Annual Report 2018–2019

Annual Report 2018●2019  

Table of contents


Preface Learning from the past, shaping the future: 50 years of official languages in Canada

The year 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. It’s therefore only natural that we as Canadians ask ourselves whether we’ve achieved the goals we set for ourselves collectively in terms of linguistic duality in Canada. This annual report will examine various aspects of that question. The federal government is in a unique position to ensure that our official languages continue to thrive and that future generations continue to have the opportunity to live in the official language of their choice from coast to coast to coast. With my first year as Commissioner of Official Languages now firmly under my belt, I’d like to make a blunt observation.

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When I began my mandate, I ruffled a few feathers when I said publicly that official languages had no champions in the government. I was admonished—in private—for not recognizing this parliamentarian or that senior official for their dynamic efforts to advance various language issues. I’m not denying that work is being done; this annual report bears testimony to those often-painstaking efforts. The point I was making at the start of my mandate was that none of the Cabinet ministers had the words “official languages” in their title. Today, one of them does. But there’s still a question of what resources are available to that minister to carry out her mandate. I’m not sure what message the government was trying to convey by that change during the July 2018 Cabinet shuffle, as the department responsible for official languages must have all of the resources and support it needs.

In my opinion, the division of official languages responsibilities within the government is confusing and inefficient. According to the Act, the Treasury Board of Canada is responsible for the application of parts IV, V and VI, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage is responsible for the coordination of Part VII. And now the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie has a role to play, as well. There is no single minister or committee of ministers with exclusive jurisdiction over the implementation of the Act as a whole. The lack of a central authority is one of the problems my office is facing in processing the complaints we receive. Our investigations lead to dialogue with the federal institutions taken to task by Canadians—and generally rightly so, as shown by the findings of those investigations—for failing to meet their obligations under the Act. Most of the time, this dialogue yields positive results, with 80% of our recommendations being at least partially implemented (yes, we do check!). However, a federal institution’s prompt response to the recommendations from our investigation does not always result in a long-term commitment by that institution. The anticipated permanent change in behaviour does not necessarily happen automatically just because a recommendation is followed. And some of our recommendations fall on deaf ears, with the most stubborn federal institutions even dismissing our conclusions or passing the buck among themselves without taking any action. I’ve seen this happen a few times just in the short time I’ve been in office.

In the course of our public consultations on modernizing the Act, many people said that there should be a central government authority responsible for official languages, although they did not agree on which organization should take on that role. But that should not prevent the government from resolving this problem. And even though it missed the opportunity to do so when it released the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future, it can make up for that shortcoming now and during the much needed modernization of the Act that it has committed to undertake. When I table this annual report in Parliament, I will also be releasing a document that sets out my position on modernizing the Act and my recommendations to guide the government’s deliberations.

The 2018–2023 Action Plan is a major initiative. It is the product of broad and meaningful consultations, and it includes significantly greater financial commitments. However, in light of the setbacks we saw across Canada in late 2018, I’m wondering whether this initiative alone is enough. I am therefore calling on the federal government to explore other ways of promoting the value of linguistic duality.

In addition, with the government’s having committed to taking a “deliverology” approach to achieve its key objectives, we should expect that an action plan premised on $2.7 billion in funding over five years would include specific targets and instructions so that ministers who are responsible for implementing the plan’s initiatives can conduct ongoing and transparent assessments of their progress in achieving those targets. This was included in the “accountability and coordination framework” in the very first official languages action plan, and I encourage the government to develop and publish an accountability framework that includes specific performance measures for implementing the initiatives in its 2018–2023 Action Plan.

Meanwhile, alarming events across the country in the second half of 2018 cannot go unmentioned or be swept under the rug. For example, the Government of Manitoba announced that it had changed the status of the Bureau de l’éducation française within the Department of Education and that it was eliminating 11 full-time translator positions within its translation services branch. The Government of Quebec then announced that it planned to abolish all school boards in the province and replace them with service centres without the same powers or degree of direct community involvement. That sparked an uproar, particularly from Quebec’s English-language school boards, which said they are prepared to take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Also troubling are the election of three new members to New Brunswick’s legislative assembly who belong to a party that openly questions linguistic duality in the fields of health and education, and the provincial government’s announcement that it will be reassessing the entry point for early French immersion.

And let’s not forget the Government of Ontario’s decision to eliminate the Office of French Language Services Commissioner, weakening one of the strongest defenders of Franco-Ontarian language rights for the past 10 years. That same office also promoted the achievements and contributions of the province’s French-speaking community while analyzing the ground still to be covered in order for Franco-Ontarians’ rights to be fully recognized. In November 2018, however, that ground suddenly increased exponentially. Equally shocking was the Government of Ontario’s decision to withdraw funding for a French-language university in Toronto, even though the institution would have filled a vital need for Franco-Ontarians, the largest French-speaking community outside Quebec.

Last, but certainly not least, the Federal Court dismissed the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique’s application regarding alleged violations of the Act in connection with employment benefits and support measures in the federal-provincial labour agreement. I have filed an appeal of that decision.

Looking at these successive events happening across the country, I can only conclude that provincial leaders have lost sight of the constitutional principles that underlie language rights. I am still—and will always be—astounded that language issues of this magnitude are resurfacing half a century after Canada’s first Official Languages Act was passed. The Act is an integral part of Canadians’ collective memory and represents the very foundation of the social contract that unites us. However, setbacks like the ones in Ontario and elsewhere across the country are jeopardizing that contract.

