly in Quebec’s English-speaking communities. The report suggests that issues regarding language-of-work rights are limited to French-speaking employees. A single language group must not be singled out, however, because the right to work in either official language is an individual right of employees who work in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes. And despite the fact that language-of work issues tend to affect more French-speaking employees, they also affect English-speaking employees who work in designated bilingual regions in Quebec. In fact, they affect everyone, including French-speaking employees in Quebec and English-speaking employees in Ontario and New Brunswick who work in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes but whose supervisor does not allow them to work in the official language of their choice..
In addition, the report does not address the fragmentation of the traditional work team model in the federal public service, with the advent of virtual teams and remote supervision, together with new workplace communication technologies.
With regard to the Clerk’s suggestion to launch a pilot project that would allow hiring supervisors to assess second-language oral proficiency, the Commissioner agrees that it would be wise to test the approach in order to ensure that the transparency and objectivity of the public service’s second-language proficiency assessment system are not compromised. The Commissioner will continue to monitor developments in this file closely.
Although the Clerk’s report presents interesting ideas for discussion and solutions, it does not set out a specific timetable for implementing the recommendations. The federal government therefore needs to continue the dialogue begun in recent months in order to keep up the momentum and send a clear message to the public service that the leadership it has shown in identifying language-of-work issues is resulting in timely and tangible action.
The Commissioner will also be monitoring the work of the Committee of Assistant Deputy Ministers on Official Languages and is asking the Clerk to ensure transparency regarding implementation of the recommendations in his report.
Given that the Clerk of the Privy Council, as head of the federal public service, has made language of work a priority in the public service in his report, The next level: Normalizing a culture of inclusive linguistic duality in the Federal Public Service workplace, the Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Clerk establish an appropriate mechanism to ensure that, starting in September 2018, federal employees receive annual status updates on the work done by the committee responsible for implementing the recommendations contained in the report.
Section 91 issues
In 2017–2018, the Office of the Commissioner continued discussions with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat in order to identify the reasons behind the growing number of complaints related to section 91 of the Act, which sets out federal institutions’ obligation to ensure that the language requirements of positions are established objectively during staffing processes.
A working group comprising representatives of the Office of the Commissioner and the Secretariat was asked to study the matter. According to the Office of the Commissioner, one of the main language-of-work issues in the federal public service is that too many supervisory positions have a BBB/BBB linguistic profile.
This issue is addressed in one of the recommendations in the Clerk of the Privy Council’s September 2017 report on language of work, The next level: Normalizing a culture of inclusive linguistic duality in the Federal Public Service workplace, which reflects the recommendation made by then Commissioner Graham Fraser in his 2010–2011 annual report―to make CBC/CBC the minimum linguistic profile of positions of supervisors whose employees work in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes.
A number of federal institutions, including Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, have followed both recommendations and introduced good practices. The Commissioner is pleased to hear about that particular institution’s pilot project to set the linguistic profile of some 800 management and supervisory positions in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes to CBC/CBC within the next five years.
Canada School of Public Service learning services
The Interim Commissioner’s Audit of the availability of learning services in English and in French at the Canada School of Public Service, released in November 2017, concluded that the Canada School of Public Service is on track to increase the availability of its learning activities in both official languages.
The audit addressed the School’s obligations under section 37 of Part V of the Act, which confers specific language obligations on federal institutions, including the School, that have the authority to direct other federal institutions or that provide services to them. The School is therefore required to ensure that its learning activities are of equal quality in both official languages and that they are available to all English- and French-speaking federal employees in a timely manner, even outside regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes. The key issue is really demand in the official language of the minority, and the School must proactively cultivate this demand in order to break the vicious circle whereby there is no supply because there is no demand, and there is no demand because there is no supply or promotion.
The Interim Commissioner noted the School’s leadership, commitment and resolve to ensure continuous improvement. However, the audit also found that the School’s obligations to federal employees were not always well understood or included in its governance tools.
In her audit report, the Interim Commissioner made five recommendations to help the School meet its obligations under the Act and address any compliance issues more promptly and effectively. On the whole, the Interim Commissioner is satisfied with the measures and timelines proposed in the School’s action plan for addressing the recommendations. A follow-up will be conducted to determine whether the audit recommendations have been implemented.
