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The Commissioner uses a variety of means to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act, assess the performance of federal institutions and respond to complaints and questions from the public about official languages. The tools presented in this section allow the Commissioner to obtain an overall portrait of how federal institutions fulfil—and understand—their official languages obligations, and what areas require stronger leadership from administrators to fully respect the letter and spirit of the Act. They also provide him with the necessary information to help him decide where proactive and preventive interventions might be valuable, whether to address or prevent a particular problem or to improve an institution’s performance.

The Commissioner takes preventive action by intervening when a given institution may have to take certain measures in response to a systemic problem or to prevent situations of noncompliance. The Commissioner can also intervene on his own initiative when he is informed by the public or the media of a possible infraction before a complaint is filed. Each year, the Commissioner also audits a number of federal institutions to better understand particular problem areas related to the implementation of the Act and to obtain public commitments from senior officials in these institutions to improve those areas where gaps were identified. The Commissioner reviews the performance of several institutions and issues annual report cards that assess the institutions’ performance with key areas of the Act. As language ombudsman, the Commissioner responds to requests for information about official languages from Canadians and investigates complaints regarding the implementation of the Act. Finally, when an institution does not take the necessary measures to follow up on the Commissioner’s recommendations or in other circumstances deemed appropriate, he may seek leave to intervene before the courts in actions undertaken by a complainant. This power is exercised when most other available options have run out or when the action raises important legal questions regarding the interpretation of the Act.

The information gathered through this range of interventions is brought together and analyzed to obtain a broader portrait of the official languages environment and compliance issues of a given year. It also allows the Commissioner to work strategically with certain institutions in a spirit of prevention and collaboration.


Complaints received in 2007–2008

Between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages received 884 complaints from the public regarding the implementation of the Official Languages Act. When a complaint is first received under the current process, a decision is made as to whether it is considered admissible.

A complaint is admissible when it meets the following criteria: it relates to an obligation set forth in the Act, it involves an institution subject to the Act and it concerns a specific incident. Of the 884 complaints received in 2007–2008, a total of 634, or 72%, were deemed admissible. This year, a total of 86 institutions were the subject of the 634 admissible complaints that the Commissioner examined. Of these complaints, more than half implicated only ten institutions. Not all the investigations that determine whether or not the complaints are founded5 have been completed. Still, the large number of complaints received for so few institutions is indicative of which institutions must show stronger leadership in the coming year to improve their compliance with the Act. Most of these institutions are in frequent contact with the general public, therefore, they must pay special attention to their obligations under the Act and the language rights of the public they serve. The Commissioner expects these institutions to take action to address the key issues that led to such a large number of complaints.

Air Canada 86
Canada Post 46
Service Canada 43
Canada Revenue Agency 28
National Defence 28
Canada Border Services Agency 25
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority 20
Royal Canadian Mounted Police 20
Citizenship and Immigration Canada 18
Public Works and Government Services Canada 17
Total 331

The majority of admissible complaints in 2007–2008 were filed by Francophones (91%), and over half of the alleged infractions occurred in either the National Capital Region (NCR) or in the Atlantic provinces. Some 13% of the complaints filed by Francophones were against offices located in Quebec, but outside the NCR.

In terms of complaint categories, more than twothirds (68%) of admissible complaints this year involved language of service, 18% involved language of work, 6% involved the advancement of English and French, 6% involved language requirements for positions in the federal public service and 2% involved equitable participation. The results of further analysis of some of these categories, including trends, follow.

Table 2 presents the number of admissible complaints filed in 2007–2008 broken down by province or territory and by category.

National Capital
Region (Ontario)
167 105 37 4 10 10 1
Ontario 95 80 10 - 5 - -
Quebec 90 56 25 4 4 1 -
Nova Scotia 58 40 4 1 1 11 1
Manitoba 50 34 2 1 12 1 -
New Brunswick 49 19 15 1 1 13 -
Region (Quebec)
33 12 17 1 - 3 -
Alberta 27 27 - - - - -
British Columbia 22 22 - - - - -
16 14 1 - 1 - -
9 9 - - - - -
Saskatchewan 7 7 - - - - -
and Labrador
5 4 1 - - - -
Yukon 3 2 - - 1 - -
3 1 - - 1 - 1
Nunavut  - - - - - - -
TOTAL 634 432 112 12 36 39 3
Trends in admissible complaints over the last three years

Although a snapshot of the complaints filed over the year provides important information about compliance issues, looking at trends over a longer period may provide a broader—and sometimes more revealing—portrait of the compliance environment. Table 3 presents certain trends in admissible complaints filed over the last three years as measured by a variety of indicators.