How can a value that defines our identity be considered to be a remnant of the past, especially when linguistic duality is such a powerful symbol of openness, empathy and respect? If you remove the stones one by one from the base of a building, do you not risk bringing down the building? Similarly, if you remove fundamental language rights one by one, do you not risk bringing down the very foundation of Canadian identity?

In this 50th anniversary year of the Act, we are at a crossroads, confronted with choices that will have a lasting impact on the future of bilingualism in Canada. To keep the Act relevant and sustainable and to make sure that it is fully implemented, three things need to be done: stop the erosion of language rights, modernize the legislation and ensure clear and strong leadership by the federal government. The Government of Canada must continue to take the lead in promoting the values that support Canada’s linguistic duality.

As a protector of language rights, I can intervene before the courts to defend and advance those rights to help ensure that linguistic duality and Canadian values continue to be an integral part of government decision making. In 2018–2019, I appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada twice to assert the importance of people’s right to have full access to the courts in the official language of their choice. In Mazraani v Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc., the Court upheld the fundamental nature of a person’s right to speak in the official language of his or her choice in federal courts and the role of judges and the courts to actively protect that right.

In Joseph Roy Éric Bessette v Attorney General of British Columbia, the Court had to determine whether British Columbians have the right to be tried in French for provincial offences punishable on summary conviction. As an intervenor before the Court, I argued that this right exists and that any violations must be remedied as quickly as possible because of the impact they can have on official language minority communities.

As a promoter of official languages, I can conduct studies to inform my positions and draw attention to specific issues. In my recent study on the French second-language education teacher shortage, I called on the federal government to lead a national strategy to help address the problem. Ensuring access to opportunities for Canadians to learn their second official language is a key to promoting the use of English and French in Canadian society and in the federal public service.

In promoting and protecting language rights, it is important to be innovative and to provide the federal public service with useful and effective tools to help it meet its official languages obligations. Even though federal institutions implement most of my recommendations after an investigation, this does not necessarily result in lasting change. In an effort to address systemic issues that cannot always be resolved through complaints and investigations, my office is launching a new diagnostic tool in June 2019—the Official Languages Maturity Model. This tool will provide an overview of current official languages practices within federal institutions and help them to make ongoing improvements. I urge the government to take advantage of this new tool to strengthen accountability among federal institutions. Deputy heads also stand to benefit greatly from applying the Maturity Model’s principles to obtain a thorough and accurate assessment of the state of official languages within their institutions and using it as a reference for making progress.

As Commissioner of Official Languages, I am mandated to support the protection and promotion of Canada’s two official languages. As a language rights advocate, I welcome the recent advances that have been made toward the promotion and protection of Indigenous languages—Canada’s first languages—most notably with the tabling of an Indigenous languages bill. While fully recognizing that it will be up to First Nations, Métis and Inuit themselves to chart the best path forward, I am ready to share my experiences as an ombudsman and as an advocate of minority language rights and to work together with Indigenous and federal partners.

My office and I will also continue to undertake initiatives to support the advancement of language rights, to promote both official languages and to ensure that linguistic duality continues to be a national priority. However, we can’t do this all by ourselves. This annual report is more than just a look back at the past 50 years. It underscores the need for elected officials of every political stripe to find tangible and lasting solutions to guard against the erosion of Canada’s linguistic duality and to protect the language rights and achievements of our official language communities.

Signature de Raymond Théberge

Raymond Théberge
Commissioner of Official Languages


Abbreviated versions used in the report

In this report, the following abbreviated versions are used for ease of reference:

  • “the Commissioner” for Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge
  • “the Office of the Commissioner” for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • “the Act” for the Official Languages Act
  • “official language communities” for official language minority communities
  • “federal institutions” for federal institutions and organizations that are subject to the Official Languages Act

Chapter 1 Modernizing the Official Languages Act

Adopted in July 1969 in the wake of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Canada’s first Official Languages Act was a product of its time: the tumultuous 1960s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and changes everywhere in Canadian society. The Act has evolved somewhat over the years to respond to changes in the constantly shifting linguistic and constitutional landscape. However, after half a century, it has become very clear that the Act needs major amendments and structural changes in order to reflect today’s society and to remain relevant. While Parliament has several options when it comes to modernizing the Act, one thing is certain: simply updating the provisions of the Act without examining the means it has at its disposal to ensure compliance or without reviewing the responsibilities of the various key stakeholders would be a missed opportunity to create a truly strong Act that inspires exemplary implementation.

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A little background…

The objective of the 1969 Official Languages Act was to strengthen national unity by recognizing the equal status of English and French and ensuring equal access to federal services in either official language. The right to be heard before the federal courts and the right to communicate with and obtain services from the federal government in either official language were enshrined in this first legislation.

The courts have also played a role in the evolution of the Act by handing down decisions that have had a major impact on the interpretation of its provisions, on the development of official language communities and on the status of English and French in Canadian society. The appearance of commissioners of official languages in various court proceedings has also helped to establish an extensive body of case law pertaining to language rights, which individuals and official language communities can cite when asserting rights guaranteed by the Act and by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The most recent major stride came in 2005, when Parliament passed Bill S-3, An Act to Amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French), which imposes obligations on federal institutions with respect to Part VII and allows for court proceedings if those obligations are not met. Federal institutions are now required to take positive measures to foster the development and vitality of official language communities and to promote the full recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society. Apart from the amendment to Part VII in 2005, the Act has not undergone an extensive review since 1988.

Prime Minister’s support for a modernized Act

In the summer of 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally announced that the government would be modernizing the Act. A number of individuals and organizations had been asking for this, including Interim Commissioner Ghislaine Saikaley in her recommendation from her 2016–2017 annual report.

