Annual Report 2020–2021
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Pandemic: Compliance, complaints and the challenge for the public service
Complaints related to the COVID‑19 pandemic
The 2020–2021 fiscal year begins during the COVID‑19 pandemic, and many complaints related to this health crisis are filed with my office.More information on complaints related to the COVID‑19 pandemic
Language testing during the pandemic
COVID‑19 disrupts another important service: Language testing within the federal public service.More information on language testing during the pandemic
Digital technologies and teleworking in a new public service
The COVID‑19 pandemic highlights structural changes that are happening in Canadian society, particularly with respect to digital technologies and teleworking. What impact will these changes continue to have on official languages?More information on digital technologies and teleworking in a new public service
Report on emergency situations
Report – A Matter of Respect and Safety: The Impact of Emergency Situations on Official LanguagesMore information on report – A Matter of Respect and Safety: The Impact of Emergency Situations on Official Languages
Language requirements of positions and safety issues
The COVID‑19 pandemic highlights the problem of inadequate staffing.More information on language requirements of positions and safety issues
Communities: Pandemic impact, education barriers and linguistic insecurity
French second language teachers
There is still a strong interest in French second language and immersion programs in Canada, but schools cannot seem to keep up with the demand because of a lack of qualified staff.More information on french second language teachers
Impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on official language minority communities
Although the COVID‑19 pandemic is affecting all Canadians, we know that some segments of the population are more vulnerable, such as official language minority communities. Here are some examples of the negative impacts the health crisis has had on these communities.More information on impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on official language minority
The 2020–2021 fiscal year sees a number of disquieting developments in post-secondary education in official language minority communities, but the main focus is the threat to Campus Saint-Jean in Edmonton, Alberta.More information on Campus Saint-Jean
Federal, provincial and territorial education agreements have caused significant challenges that my office has investigated.More information on education agreements
Linguistic insecurity in the federal public service
My office surveys 11,000 federal public servants about their experience using their first or second official language at work.More information on linguistic insecurity in the federal public service
Modernization of the Act and update on the OLMM
Modernization of the Official Languages Act and update on the Official Languages Maturity Model
The Dionne case: Federal employees’ right to work in the official language of their choice at risk
My office and I are concerned about the Federal Court’s decision in the Dionne case regarding the right of federal employees to work in the official language of their choice.More information on the Dionne case: Federal employees’ right to work in the official language of their choice at risk
Official Languages Maturity Model: The first year
The Official Languages Maturity Model gives an idea of federal institutions’ level of maturity in integrating official languages into their decision-making and operational processes.More information on Official Languages Maturity Model: The first year
Parliamentary Protective Service: An encouraging story
The Parliamentary Protective Service, which has been the subject of complaints filed with my office, decides to conduct a self-assessment based on the Official Languages Maturity Model exercise.More information on Parliamentary Protective Service: An encouraging story
Service in the official language of your choice at airports: An ongoing problem
Canada’s airports are key facilities where Canadians are still too often confronted with services and communications provided in only one official language.More information on service in the official language of your choice at airports: An ongoing problem
Speech from the Throne
The Official Languages Act is on the parliamentary agenda!More information on Speech from the Throne
Linguistic identification of positions: A systemic problem that affects service to the public
Complaints reveal a systemic problem when it comes to considering official languages requirements in staffing (section 91 of the Official Languages Act).More information on linguistic identification of positions: A systemic problem that affects service to the public
Federal government’s official languages reform document
The Government of Canada responds to repeated requests and releases its reform document entitled English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada, which outlines its intention to strengthen the Official Languages Act.More information on reform document
Official Languages Maturity Model: Continued
Preparations begin for the next round of Official Languages Maturity Model exercises, despite the COVID‑19 pandemic.More information on Official Languages Maturity Model: Continued
Statistics on admissible complaints in 2020–2021
Figure 1 Admissible complaints in 2020–2021 by part/section of the Official Languages Act
- 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)
Complaints filed explanations
Complaints filed under Part IV of the Act
The number of complaints filed under Part IV of the Act decreased slightly in 2020–2021, from 731 to 693. However, it is still the second-highest number of admissible Part IV complaints recorded in the past 18 years. It is interesting to note that, like many parts of our society, the types of complaints were influenced by the COVID‑19 pandemic. For example, the number of complaints from the travelling public decreased in 2020–2021 for obvious reasons. And Part IV complaints involved other types of services, including online services and communications.
