Annual Report 2020–2021

Annual Report 2020●2021  
 

Preface

Introduction

This was an extraordinary year. It began with the COVID‑19 pandemic in full swing and has ended much the same way. I am grateful to my team for staying the course under less-than-ideal conditions and for continuing to faithfully monitor the status of English and French in federal institutions and in Canadian society. Despite the health crisis, my office succeeded in publishing several key reports, which are described in this annual report.

Continue reading the preface...

This crisis has in many ways changed our way of life, our institutions and our convictions. On the one hand, it has illustrated the strength and resilience of our federal institutions. On the other hand, it has shed a harsh light on what is not working: specifically, the not inconsiderable structural impediments that are hampering our collective efforts.

Systemic problem

The COVID‑19 pandemic forced our federal institutions to react promptly and decisively, and what happened? Too often, urgent safety communications were issued in only one of our two official languages, and Canadians had to wait for the translation into the other official language. This situation exposed the corporate culture of many work units in federal institutions that do not always prioritize official languages or respect the principle of equality of English and French. The complaints my office has received over the past few years, the investigations we have conducted and the report we released on emergency situations clearly show the recurrent nature of this problem.

One of the root causes of this issue is the improper assessment of the language requirements of positions, which means that many public servants lack the second language skills to be able to respond to the public or supervise employees in either official language.

In my opinion, the problem relates to a certain lack of maturity on the part of federal institutions when it comes to official languages, which translates into two things: a lack of clearly defined processes and mechanisms integrated into the business processes of federal institutions; and a work environment where employees rarely have the opportunity to speak or work in the non-predominant official language, be it their first or second official language.

The pandemic has also weakened official language minority communities by eroding not only their community service sector but also their arts and culture sector.

The shortcomings exposed by the COVID‑19 pandemic, combined with the structural problems that have been apparent for several years, highlight the pressing need to modernize the Official Languages Act. This review of the Act and its instruments is long overdue and highly anticipated, even though the government reaffirmed its commitment in the September 2020 Speech from the Throne and tabled its reform document, English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada, in February 2021. I am pleased that the principle of substantive equality is at the heart of this document, but I must stress that we need to turn those intentions into action as soon as possible!

Progress

Meanwhile, my office has been working to advance a number of other issues.

We documented the linguistic insecurity of federal government employees in their first or second official language and raised public interest in the issue. We also provided federal institutions with tools to help them better understand the issue and address this challenge. I am disappointed by the degree to which public servants are often uncomfortable using the non-predominant official language at work, whether it be their first or second official language. There is a strong need to foster a workplace that not only supports their language rights and enhances their language skills, but also takes full advantage of existing language capabilities.

We also completed the first exercise of the Official Languages Maturity Model, a self-assessment and planning tool for federal institutions, which is being implemented with the support of my office. Thirteen federal institutions have gamely embarked on this exercise, and nearly all of them have developed a progress plan to better integrate official languages into their decision-making and business processes, which will help them to meet their obligations under the Act.

Issues to monitor

We have been monitoring other ongoing issues, as well, and will continue to stay abreast of these situations as they evolve.

The upward trend in the number of complaints continued this year, and my office is now receiving over 1,000 complaints a year. Complaints related to service to the public filed under Part IV of the Act were once again the focus of our investigations. Although there were fewer complaints from the travelling public because of pandemic-related restrictions, the number of complaints about communications with the public continues to be high.

The COVID‑19 pandemic triggered a rapid shift in the use of digital technologies and teleworking. The question that now needs to be asked, particularly at a time when the Act is in the process of being modernized, is how will federal institutions ensure compliance with the rules and principles regarding language of work and service to the public in this new work environment?

Another ongoing issue is airport authorities’ respect for the language rights of the travelling public. The COVID‑19 pandemic has highlighted another aspect of the importance of clear messaging in both official languages for the travelling public. It is no longer simply a matter of locating exits or taxi stands, but of understanding additional health and safety measures.

Federal, provincial and territorial agreements on official languages in education continue to be a source of frustration for official language minority communities. Minority-language education and second-language education are key to the vitality of these communities and to linguistic duality in Canada. It is possible—necessary, even—for the two to move forward in tandem. My office will continue to monitor the education file closely.

Post-secondary education in French also continues to be a concern, as evidenced by the current situations at Campus Saint-Jean in Edmonton, Laurentian University in Sudbury and the Université de l’Ontario français in Toronto. I am keenly aware of the needs of this sector, which not only constitutes part of the educational continuum of French linguistic minority communities, but also unleashes the communities’ potential through activities in training and in research and development. The sector can count on my support to encourage the federal government to provide additional resources.

Signature of Raymond Théberge

Raymond Théberge
Commissioner of Official Languages

 
 
 
 
 

Annual report: Navigation

This year, a new web format has been developed for my annual report. The content is organized chronologically, with key issues and activities presented under themes that have emerged over time. More importantly, this report continues to be an annual record of the official languages compliance issues addressed by my office. I hope you enjoy reading it!