Fighting it out in court

In May 2018, the Federal Court handed down its decision in Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique v Canada (Employment and Social Development)—a decision that resulted in the Office of the Commissioner’s having to change the way it was interpreting Part VII of the Act. The decision and the new interpretation are of great concern to the Commissioner.

In its decision, the Court stated that Part VII merely obliged federal institutions to take positive measures within the general framework of their mandate, and that positive measures did not have to target a specific program, decision-making process or initiative of a federal institution, or a specific factual situation that may have been the subject of a complaint to the Commissioner.

In the Commissioner’s view, this new rule of law does not serve the purpose of Part VII, which is to foster the development of official language communities. The Court also decided to disregard any evidence of violations following the date of filing of the complaint. The Commissioner is of the opinion that this greatly limits complainants’ and his office’s ability to fully assert the rights guaranteed by the Act.

The Commissioner filed an appeal of the Federal Court’s decision in June 2018 and plans to make a case for an interpretation of Part VII that truly reflects the purpose of the Act and the intent of Parliament. The Federal Court’s decision highlights the need for a regulatory framework to support official language communities.

All talk, no action

On the 40th anniversary of the Act in 2009, Commissioner Graham Fraser noted that little progress had been made in the previous few years in terms of institutional bilingualism within the federal government. A decade later, that observation is still true. This inertia has had significant ramifications, particularly on the development of official language communities.

Despite the constitutional status of language rights and the major advances made before the courts over the years, continuity of language rights seems to be at the mercy of governments’ changing priorities. Even though the federal government and its institutions subscribe to the principles of the Act, they do not always put their words into action.

There are a number of ongoing issues that continue to make it difficult for the Act’s objectives to be fully achieved, including the inconsistent implementation of the Act by federal institutions because of things like the ambiguity of some of the sections or the challenges in applying certain provisions.

Many changes have shaped Canadian society since the last major review of the Act in the late 1980s—changes such as demographic and identity shifts, driven largely by immigration and exogamy, and the emergence of new technologies in federal government communications and service delivery. These changes underline the very real need to modernize the Act so that it continues to be an effective tool for protecting and promoting Canada’s linguistic duality.

High expectations for a modern Act

In 2017–2018, the Office of the Commissioner held public consultations to gather input from various stakeholders about modernizing the Act.

The Commissioner was very pleased with the enthusiastic response to the on-line consultations, which resulted in some 4,200 completed questionnaires. A sizeable majority of respondents (70%) felt that the Act needs to be updated to better reflect today’s realities. The elements selected by most respondents as being most important in the modernization of the Act included language of work in federal institutions, languages used in communications and service delivery, and the inclusion of new technologies.

Public consultations video – Transcript


  • The official languages of Canada...
  • What does that mean to you?


  • Quality services
  • Vibrant linguistic communities
  • Access to justice in both languages
  • The promotion of linguistic duality
  • A strong Act

Conclusion (call to action)

  • Have your say!

Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages website

The results of the in-depth discussions with some 300 individuals across the country who were consulted in person can be grouped into three major categories: the need for a consistent and comprehensive Act that recognizes the interdependent nature of its parts; the need for a stronger Act that includes enforcement mechanisms; and the need for an Act that reflects Canada’s current and future values and realities. Many of the stakeholders who were consulted said that they had seen problems with governance and compliance and that the Act should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it stays relevant into the future.

The Commissioner’s vision

In December 2018, the Commissioner published his vision on modernizing the Act. More than simply an update, the modernization of the Act must generate results that have a real and tangible impact on the equal status and use of both English and French in Canadian society and on the vitality of official language communities. The modernized Act must recognize that its parts are interdependent—that there are, for example, intrinsic links between the representation of both language groups within the federal pubic service, the rights related to language of work, and the obligations related to communications with and services to the public, and that those rights and obligations have a broader impact on the other parts of the Act. This holistic approach stems from the three pillars on which the Commissioner’s vision is based: having an Act that is relevant, dynamic and strong.

The three dimension of the act


Chapter 2 Federal institutions’ implementation of the Official Languages Act

The scope of the obligations in the first Official Languages Act in 1969 was mostly limited to certain areas. Over the years, successive commissioners of official languages have drawn the federal government and its institutions into other areas of interest, including active offer, language of work, equitable participation of English- and French-speaking Canadians in the federal public service and development of official language communities. However, there is still a lot of work to do in order to ensure that the government’s delivery of services to the public fully meets its obligations in terms of access to bilingual services. Besides the pressing need to modernize the Act, there is also a need for federal institutions themselves to progress to the point where compliance with the Act is the natural product of a culture and processes that routinely take official languages into consideration.

Modernization of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations is another issue of great concern to the Commissioner. Although the federal government’s proposed amendments to the Regulations are a step in the right direction, the Commissioner does not think that they are comprehensive enough, that they allow for Canada’s demographic changes or that they effectively protect Canada’s official language communities. In the Commissioner’s view, if the government fails to effect a true reform of the Act and the Regulations, taking both the needs of official language communities and today’s realities into consideration, it will have missed a key opportunity to deliver a strong message that language rights are to be respected and protected.

With regard to Part V of the Act, it is worrisome to note that between 2008 and 2017, the results of the Public Service Employee Survey show that there was no significant progress on any of the issues pertaining to official languages, which suggests that the federal government is not doing enough to ensure that its employees feel comfortable using the official language of their choice at work. No progress in 10 years means that we are standing still—and likely even regressing.

The government is sending out mixed messages when it comes to language of work in the federal public service. On the one hand, it says that language of work is a priority and that it is engaging with the public service on this issue, which was the subject of a 2017 report by the Clerk of the Privy Council. On the other hand, it is not giving the same priority to implementing the recommendations in the Clerk’s report. In fact, the timelines for implementing the Clerk’s recommendations span months and even years.

