Backgrounder: Modernizing the Official Languages Act: The Commissioner of Official Languages’ Recommendations for an Act that is Relevant, Dynamic and Strong

In this 50th anniversary year of the Official Languages Act, it is time for the government to review the Act in its entirety in order to make it relevant, dynamic and strong. The Commissioner of Official Languages is making the following 18 recommendations regarding the modernization of the Act.

A relevant Act:

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends:

  • that the exemption for the Supreme Court of Canada be removed from section 16 of the Official Languages Act, since everyone should be heard and understood, without the assistance of an interpreter, in the official language of their choice before the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • that the public’s access, in both official languages, to final decisions of public interest and importance issued by federal courts be improved through legislation.
  • that decisions by federal courts and tribunals be required through legislation to be made available simultaneously in both official languages.
  • that the legislation be amended to clarify the obligations of federal institutions that serve both the travelling public and the general public.
  • that the scope and substance of the obligation to provide an active offer be clarified through regulations.
  • that specific legislative amendments and regulations be made regarding language-of-work rights in order to:
    1. ensure that language-of-work rights are consistent with the communications and service delivery requirements in Part IV of the Official Languages Act and in the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations; and
    2. preserve language-of-work rights in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes and ensure that the list for these regions is updated.
  • that:
    1. specific legislative amendments be made to give all federal employees in Canada rights involving training, services provided to individuals and services that are centrally provided; and
    2. a non-exhaustive list of services provided to individuals and services that are centrally provided be included in regulations regarding language-of-work rights.
  • that the Official Languages Act state that all employees in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes have the right to be supervised in the official language of their choice, regardless of the language requirements of their position. 
  • that the Governor in Council make regulations prescribing the manner in which the duties of federal institutions under Part VII of the Official Languages Act are to be carried out. This should be done in consultation with official language minority communities across Canada and other interested groups.

A dynamic Act:

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends:

  • that the principle of substantive equality, the remedial nature of language rights and the Act’s quasi-constitutional status be codified in the preamble to the Official Languages Act.
  • that a technology-neutral Act be drafted to ensure full adherence to the principle of substantive equality.
  • that a provision be added to the Official Languages Act requiring a regular review of the legislation.

A strong Act:

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends:

  • that the Federal Court be given the ability to award damages for any breach of the Official Languages Act, without exception or exclusion.
  • that the Official Languages Act give the Commissioner more flexibility in investigations.
  • that the Official Languages Act clearly state that the Commissioner may make the recommendations, findings and summaries of investigations available to the public.
  • that the Official Languages Act state that the Commissioner, in his discretion, may submit certain investigation reports to the President of the Treasury Board.
  • that new mechanisms be added to the Official Languages Act to improve compliance with the legislation, including the power to impose administrative monetary penalties, the power to enter into agreements with federal institutions subject to the Act, and the creation of a linguistic duality fund.
  • that the government adhere to the following five principles to ensure clear and coordinated governance of the Official Languages Act:
    1. Establish clear direction and leadership at the most senior levels of the federal government.
    2. Establish a consistent accountability framework.
    3. Make official languages a top priority and a key aspect of government planning and activities.
    4. Ensure effective stewardship of official languages.
    5. Address setbacks while ensuring ongoing progress toward the substantive equality of official languages.
Date modified:
2019-05-09