Twinning program in Atlantic Canada
Maintaining their second-language skills is a challenge for many public servants in Canada. The Office of the Commissioner therefore welcomed an Atlantic Federal Council initiative to create a program to pair official language community organizations with federal employees who want to achieve or maintain a certain level of skill in their second official language.
Some 15 internships have been set up across Atlantic Canada since January 2017. It’s a win-win situation: the organizations get specialized expertise, and the employees get to hone their language skills.
The program, which is managed by Canadian Heritage on behalf of the Atlantic Federal Council, was inspired by an initiative developed by the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse and the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Atlantic Region.
The program has drawn interest from across Canada and is consistent with the Clerk of the Privy Council’s position on maintaining second language skills, as set out in his report, The next level: Normalizing a culture of inclusive linguistic duality in the Federal Public Service workplace.
Federal public service voicemail
In a June 2017 final investigation report, the Interim Commissioner recommended that Shared Services Canada take action to ensure that an active offer of bilingual service is an integral part of cellular voicemail and voicemail systems using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and that these systems include automated instructions and options for recording greetings in both official languages where required under the Act.
To implement this recommendation, Shared Services Canada modified the VoIP-based voicemail system it manages in October 2017 so that federal institutions using this system can meet their obligation under Part IV of the Act to ensure that members of the public can communicate with them in either official language and are informed through active offer that service is available in both official languages.
For the recommendation to be fully implemented, however, changes will also have to be made to cellular and other voicemail systems that are currently being managed by third parties on behalf of Shared Services Canada.
Efforts needed in provincial education funding
In the wake of a December 2016 final investigation report on complaints against Canadian Heritage concerning the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Agreement on Minority-Language Education and Second Official Language Instruction 2013–2014 to 2017–2018, education agreements between Canadian Heritage and the provinces and territories continue to be a topic of discussion.
The investigation found that Canadian Heritage had not fully met its obligations under subsection 43(2) of the Act, because it failed to consult rights-holder parents and the Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador before signing the agreement with the province.
Following the final investigation report, the Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador sought a legal remedy against Canadian Heritage, which case has been suspended. The Office of the Commissioner subsequently received two other complaints about education agreements between Canadian Heritage and Saskatchewan and between Canadian Heritage and Prince Edward Island. As of the writing of this annual report, these investigations were still ongoing.
Investigation into language tests for prospective economic immigrants
In 2016–2017, then Commissioner Graham Fraser was planning to conduct his own investigation into the language proficiency tests required for certain economic immigrant classes, even before receiving a series of complaints about them.
The complainants alleged that the tests used to assess language proficiency in French, which are required for permanent residency, are more expensive, more difficult and less accessible (geographically) than the tests used to assess language proficiency in English. They also claimed that the waiting period to take the French tests and receive the results was longer than for the English tests.
In her final investigation report, the Interim Commissioner deemed the complaints founded and made two recommendations to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The first called on the institution to ensure that language testing services are available and provided equally in both official languages, and the second called for concrete measures to mitigate the negative impact of the service delivery model for language testing services on the vitality and development of Francophone minority communities outside Quebec.
A follow-up on the implementation of these recommendations is scheduled for 2018.
Complaints about Syrian refugee resettlement
In January 2016, the Office of the Commissioner launched an investigation into a complaint against Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada about Syrian refugee resettlement.
The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether the federal institution had considered the impact of Syrian refugee resettlement on Francophone minority communities, and whether it had taken positive measures to support their vitality and development in departmental programs for refugee resettlement in Canada.
In his February 2018 final investigation report, the Commissioner deemed the complaint founded and made one recommendation to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada: to develop an action plan with time frames, activities and specific performance indicators to ensure full compliance with its obligations under Part VII of the Act when resettling and integrating refugees in Canada.
Immigration and francophone minority communities
In March 2017, federal, provincial and territorial immigration ministers and Canadian Francophonie ministers held their first joint Forum on Francophone Immigration. The Forum was a key opportunity to align federal, provincial and territorial strategies. At the Forum, the Interim Commissioner and her Ontario and New Brunswick counterparts, Commissioners François Boileau and Katherine d’Entremont, reiterated the urgent need to put concrete measures in place to promote immigration in Francophone minority communities. During the Forum, the ministers agreed to develop a federal-provincial-territorial action plan to attract, receive, integrate and retain Francophone immigrants.