Meanwhile, an inordinately high number of complaints continue to be filed with the Office of the Commissioner about the language requirements of positions in the federal public service. Our investigations show a general lack of knowledge in federal institutions about how to establish the language requirements of positions during staffing processes. The federal government and its institutions need to take action to resolve this widespread problem as quickly as possible.

The Office of the Commissioner’s new Official Languages Maturity Model will make it easier to monitor federal institutions’ progress in addressing systemic issues by helping them to identify the organizational obstacles that are preventing them from fully meeting their obligations under the Act. Federal institutions need to continue to improve and take responsibility by coming up with effective ways to deal with recurring compliance problems. The Maturity Model will help them to take action that is tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.

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Achieving institutional bilingualism

When Keith Spicer was appointed as the first Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada in 1970, he knew that the job would not be without adversity and obstacles. He understood that it would be difficult to help the federal government achieve the institutional bilingualism required by the 1969 Official Languages Act and to convince Canadians—and federal employees in particular—not only that it was in their own and their country’s best interests to meet that goal, but also that this ambitious objective was both reasonable and reachable.

Commissioners past and present have continued to strive toward that goal, recognizing that promoting linguistic duality is an integral part of protecting language rights. In fact, promotion and protection are programmed into the Office of the Commissioner’s DNA. Promotion raises awareness of language rights and the sociological and practical reasons behind them. It also seeks to increase understanding among the majority communities and strengthen the political will needed to protect and enhance language rights, including the rights of official language minority communities.

Since the adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969, the commissioners have drawn the federal government and its institutions into areas other than envisioned in the first Act. The 1988 Act includes several of the principles that were suggested over the first 20 years of official bilingualism: active offer, language of work, equitable participation of English- and French-speaking Canadians, and the development of official language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality. To a large extent, applying these principles has been and continues to be problematic. For example, active offer is not consistent, and the corporate culture within the federal public service is often not conducive to employees working in the official language of their choice.

Ongoing challenges in service to the public

Some of the complaints filed with the Office of the Commissioner point to significant and ongoing problems in certain federal institutions and to the fact that these institutions need to continue to improve their processes so that their official languages obligations are taken into full consideration. It is a question of culture, leadership and commitment.

For example, an investigation was recently completed (in March 2019) into complaints about Royal Canadian Mounted Police press conferences either held only in English or whose content was not equal in both official languages. The press conferences were held to inform Canadians about major events related to national security. The information was therefore required to be in both official languages—and of equal quality in each—in order to provide equal access to members of both language groups. This is not the first time that the issue of bilingualism at press conferences following events of national significance has been investigated.

Canada’s national police service is not the only federal institution with these types of compliance issues. Other institutions, including the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, have had similar problems involving a lack of active offer and difficulties in communicating with the public and providing services of equal quality in both official languages. And even though these problems have been the subject of recommendations in the past, they continue to reoccur.

Sign indicating that service is provided in both official languages

Between 2016 and 2018, four new complaints against Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada were filed with the Office of the Commissioner about the fact that various services were not available in both official languages at visa application centres around the world. The centres are managed by VFS Global, which is a private company. In 2018, like his predecessors had, the Commissioner concluded that because the centres are providing services on behalf of the institution, they are third parties within the meaning of section 25 of the Act. Consequently, under the Act, services at visa application centres must be provided in both official languages, regardless of demand or the region in which the centre is located. The Commissioner urges Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to take responsibility, and he hopes that the follow-up to his recommendations will show that they have been implemented. Canada’s image abroad is at stake.

Another issue that is generating complaints is that travellers in certain regions cannot always be sure of which official language they will have to use in their interactions with border services officers, which can cause discomfort and even anxiety. This problem is the result of insufficient bilingual capacity at the Canada Border Services Agency, as shown in the 2018 follow-up to the 2015 audit of the institution’s delivery of bilingual services to travellers at airports and land-border crossings. Although the institution has taken a number of measures in response to the recommendations in the 2015 audit report, including recruitment and language training initiatives, it has not made any real progress in terms of its ability to provide services of equal quality in both official languages at designated bilingual points of entry. In fact, despite the recommendations made in the audit report and the commitments made by the institution, the number of bilingual supervisors and border services officers has not increased across Canada since 2015.

Hindering Canadians from exercising their right to vote

Even today, there is no guarantee that Canadian voters will receive services in the official language of their choice when they exercise one of the fundamental rights of our democracy—their right to vote in elections. Although Elections Canada has made some progress, complaints filed with the Office of the Commissioner suggest that the institution is having considerable difficulties meeting its obligations under the Act. Those challenges go beyond the difference of opinion between the Office of the Commissioner and Elections Canada regarding the interpretation of its obligation under the Act to provide services to voters in both official languages. The Commissioner maintains that Elections Canada’s obligations apply everywhere in Canada, whereas Elections Canada holds that its obligations apply only in areas where there is a significant demand for services in the official language of the linguistic minority. Despite all of the Office of the Commissioner’s efforts in conducting an audit and an audit follow-up, as well as various investigations, it still received complaints in 2017 following the most recent federal by-election in the Ottawa–Vanier riding, which has a large linguistic minority community and where recruiting bilingual election workers should not be difficult. Voting is one of the most important ways Canadians can influence government decision-making processes. Elections Canada has a duty to ensure that electors can exercise their right to vote in the official language of their choice.