Total number of
admissible complaints
Decrease In the last three years, the total number of admissible complaints has decreased by 9%, reaching its lowest level in the past decade. This may be due in part to the impact of the Commissioner’s evaluations of the performance of institutions, and the emergence of new mechanisms to resolve complaints within federal institutions. The Commissioner will examine this trend in greater detail over the coming year.
Region where
the alleged
infraction occurred
Some change For the past three years, the National Capital Region has consistently been the region where the highest number of alleged infractions have occurred. While it is interesting to note that there has been a 31% drop in the number of complaints from the Atlantic region in the last three years, this change was partly offset by an increase in both Ontario and Quebec.
Category of
the complaint
No change Service to the public has consistently been the subject of the highest number of admissible complaints over the last three years, averaging 62% of all admissible complaints. Language of work comes in second, followed by language requirements for positions in the federal public service and the advancement of English and French.
The 10 institutions
subject to the
greatest number of
admissible complaints
Some change Over the last three years, the 10 institutions subject to the greatest number of admissible complaints have tended to be those that, by virtue of their mandate, have direct and regular contact with the public. Seven institutions have found themselves on this list three years in a row : Air Canada, Canada Post, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canada Revenue Agency, Service Canada (in 2005-2006, complaints against Service Canada were listed under Human Ressources and Skills Development Canada), National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada.
2007–2008 report cards

This is the fourth year that the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages issues report cards to a number of federal institutions. This year, the report cards evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of 38 federal institutions in terms of their various obligations under the Official Languages Act. The following paragraphs provide an overview of the findings. For more detailed information, consult the report cards for each institution on the Office of the Commissioner’s Web site at

Report card methodology and changes made in 2007–2008

The performance of each federal institution that is examined is measured against 13 criteria. These criteria fall under one of the following five factors related to official languages obligations: program management, service to the public, language of work, equitable participation and the development of official language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality. Each of the 13 criteria is assigned a relative weight that serves to calculate an overall rating for a given institution. A number of different methods were used to evaluate institutions according to these criteria, including interviews, documents provided by the institutions, observations made in person and over the telephone, a survey Statistics Canada conducted on behalf of the Office of the Commissioner, other statistical data obtained from the Canada Public Service Agency and consultations with employees at the Office of the Commissioner who carried out investigations and audits.

A few changes were made to the report cards in 2007–2008. One institution, Air Canada, was added to the list of those evaluated, in an effort to help the Commissioner understand some of the recurring compliance issues that make this institution the subject of a consistently large number of complaints. As with all the institutions that are evaluated, the Commissioner hopes this exercise will help Air Canada to identify the areas where improvement is needed, take action to achieve better overall results and, more generally, show stronger leadership regarding its official languages obligations.

The evaluation criteria used to assess the development of official language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality were modified slightly again this year to reflect the amendments made to the Act by Parliament in 2005. As was the case last year, the Commissioner decided to use different criteria to evaluate the performance of designated and non-designated institutions6 for Part VII. Out of the 38 institutions evaluated, the Commissioner set stricter standards for the 19 designated institutions than he did for the 19 non-designated institutions. Designated institutions are accustomed to submitting action plans and reporting on the progress made on Part VII to Canadian Heritage while non-designated institutions are not. The criteria used this year to evaluate the development of official language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality have nonetheless been reinforced for nondesignated institutions, taking into account that they have now had over two years to adjust to the new legislative requirements. For example, where last year the Commissioner called for non-designated institutions to start developing an action plan, this year he requires them to have developed this tool. The Commissioner will be re-evaluating whether to continue using different criteria for designated and non-designated institutions for future report cards.

Focus on official languages management

One of the factors that the Commissioner examines in the report card exercise is overall management of the official languages program within federal institutions—a key factor when looking at leadership.

A sound official languages program is one that encompasses all of an institution’s obligations and commitments, such as: providing bilingual services to the public; maintaining a bilingual workplace; supporting the development of official language minority communities and; the promotion of linguistic duality. This means, for example, having an accountability framework that sets out the roles and responsibilities of officials with regard to official languages, an official languages action plan, a highly visible official languages program and an effective mechanism for resolving complaints.

In the last three years, over threequarters of the federal institutions that are evaluated improved their ratings in this category, a result that demonstrates a higher degree of mobilization in favour of official languages. While the Commissioner sees this as a positive sign, he nonetheless notes that this improvement is not always reflected in concrete results when the official languages program is implemented. It is important to closely examine the institutions’ results in other categories to determine the effect that sound program management has on Canadians.

The detailed rating guide, which describes the methodology used to evaluate the institutions, can be found on the Office of the Commissioner’s Web site at

Presentation of results

As in previous years, the institutions that were evaluated are grouped into three portfolios according to their general mandate: economy; transport and security; and social, cultural or other. The results are given as letters that correspond to the following scale:

A – Exemplary
B – Good
C – Fair
D – Poor
E – Very poor

As in the past, a subtotal rating is given for each factor that is evaluated, as well as an overall rating for performance.

When a specific problem has been identified in an institution following recommendations made by the Commissioner, a penalty may be applied to the relevant factor of that institution’s report card. In these cases, a penalty of 2% is applied if the problem is being solved, or a penalty of 5% is applied if the Commissioner believes that there is a lack of significant progress.

The results of the 2007–2008 report card exercise are presented in the following tables.


5 A complaint is considered founded when the Commissioner determines that an infraction of the Act has occured.

6 “Designated institutions” refers to the federal departments and organizations named in the 1994 Accountability Framework regarding the implementation of sections 41 and 42 of the Act as being key institutions that have a significant impact on the development of official language minority communities. While non-designated institutions still have obligations under the Act, they do not have to report on their progress to Canadian Heritage. For a complete list of the 32 currently designated institutions, see site.

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