Complaints filed under Part V of the Act
In 2020–2021, there was a slight decrease in the number of complaints filed under Part V of the Act. As a proportion, however, the number of language-of-work complaints remained stable (taking into account the anomaly in the number of section 91 complaints described below).
Complaints filed under Part XI of the Act (section 91)
There was a significant increase in the volume of complaints filed under section 91 of the Act in 2020–2021. It is important to note, however, that 806 of the 968 admissible complaints were not investigated, because it was determined that they had not been filed in good faith. Excluding these complaints, the number of section 91 complaints actually decreased from 420 to 162, which is within the average for the previous nine years.
Analysis of admissible complaints, by location of incident
The number of admissible complaints regarding incidents that occurred in New Brunswick decreased in 2020–2021 compared to the previous two years (−26%), when we received a fairly large number of complaints against Correctional Service Canada (about services to the public and language of work at Dorchester Penitentiary), Elections Canada (about the 2019 federal election) and Air Canada. In 2020–2021, there were very few complaints about these institutions in New Brunswick.
The number of admissible complaints regarding incidents that occurred in Alberta increased significantly compared to the previous four years (+145%). In 2020–2021, the majority of complaints for this province involved signage at Calgary and Edmonton international airports. Nearly three quarters of Alberta’s 120 complaints were about written communications or ground service from these airport authorities.
The number of admissible complaints regarding incidents that occurred outside of Canada dropped significantly compared to the previous four years (−75%), likely due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Table 1 Admissible complaints in 2020–2021 by province and territory and by part/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)
(parts II, III and IX)
|Newfoundland and Labrador||11||0||0||0||0||0||11|
|Prince Edward Island||4||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|National Capital Region (Quebec)||17||16||1||1||257||1||293|
|National Capital Region (Ontario)||125||62||6||7||679||4||883|
Table 2 Admissible complaints over 10 years (2011–2012 to 2020–2021) by province and territory
|Location of incident||2011 2012||2012 2013||2013 2014||2014 2015||2015 2016||2016 2017||2017 2018||2018 2019||2019 2020||2020 2021|
|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|
|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|
Table 3 Admissible complaints over 10 years (2011–2012 to 2020–2021) by part/section of the Official Languages Act
|Part or section of the Act||2011 2012||2012 2013||2013 2014||2014 2015||2015 2016||2016 2017||2017 2018||2018 2019||2019 2020||2020 2021|
|Service to the public
|Language of work
|Advancement of English and French
(Part XI, section 91)
(parts II, III and IX)
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:
We’ve been dreaming of our language rights for a while now, but the time has come to transform our dreams into reality by working together to see our language and our culture grow and our language rights respected!
Based on the findings of this annual report, I would like to make the following recommendations.
Given that the federal government has announced that a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act will be tabled by the end of 2021, I am calling on all members of Parliament to work together to pass legislation that benefits all Canadians.
I recommend that:
- the Prime Minister of Canada and his Cabinet review the issues of safety and official languages raised in my report, A Matter of Respect and Safety: The Impact of Emergency Situations on Official Languages; and
- the Privy Council Office develop a publicly available roadmap within six months of the release of my 2020–2021 annual report in order to address those issues.
I recommend that the Clerk of the Privy Council:
- immediately address the issues raised in my report, Implementing Section 91 of the Official Languages Act: A systemic problem, so that concrete action can be taken to address the recommendations made therein within the specified deadlines;
- immediately exert influence by promoting the expansion of linguistic duality within the federal government in order to ensure that official languages are at the heart of public service reform; and
- implement strategies by June 2022 in order to combat the linguistic insecurity described in my study, Linguistic (in)security at work – Exploratory survey on official languages among federal government employees in Canada.