Current status of official languages in the public service

Whether judging by the observations made by the Office of the Commissioner over the past few years or looking at the number of complaints that continue to be filed, one thing is certain: there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that language rights and obligations are ingrained in the corporate culture and processes of the public service and that federal institutions fully respect those rights and meet those obligations.

Complaints are one indication of how federal institutions are doing. The Public Service Employee Survey is another important source of information, especially about federal employee satisfaction with language of work. Since 2008, four consecutive surveys have shown that while 91–93% of English-speaking employees feel free to write in the official language of their choice at work, only 67–68% of French-speaking employees feel the same way. The 25% difference in satisfaction rates between the two linguistic groups has not budged in 10 years.

The results of the Survey with respect to questions about meetings show ongoing significant differences between the satisfaction rates of French-speaking federal employees and their English-speaking counterparts when it comes to feeling free to use the official language of their choice at meetings. The right to use the official language of one’s choice when drafting documents and participating in meetings is an individual right with respect to language of work. The noticeable differences in satisfaction rates and the fact that these differences have been pronounced over multiple surveys indicate a lack of commitment on the part of senior management to respect that right.

Language requirements of positions: Systemic problem needs a systemic solution


More than 0 investigations

more than 0 federal institutions

Respect for linguistic duality in the federal public service tops the list of the Commissioner’s concerns, particularly when it comes to ensuring that federal employees’ language rights are respected and that members of the public have access to services of equal quality in both official languages. For that to happen, employees in the federal public service must have the language skills that their positions require.

Since 2014, commissioners of official languages have conducted more than 500 investigations into complaints involving more than 30 federal institutions regarding the language requirements of positions under section 91 of the Act. There is a systemic problem in the federal public service, and the Office of the Commissioner is conducting an in-depth analysis of this issue with a view to issuing recommendations to help resolve it. In the meantime, federal institutions need to acknowledge their responsibilities and take concrete action to ensure that the language requirements of positions are always established objectively.

Follow-up to the Clerk’s recommendations on language of work

The Committee of Assistant Deputy Ministers on Official Languages is currently following up on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Clerk of the Privy Council’s 2017 report on language of work in the federal public service. However, the Committee’s job has been made more difficult because the timetable for implementing the recommendations spans months, even years. Even though the Clerk’s report was researched and written in 2016–2017, 10 of his 14 recommendations will not be implemented until 2021 or beyond. With such a long timeline, it is not surprising that some of the momentum has been lost. Regardless of the deadlines, however, federal institutions still need to get ready to implement the recommendations.

Draft Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations

In November 2016, the government announced that it would be reviewing the Regulations. Subsequently, a number of meetings were held between the Office of the Commissioner and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to discuss how the review was progressing. In May 2018, the Commissioner tabled a special report to Parliament recommending a principled approach to modernizing the Regulations. In October 2018, the government tabled its draft Regulations in Parliament.


In December 2018, the Commissioner issued a news release and wrote to the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie and to the President of the Treasury Board to present his analysis of the draft Regulations and to raise three issues in particular that need to be addressed while there is still time.

Issues related to open government

With today’s new technologies, federal institutions can now engage in direct and ongoing dialogue with the public. The increased use of on-line collaboration tools and social media to involve the public in major government reviews and initiatives is a prime example of this. Federal institutions can also disseminate data, information and documents proactively through electronic channels—an option that did not exist before.

Through various initiatives aimed at achieving a more open government, these new possibilities offer unparalleled transparency and accessibility. However, they also raise official languages concerns.

The volume and nature of the information and documents made available in an open government should, in keeping with the spirit of the Act, advance the equal status of English and French.

The Government of Canada plays a key role in promoting an open and inclusive government that fosters the use of both official languages. Federal institutions also have their share of responsibility—making sure that both official languages are at the core of this new approach.

Canada is co-chairing the international Open Government Partnership initiative from October 2018 to September 2019. With its three priorities of inclusion, participation and impact, Canada has an unprecedented opportunity to show the world its leadership in official languages and open government by:

  • working with Open Government Partnership members to ensure that all Partnership events in Canada and all documents provided to participants are bilingual;
  • adding the topic of official languages to the agenda of the Partnership’s May 2019 global summit in Ottawa, which will be a prime opportunity for Canada to make the connection between open government and the 50th anniversary of the Act; and
  • incorporating official languages into its international open government strategy.

Service quality in the digital era

In this technology-driven era, federal institutions must continue to improve their services in both official languages, which is an essential ingredient of quality service. Although telephone and in-person service still play an important role in service delivery, information is increasingly becoming available and being provided on-line using a variety of platforms (e.g., websites, mobile applications, on-line chats) and social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), making it imperative to ensure that the choice of technology platform does not affect the quality or equality of services in both official languages. Numerous complaints have been filed with the Office of the Commissioner about this new state of affairs.

Official languages governance

The shortcomings in the current official languages governance structure within the federal government are cause for serious concern. Better coordination is needed, along with accountability and monitoring mechanisms, to ensure greater accountability by federal institutions that fail to comply with the Act and greater transparency in general. At present, self-assessment is the only accountability mechanism there is for federal institutions. Reading these self-assessments, some of which seem to be couched in vague bureaucratese, sometimes gives the impression that either federal institutions are not reporting all of their compliance issues or they do not have the tools or expertise they need to identify their compliance issues. Either way, true transparency suffers. Since early 2010, there has been no central agency responsible for coordinating the federal government’s official languages commitment. Apart from the Office of the Commissioner, which is an independent agent of Parliament, no other federal institution has general jurisdiction over monitoring official language issues.