 
 
 

Timeline

 

Statistics on admissible complaints in 2020–2021

Figure 1 Admissible complaints in 2020–2021 by part/section of the Official Languages Act

Legend

  • 693 Communications with and services to the public (Part IV)
  • 173 Language of work (Part V)
  • 13 Equitable participation (Part VI)
  • 16 Advancement of English and French (Part VII)
  • 968 Language requirements of positions (Part XI, section 91)
  • 7 Other parts of the Act (parts II, III and IX)
 

Total: 1,870

 
More on statistics on admissible complaints in 2020–2021

Complaints filed explanations

 
 

Table 1 Admissible complaints in 2020–2021 by province and territory and by part/section of the Official Languages Act

Newfoundland and Labrador 11 0 0 0 0 0 11
Prince Edward Island 4 0 0 0 0 0 4
Nova Scotia 10 1 0 0 0 0 11
New Brunswick 23 16 1 2 5 0 47
Quebec 152 63 2 4 16 2 239
National Capital Region (Quebec) 17 16 1 1 257 1 293
National Capital Region (Ontario) 125 62 6 7 679 4 883
Ontario 131 8 2 0 7 0 148
Manitoba 24 1 0 0 0 0 25
Saskatchewan 20 1 1 1 0 0 23
Alberta 117 1 0 1 1 0 120
British Columbia 49 0 0 0 3 0 52
Yukon 2 0 0 0 0 0 2
Northwest Territories 3 1 0 0 0 0 4
Nunavut 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
Outside Canada 4 3 0 0 0 0 7
 

Table 2 Admissible complaints over 10 years (2011–2012 to 2020–2021) by province and territory

Newfoundland and Labrador 11 8 18 12 14 28 16 24 32 11
Prince Edward Island 3 3 4 4 2 5 2 7 4 4
Nova Scotia 33 9 8 13 16 10 20 22 60 11
New Brunswick 36 24 31 42 41 87 51 65 62 47
Quebec 55 70 59 56 68 148 129 166 213 239
National Capital Region (Quebec) 49 49 37 64 121 92 96 156 163 293
National Capital Region (Ontario) 200 152 182 193 351 429 307 336 500 883
Ontario 77 52 75 78 58 106 124 153 192 148
Manitoba 25 20 20 13 14 13 18 11 9 25
Saskatchewan 2 2 8 16 4 6 25 14 6 23
Alberta 12 9 9 28 8 43 49 56 48 120
British Columbia 7 8 19 18 16 25 33 25 30 52
Yukon 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 5 6 2
Northwest Territories 1 0 1 0 2 2 4 7 6 4
Nunavut 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Outside Canada 7 9 5 12 8 23 19 40 30 7
Total
 

Table 3 Admissible complaints over 10 years (2011–2012 to 2020–2021) by part/section of the Official Languages Act

Service to the public
(Part IV)
341 252 282 320 344 565 457 550 731 693
Language of work
(Part V)
79 83 103 126 125 183 138 212 172 173
Equitable participation
(Part VI)
1 6 13 11 24 34 16 22 11 13
Advancement of English and French
(Part VII)
45 39 30 37 62 32 50 12 20 16
Language requirements
(Part XI, section 91)
42 30 44 45 156 192 222 285 420 968
Other parts
(parts II, III and IX)
10 5 4 11 14 12 11 6 7 7
Total
 
 

Conclusion

This past year has been a long and challenging one. My office and I have experienced all kinds of emotions and have had to overcome many obstacles, but we have managed to fulfill our mandate as protector and promoter of official languages. We have also released several reports on important issues this year, which have been the result of years of observation, analysis and lessons learned.

The volume of complaints we receive is still trending upward. Whereas several years ago we were receiving some 400 or 500 complaints a year, the trend over the past couple of years puts the annual number of complaints well over 1,000. This year, despite the COVID‑19 pandemic and a decline in the number of travel-related complaints, the overall volume continued to be high. We also saw a significant number of complaints from the general public in other areas, such as online services and communications related to the COVID‑19 pandemic.

The federal government has its work cut out. Modernizing the Official Languages Act must be the first step in the government’s efforts to reform federal language policy. All political parties and stakeholders seem to agree on this issue. Although the federal government released its reform document early in 2021—a positive and encouraging commitment after years of hesitation—we are still a long way from passing a bill into law and from that law’s coming into force, but I am hopeful that a solution is near. Reforming federal language policy cannot stop there, however; there is so much more to be done.

This past year also highlighted the lack of attention paid to official languages during crises. My report on safety and official languages examined this problem.

Our study on linguistic insecurity revealed the troubling unease felt throughout the public service with respect to official languages. The use of French in the workplace is still not encouraged or supported more than half a century after linguistic duality was made official. French-speaking public servants are reluctant to speak French for myriad reasons, which are outlined in our study. The same is true of their English-speaking counterparts, who are not afforded optimal conditions for speaking their second official language, which deprives them of many opportunities to practise their French. According to our study, many of them are asking to be given the chance to use their second official language at work. The study also showed that English-speaking public servants in Quebec are not always comfortable using their first official language at work. Ultimately, Canada’s linguistic duality is not being expressed or advanced in the federal public service, which naturally has an impact on the quality of service it provides to the public. In my opinion, the root of the problem is the lack of official languages leadership in our federal institutions. Although we do have some official languages leaders, there are simply not enough of them. Official languages need to be at the heart of the decisions made in every one of our federal institutions.

Some of these problems have already been documented. The Clerk of the Privy Council’s 2017 report entitled The Next Level: Building a Culture of Inclusive Linguistic Duality in the Federal Public Service provided some possible solutions and called for numerous measures to be implemented. Where are we with this? The Clerk’s 2019–2020 Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada makes no mention of official languages, nor does Blueprint 2020. In the September 2020 Speech from the Throne, the Governor General stated that “our two official languages are woven into the fabric of our country.” This must be tangibly reflected in the federal government. Linguistic security needs to be a top priority for the Clerk of the Privy Council. There seems to be a certain amount of awareness of this issue, given that an interdepartmental working group has been created, on which my office is represented; however, I doubt that this will be enough to address the current problems.

The COVID‑19 pandemic has accelerated the process of change, and the government now has a tremendous opportunity to modernize the federal public service and to give official languages a truly central role.

I would like to close with a quote from Sue Duguay, president of the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française:

 

Recommendations

Based on the findings of this annual report, I would like to make the following recommendations.

 
 
 

Timeline additional information

Date modified:
2021-06-01