The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Action Plan for Increasing Francophone Immigration was announced at the second federal-provincial-territorial forum in March 2018. This plan addresses some of the recommendations made in 2014 by then Commissioner Graham Fraser and Ontario’s French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau in their joint report, Time to Act for the Future of Francophone Communities: Redressing the Immigration Imbalance.
The federal government’s Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future contains an additional investment of $40.8 million to support Francophone immigration. It also proposes to increase the availability and reduce the cost of French-language tests required for economic immigration.
Office of the Commissioner’s tools and strategies
Official languages maturity model
In an effort to continuously improve its tools and business processes, the Office of the Commissioner is planning to introduce a new approach to help federal institutions enhance their official languages performance.
Over the past 10 years, report cards have been the preferred method of assessing the official languages performance of strategically selected federal institutions. The report cards proved to be effective in providing a snapshot of federal institutions’ overall compliance, in encouraging them to do better and in changing their approach to official languages in their programs. The new official languages maturity model will focus on organizational assessments of federal institutions to help them ensure continuous improvement in terms of official languages. This is a new approach that gives each institution its own process to follow in order to achieve its official languages goals. The approach is distinct from existing governmental assessments such as the Treasury Board’s Review on Official Languages and its Management Accountability Framework, as well as Canadian Heritage’s Bulletin 41-42.
The new official languages maturity model is currently in development, and the Office of the Commissioner plans to start using it in 2019, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Act.
Given that Canadian Heritage and the Treasury Board cannot use the tools they currently have to make organizational diagnoses for federal institutions or to help federal institutions ensure continuous improvement in terms of official languages, the Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that before March 2020, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the President of the Treasury Board conduct a review of the tools they currently use to evaluate federal institutions and that they make any necessary changes in order to present a clear picture of official languages in the federal government.
Observations for measuring performance
The Office of the Commissioner has several tools at its disposal for checking federal institutions’ compliance with their obligations under the Act. In 2017–2018, it conducted a series of observations of communications with and services to the public (Part IV of the Act) to assess the performance of 10 federal institutions with which Canadians deal most often. The observations targeted three kinds of service provided by the institutions: in-person, telephone and on-line.
It should be noted that the public’s right to communicate with and receive available services from federal institutions in either official language continues to be a major issue in complaints filed with the Office of the Commissioner.
The data collected through this sampling of federal institutions provides an overview on how well they communicated with and provided services to the public in both official languages during a specific time period. It will also support their efforts to make any needed improvements.
List of the 10 federal institutions observed in 2017–2018
- Business Development Bank of Canada
- Canada Border Services Agency
- Canada Revenue Agency
- Canadian Air Transport Security Authority
- Employment and Social Development Canada
- Global Affairs Canada
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
- Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
- Natural Resources Canada
- Veterans Affairs Canada
The results of the observations are now available.
Investigation into the Canada Lands Company
The Office of the Commissioner received a complaint alleging that “Wateridge Village”—the name chosen by the Canada Lands Company for its redevelopment project at the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe in Ottawa, Ontario—is a unilingual English name that does not reflect the significant French-speaking population in the area.
In response to the complaint, which fell under Part VII of the Act, the Canada Lands Company decided to identify its project using separate English and French names: Wateridge Village and Village des Riverains.
To prevent any future issues, the institution committed to conducting more in-depth consultations when naming residential projects and will ensure that members of official language communities are involved in the discussions. It will also reach out to these communities across the country to inform them about the Canada Lands Company and to let them know how they can communicate with it about its activities.
The Interim Commissioner appreciated the cooperation it received from the Canada Lands Company during the investigation and was satisfied with the measures the institution promised to take to promote the vitality of official language communities across Canada.
Recommendations for Employment and Social Development Canada
Following an investigation into a complaint filed by the Réseau pour le développement de l’alphabétisme et des compétences, the Interim Commissioner issued two recommendations to Employment and Social Development Canada regarding its obligations under Part VII of the Act. The complaint concerned the federal institution’s decisions and strategic directions related to the funding it provides to literacy organizations in official language communities.