With regard to governance, the Act identifies the Treasury Board as being responsible for the general direction and coordination of the policies and programs of the Government of Canada relating to the implementation of parts IV, V and VI. The Minister of Canadian Heritage is identified as being responsible for encouraging and promoting a coordinated approach to the implementation of Part VII. This legislative structure raises various issues, especially for a statute that requires horizontal application to achieve its objectives.

Because a variety of models can be used to help create a strong legislative structure, it would be difficult to suggest a single solution. Nonetheless, the Commissioner believes that effective governance must be based on clear principles. He is therefore proposing five principles that could help the government in its analysis of a new official languages governance structure:

  • Establish clear direction and leadership at the most senior levels of the federal government.
  • Establish a consistent accountability framework.
  • Make official languages a top priority and a key aspect of government planning and activities.
  • Ensure effective stewardship of official languages.
  • Address setbacks while ensuring ongoing progress toward the substantive equality of official languages.

Official Languages Maturity Model for federal institutions

Launched in 2019 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Act and the review to modernize the Act, the Office of the Commissioner’s Official Languages Maturity Model is a modern approach that uses an on-line tool to track official languages integration within federal institutions in a more horizontal and comprehensive manner. Although similar maturity models have been used in other areas, this is the first known instance of the tool’s being used for official languages.

OLMM promo video - Transcript

In order for the Official Languages Act to be fully implemented, all stakeholders need to have a shared vision of official languages.

Federal institutions must be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and determine what they need to do to improve.

The government must have a complete portrait of the state of official languages within its institutions so that it knows where to target its interventions.

The Official Languages Maturity Model is a new approach developed by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages that explains the principles and obligations of the Act and makes them easier to apply.

This new tool helps assess the state of official languages throughout the federal government and develop a roadmap for improvement.

It is a flexible tool that can be tailored to each organization.

The Official Languages Maturity Model is structured along three areas of activity:

  1. Service delivery and communications with the public;
  2. Governance, leadership and strategic direction; and
  3. People management.

These areas of activity are divided into a total of 9 capabilities, or themes, which are further subdivided into a total of 28 indicators. The indicators show the extent to which an organization possesses the capabilities.

Each indicator has 5 levels of maturity:

  • Organizations at the lower levels do not have formal or standard practices in the area described by the indicator.
  • In organizations at the higher levels, practices and processes are standard throughout, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are in place, and innovation and leadership are strong in the area described by the indicator.

Using the Official Languages Maturity Model involves conducting a diagnostic assessment and developing an action plan:

  • First, the organization completes a self-assessment to measure its level of maturity within each of the 28 indicators.
  • Each year, the self-assessment results of selected organizations are validated by the Office of the Commissioner.
  • The last step is for the organization to develop an action plan to highlight the areas where it intends to focus its efforts and to explain the strategy it will use to achieve expected results.

The Official Languages Maturity Model does not simply help an organization better identify its strengths and weaknesses. It also provides a plan for continuous, ongoing progress in terms of integrating official languages into the organization and thus helps the organization improve its compliance with the Official Languages Act.

The Official Languages Maturity Model represents a new way of addressing official languages issues and focuses on processes in order to identify systemic solutions.

This will help to advance official languages in the federal public service and in Canadian society.

Developed by the Office of the Commissioner in consultation with federal institutions, the Official Languages Maturity Model is designed to help institutions determine to what extent official languages are integrated within organizational disciplines such as strategic and operational planning, human resource practices and service delivery. Federal institutions that use the tool will be better able to assess their strengths and weaknesses and identify areas that need improvement. Once the assessment has been made, the institution will have to take specific and targeted measures to make progress. In other words, the maturity model provides federal institutions with a roadmap for continuous improvement.

Using the Official Languages Maturity Model, federal institutions and the people who work within them will all have a common framework and share a common vision. All federal institutions will be able to use it to examine their processes, make their own diagnostic assessments and monitor their progress. Each year, the Office of the Commissioner will validate the self-assessment results of a selected number of institutions. At the end of each three- to five-year cycle, the data will give the Office of the Commissioner an overview of the state of official languages in the Government of Canada.

The Official Languages Maturity Model is an opportunity to highlight best practices, reward strong leadership, gain a better understanding of organizational issues and target effective interventions. It also gives the government another way to gather effective data on official languages and hold federal institutions accountable.


Chapter 3 Action plan for official languages

The very first action plan for official languages was launched in 2003, in the wake of the federal government’s formal commitment to make the promotion of Canada’s linguistic duality one of the priorities of its mandate, both within the federal administration and in Canadian society in general, and to find the means to do that. This action plan is the only one that included a component that focused on changing the organizational culture in the public service. Successive governments have issued three subsequent action plans over the past 15 years, allocating funding and outlining initiatives to support issues like the development of official language communities.

The Commissioner applauds the federal government’s most recent action plan, which testifies to its renewed commitment to official languages. He also wishes to underscore the importance of a coordinated, open and transparent approach to implementing the various measures in the action plan. And he wants the government to employ more ways to promote linguistic duality which, combined with the measures and initiatives contained in the current action plan, will have a tangible and meaningful impact on the vitality of official language communities.

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The first action plan

The 2003‒2008 action plan for official languages, titled The Next Act: New Momentum for Canada’s Linguistic Duality, contained a total of $1.9 billion in investments over five years in three priority areas: education, the development of official language communities, and the public service. For example, funding was allocated for an ambitious objective to double the proportion of 15- to 19-year-olds who can speak their second official language in 10 years. Funding was also allocated for the development of official language communities in areas such as health care and immigration and for enhancing the organizational culture in the public service. Perhaps more important than the funding itself, this first action plan contained an unprecedented accountability framework. The Official Languages Accountability and Coordination Framework gave the President of the Queen’s Privy Council and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs responsibility for coordinating the action plan and described enforcement procedures, roles and responsibilities, policy coordination mechanisms and a common communication strategy for all activities. Unfortunately, this type of framework was not included in subsequent action plans.