The recommendations called for the institution to reassess its eligibility criteria for literacy and essential skills funding in order to take the specific needs and priorities of official language communities into better consideration. They also called for an assessment of the consequences of eliminating the core funding for the Réseau pour le développement de l’alphabétisme et des compétences and its provincial and territorial network, and for appropriate measures to mitigate any negative impacts. The Commissioner began the follow-up to these recommendations in March 2018.
Employment and Social Development Canada—and indeed every federal institution needs to find ways to continue working with official language communities and associations and to determine together how best to support their development and their vitality.
Promotional efforts with federal institutions
In its mandate to promote the use of both official languages in Canada, the Office of the Commissioner continues to support federal institutions by providing them with tools, which have been produced as part of its studies and reports, to help them meet their obligations under the Act. The Office of the Commissioner also offers a series of workshops for public service employees and managers to help them gain a better understanding of their official languages rights and responsibilities.
The Office of the Commissioner uses these promotional tools and activities to help federal institutions improve their compliance with the Act, which in turn helps to ensure respect for the right of Canadians to communicate with and obtain services from federal institutions in the official language of their choice, and the right of federal employees to work in either official language in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes.
Tools produced by the Office of the Commissioner
- Active offer: A culture of respect, a culture of excellence (practical tool and brochure)
- Effective practices for chairing bilingual meetings (guide)
- Bilingual Meetings: Take Action! (practical tool)
- Leaders 2.OL: A tool for enhancing leadership (practical tool)
- Leadership Competencies Profile for Official Languages (self-assessment tool)
Research at the Office of the Commissioner
Research activities continue to be an important part of the Office of the Commissioner’s work. For example, research was conducted to support its initiatives in connection with Canada’s 150th anniversary, such as the on-line historical timeline. The Office of the Commissioner also continued to work with the research community, and it updated its website and information tools with statistics from the 2016 Census.
In addition, the Office of the Commissioner has undertaken three research studies: one on the shortage of French second-language teachers, one on international practices in open government and official languages, and one on the socioeconomic changes in official language communities since the passing of the Act.
Strategies for processing complaints
The Office of the Commissioner uses a number of strategies to process complaints more efficiently and to ensure a coordinated approach in order to achieve desired results. These strategies make it easier to plan targeted interventions and identify similarities in compliance challenges.
Admissible complaints in 2017–2018 by part/section of the Official Languages Act
Text version: Admissible complaints in 2017–2018
|A) Communications with and services to the public
|B) Language of work
|C) Equitable participation
|D) Advancement of English and French
|E) Language requirements of positions
(Part XI, section 91)
|F) Other parts of the Act
(Parts II, III and IX)
Table 1Admissible complaints in 2017–2018 by province and territory and by part or section of the Official Languages Act
|Location of incident||Service to the public
|Language of work
|Advancement of English and French
(Part XI, section 91)
|Other parts or sections Note 1||Total|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||15||0||0||1||0||0||16|
|Prince Edward Island||1||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|National Capital Region (Quebec)||22||15||4||2||53||0||96|
|National Capital Region (Ontario)||88||48||2||9||151||9||307|
Note 1 This category contains the complaints that were filed under Part II (Legislative and Other Instruments), Part III (Administration of Justice) and Part IX (Commissioner of Official Languages).
Table 2Admissible complaints over 10 years (2008–2009 to 2017–2018), by province and territory
|Location of incident||2008 2009||2009 2010||2010 2011||2011 2012||2012 2013||2013 2014||2014 2015||2015 2016||2016 2017||2017 2018|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||7||11||6||11||8||18||12||14||28||16|
|Prince Edward Island||17||17||7||3||3||4||4||2||5||2|
|National Capital Region (Quebec)||67||93||57||49||49||37||64||121||92||96|
|National Capital Region (Ontario)||163||141||209||200||152||182||193||351||429||307|
Table 3Admissible complaints over 10 years (2008–2009 to 2017–2018), by part or section of the Official Languages Act
|Part or section of the Act||2008 2009||2009 2010||2010 2011||2011 2012||2012 2013||2013 2014||2014 2015||2015 2016||2016 2017||2017 2018|
|Service to the public
|Language of work
|Advancement of English and French
(Part XI, section 91)
|Other parts or sections Note 2||6||7||5||10||5||4||11||14||12||11|
Note 2 This category contains the complaints that were filed under Part II (Legislative and Other Instruments), Part III (Administration of Justice) and Part IX (Commissioner of Official Languages).