The next two

The Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008-2013: Acting for the Future committed a total of $2.2 billion in investments to encourage the participation of Canadians in linguistic duality and to support official language communities. This federal strategy targeted five priority sectors: health, justice, immigration, economic development, and arts and culture.

However, this roadmap did not include an accountability framework or any initiatives for the public service, nor did it provide any targets to guide federal institutions in their actions.

The Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities renewed the government’s investment of $2.2 billion over five years. However, in addition to not including monies for research and cutting back significantly on investments in education, this roadmap marked the end of funding for the Canada School of Public Service’s pilot project that extended access to its language training and testing to university students wanting to attain the language proficiency needed to enter the public service.

The current action plan

The Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future, released in March 2018, added $500 million in new funds, bringing the total investment to $2.7 billion over five years, the most ever earmarked for official languages support and promotion. The plan contains 15 new measures grouped under three pillars: strengthening our communities; strengthening access to services; and promoting a bilingual Canada. However, it still does not include an accountability framework or identify a central authority responsible for effectively coordinating government actions.

Action plan timeline


The Next Act: New Momentum for Canada’s Linguistic Duality

Total investments: $1.9 billion dollars



Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008-2013: Acting for the Future

Total investments: $2.2 billion dollars



Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities

Total investments: $2.2 billion dollars



Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future

Total investments: $2.7 billion dollars



The government said that it developed the current action plan based on the results of its 2016 cross-Canada consultations. This could explain the new investments directly related to the specific needs of official language communities. The Commissioner applauds this approach and stresses the importance of the government’s being open and flexible with regard to the unique challenges facing each official language community. He was also pleased to see the increased core funding for organizations that serve official language communities, and to hear about the decision by the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie to increase funding for those organizations by 20% during the first year of implementation of the 2018–2023 Action Plan. This funding provides vital support for organizations that have been faithfully serving their communities for a long time, despite challenging financial circumstances.

The creation of a dedicated fund for Quebec’s English-speaking communities is also noteworthy. These communities are in a very different situation than French-speaking communities outside Quebec, and they have their own unique priorities. It was time for the federal government to take those facts into account in designing initiatives to support the vitality of official language communities.

The Commissioner was also happy to see that funding for early childhood development had been reinstated in the current action plan. Early childhood development is the beginning of a continuum in education and is therefore crucial for ensuring the development of official language communities, and the lack of investments earmarked for early childhood development in the 2013–2018 Roadmap—despite an acute shortage of resources in that area everywhere outside Quebec—hampered the communities’ efforts to strengthen the transmission of language in preschool-aged children. The new investments that were announced, coupled with the funding allocated under the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework, are a welcome change.


Community stakeholders are eagerly waiting to see how the funding in the 2018–2023 Action Plan will be distributed and how funded initiatives will produce tangible results for official language communities. The terms and conditions of funding and programs are also very important. The federal government needs to take a flexible and transparent approach in setting the terms and conditions for programs, especially with regard to the application process, service standards and accountability mechanisms. The government also needs to maintain a free and open dialogue with official language communities where funding is concerned.

Even though the current action plan contains many encouraging investments, some organizations have raised concerns about the length of time it takes to grant funding. The Commissioner urges the federal government to disburse the amounts earmarked for official language communities as quickly as possible so as to not hinder their development.


Since 2003, a limited number of federal government departments have been identified in the various action plans and roadmaps announcing significant federal investments in official languages. Although this funding is vital, it does not represent the entirety of the federal government’s support for official languages. The Commissioner is therefore calling on the government to develop and publish an accountability framework with strict results assessment mechanisms for federal institutions that play a role in the 2018–2023 Action Plan.

It is important to note that federal institutions are required to consider the specific needs of official language communities when developing and delivering their regular programs and not just when implementing the initiatives and programs in the government’s official languages roadmaps or action plans.

More than funding

The 2018‒2023 Action Plan is a testament to the federal government’s commitment to the development and vitality of official language communities. The substantial financial investments will help address many of the needs and issues identified by the communities. However, the government’s commitment cannot stop at the initiatives contained in the plan, which involve less than a dozen federal institutions. Part VII of the Act states that all federal institutions must take positive measures to fulfill that commitment. And even though positive measures do not have to take the form of financial support, institutions must take the government’s commitment into account when developing and implementing their programs and policies.

The Office of the Commissioner will continue to closely monitor how federal institutions are meeting their obligations under Part VII of the Act.

Concerns about federal-provincial-territorial agreements

Provincial, territorial and community stakeholders are deeply concerned about the federal government’s lack of clarity when it comes to who plays what role in official languages issues. During consultations on the modernization of the Act, participants frequently mentioned ambiguities in federal-provincial-territorial agreements with respect to transparency, accountability and language clauses. Official language communities also stressed how important it is for these agreements to take their needs into account. Many cited the example of the Official Languages in Education Program, which has also been the subject of complaints to the Office of the Commissioner. Under this program, the government provides financial support for minority-language education and second-language instruction through cooperation agreements with the provinces and territories.

Implementation of the 2018‒2023 Action Plan is one of the Office of the Commissioner’s three priorities between now and 2025. The Commissioner will therefore be paying close attention to this file and will intervene, if necessary, with the federal institutions involved in order to ensure that the government remains accountable and achieves its objectives.


Chapter 4 Statistics on admissible complaints in 2018–2019

This chapter provides an overview of admissible complaints processed by the Office of the Commissioner in 2018–2019.

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Figure 1 Admissible complaints in 2018–2019 by part/section of the Official Languages Act

Pie chart



  • 550 Communications with and services to the public (Part IV)
  • 212 Language of work (Part V)
  • 22 Equitable participation (Part VI)
  • 12 Advancement of English and French (Part VII)
  • 285 Language requirements of positions (Part XI, section 91)
  • 6 Other parts of the Act (Parts III and IX)

Total: 1,087


Table 1 Admissible complaints in 2018–2019 by province and territory and by part/section of the Official Languages Act

Newfoundland and Labrador 21 0 0 1 2 0 24
Prince Edward Island 5 2 0 0 0 0 7
Nova Scotia 18 2 0 0 2 0 22
New Brunswick 41 19 4 1 0 0 65
Quebec 85 62 4 1 11 3 166
National Capital Region (Quebec) 50 34 2 0 70 0 156
National Capital Region (Ontario) 86 52 5 7 184 2 336
Ontario 108 34 5 0 5 1 153
Manitoba 8 2 1 0 0 0 11
Saskatchewan 11 0 0 1 2 0 14
Alberta 44 3 0 0 9 0 56
British Columbia 23 0 1 1 0 0 25
Yukon 4 1 0 0 0 0 5
Northwest Territories 7 0 0 0 0 0 7
Nunavut 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Outside Canada 39 1 0 0 0 0 40

Note 1 This category contains the complaints that were filed under Part III (Administration of Justice) and Part IX (Commissioner of Official Languages).


Table 2 Admissible complaints over 10 years (2009–2010 to 2018–2019) by province and territory

Newfoundland and Labrador 11 6 11 8 18 12 14 28 16 24
Prince Edward Island 17 7 3 3 4 4 2 5 2 7
Nova Scotia 37 52 33 9 8 13 16 10 20 22
New Brunswick 43 35 36 24 31 42 41 87 51 65
Quebec 68 505 55 70 59 56 68 148 129 166
National Capital Region (Quebec) 93 57 49 49 37 64 121 92 96 156
National Capital Region (Ontario) 141 209 200 152 182 193 351 429 307 336
Ontario 956 51 77 52 75 78 58 106 124 153
Manitoba 27 10 25 20 20 13 14 13 18 11
Saskatchewan 8 3 2 2 8 16 4 6 25 14
Alberta 25 11 12 9 9 28 8 43 49 56
British Columbia 38 23 7 8 19 18 16 25 33 25
Yukon 1 3 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 5
Northwest Territories 2 0 1 0 1 0 2 2 4 7
Nunavut 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Outside Canada 10 8 7 9 5 12 8 23 19 40

Table 3 Admissible complaints over 10 years (2009–2010 to 2018–2019) by part/section of the Official Languages Act

Service to the public
(Part IV)
451 298 341 252 282 320 344 565 457 550
Language of work
(Part V)
71 512 79 83 103 126 125 183 138 212
Equitable participation
(Part VI)
11 6 1 6 13 11 24 34 16 22
Advancement of English and French
(Part VII)
904 109 45 39 30 37 62 32 50 12
Language requirements
(Part XI, section 91)
33 51 42 30 44 45 156 192 222 285
Other parts or sections Note 2 7 5 10 5 4 11 14 12 11 6

Note 2 This category contains the complaints that were filed under Part III (Administration of Justice) and Part IX (Commissioner of Official Languages).


A final word After 50 years of official languages

Numbers aside, it’s important to take stock of where we are as a society, 50 years after the first Act was passed. Unfortunately, when we look in the rear-view mirror to see how far we’ve come in terms of official languages, we realize that we have not come as far as we’d hoped. After five decades, the Commissioner should not have to be repeating the same things his predecessors said. We should be further along than this!

After 50 years of official languages:

  • travelling in the official language of your choice is still far too often difficult;
  • being greeted and served in the official language of your choice when communicating with federal institutions is still a long way from being routine;
  • working or being supervised in the official language of your choice in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes is still not a given, even though it’s an individual right—situations can change overnight with the arrival of a new supervisor or deputy minister;
  • exercising the right to vote in the official language of your choice is still often difficult, if not impossible, even though it’s a basic right; and
  • being consulted, heard and taken into consideration as official language communities when the government establishes new policies or when it creates, modifies or eliminates programs, is still not common practice.

Of course, much progress has been made since the first Act was passed in 1969, but can we truly say that Parliament’s vision has been achieved? What does the future hold if we continue to do the same things, make the same decisions and have the same reflexes? Should we expect anything other than limited progress in terms of official languages? Will there be visionaries and advocates in the federal government and in Canadian society who will support and promote official languages for the next 50 years?

There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, both individually and collectively, to ensure that official languages rights and obligations are respected, understood and observed by everyone. An important part of this is a thorough modernization of the Act to make it relevant, dynamic and strong. The modernized Act will continue to be the foundation for language rights and obligations and should therefore be able to see us through the next 50 years.

Regardless of what the revamped Act looks like, the government in power will have to be a strong and decisive leader when it comes to the importance of official languages, the protection of language rights and the value of Canada’s linguistic duality. Above all, government officials will have to have the political will and fortitude needed to ensure that the Act is fully implemented.

Throughout this past year, official language communities have come together in a show of strength, resolve and mutual support. Young people are continuing to inspire us with their openness and their innovative spirit and perspective. Hopefully, over the next 50 years, our political leaders will guide and inspire a country that is proud to be bilingual. Those leaders will have to support, promote and reaffirm linguistic duality as a Canadian value both in the federal public service and in Canadian society.


Raymond Théberge