Introduction of Bill C-32, an Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act

The Government of Canada introduces Bill C-32, an Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act

OTTAWA, ON, June 15, 2021 /CNW/ – Our two official languages are woven into the fabric of our country. That is why the Government of Canada showed its commitment to promote, protect and update a law by sharing its vision for official languages reform in February, titled French and English: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada. After 30 years since the last major update, a modernization of the Official Languages Act is necessary to allow the law to keep pace with the social, demographic and technological realities in today’s society, which did not exist during the last revision in 1988.

Today, the Government of Canada took a crucial step toward realizing that vision. The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, supported by the Honourable Jean Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board, and the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced Bill C-32, an Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act.

If it is adopted by Parliament, the legislation would promote substantive equality between French and English. It takes into account the evolution of Canadian society since the adoption of the Act in order to make it as relevant to today as in the future.

Amendments to the Act are being proposed to:

  • recognize that the French language requires a special approach, including in Quebec, in order to foster substantive equality between the two official languages and continue to protect the rights of linguistic minorities;
  • recognize the diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes;
  • explicitly state that the Act will not undermine the status, maintenance or enhancement of Indigenous languages while including the important concepts of reappropriation, revitalization and strengthening that are specific to Indigenous languages;
  • focus on the importance of learning in our two official languages throughout a student’s school career, across the country;
  • demonstrate the Government of Canada’s commitment to recognize and strengthen education from early childhood to post-secondary in the minority language;
  • recognize that CBC/Radio-Canada is a flagship institution that, through its activities, contributes to the vitality of Canada’s official-language minority communities and to the promotion and protection of both official languages in Canada;
  • amend the Act so that the obligation imposed on federal courts to ensure that judges can directly understand the official language chosen by the parties without the assistance of an interpreter also applies to the Supreme Court of Canada;
  • recognize the duty to promote and protect the use of French as a language of work and service in private companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec, as well as other regions of the country with a strong Francophone presence;
  • strengthen the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure compliance with the Act, in particular by giving permission to publish recommendations, findings and investigation summaries. The Commissioner would also be mandated to receive complaints about language of service and language of work from employees of private companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence. The Commissioner could refer complaints on language of work to the Canada Industrial Relations Board if resolution through the Office of the Commissioner is not possible; and
  • give the Treasury Board Secretariat the powers necessary to fully enforce the obligations of federal institutions under the Act.

Defending the rights of Francophone minorities outside Quebec and those of the English-speaking minority in Quebec is a priority for the Government of Canada, which also recognizes that the protection of French requires appropriate measures to achieve substantive equality of the two official languages. The proposed amendments will contribute to the vitality of official-language minority communities by protecting their institutions. In particular, they build on the strength of those institutions and the importance of Francophone immigration.

The bill also provides for new, targeted measures to enhance the vitality and support the development of Canada’s French- and English-speaking minorities and ensure greater compliance with the Act by federal institutions.

The introduction of the bill is a major milestone in paving the way for substantive equality of Canada’s two official languages. These legislative changes will be accompanied by regulatory and administrative measures to complete the reform  

Quotes

“Today is a historic day: we are taking an important step for language rights in this country. I am proud to introduce this bill that aims to advance the equality of status and use of our two official languages. By working together, we can make progress toward true equality of English and French. Because the French language needs additional support, our government firmly intends to play its part in strengthening it, while protecting the rights and vitality of official-language minority communities. The tabling of this bill is possible thanks to the involvement of many actors and stakeholders, who have been contributing to the reflection on the modernization of the Official Languages Act for many years.”
—The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages

“Canadians need to be able to interact with the legal system in the official language of their choice. This bill affects many facets of the federal linguistic framework. It aims to improve access to justice in both official languages and has a major impact on how we administer our legal system and our courts. More than 30 years have passed since the last Official Languages Act reform. Our government is delivering on its commitment to modernize and strengthen the Official Languages Act.”
—The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada  

“Our official languages are at the heart of our identity as Canadians. The protection and promotion of French in the public service is essential, and with the introduction of this bill today to modernize the Official Languages Act, we are moving toward greater respect for our language rights, including within federal institutions.”
—The Honourable Jean‑Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board  

Quick Facts

The first federal Official Languages Act, adopted in 1969, declared English and French as the two official languages of Parliament and of the Government of Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, also established English and French as Canada’s two official languages.

The Act was revised in 1988 to ensure the implementation of the federal language rights enshrined in the Charter. The new Act also outlined the Government of Canada’s commitment to enhance the vitality and support the development of official-language minority communities, and to encourage the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. In 2005, the Act was amended to specify that federal institutions must take positive measures to implement that commitment.  

From March to May 2019, Minister Joly conducted cross-Canada consultations on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, culminating in a National Symposium in Ottawa.

In the fall of 2019, the Government of Canada made a commitment to modernize the Official Languages Act and subsequently included this commitment in Minister Joly’s mandate letter.  

On February 19, 2021, Minister Joly tabled her reform document in which she outlined the Government of Canada’s vision and intentions for modernizing the Official Languages Act. The document sets out 56 proposals that affect almost all parts of the Act; 33 of them are legislative amendments.  

Backgrounder: Details on the Tabling of the Bill to Modernize and Strengthen the Official Languages Act

On June 15, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-32, an Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act.

The Official Languages Act (OLA) guides a number of federal activities, including the language of Parliamentary proceedings and government communications, the language of work of public servants, access to justice and support for official-language minority communities. The OLA is the key instrument ensuring that Canada’s two official languages, French and English, are promoted and protected.

It has been more than 30 years since the last reform; so the OLA is in need of modernization to better reflect language realities in Canada and advance substantive equality of French and English while supporting the development of official-language minority communities. It is also through the modernized OLA and its related instruments that the Government of Canada will act fully in its areas of jurisdiction and assume its responsibilities to establish a new balance in our language regime.

The following are some of the key changes that the bill would make to the OLA.

Recognition of the diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes

The modernized OLA would now recognize the diversity of language regimes in the provinces and territories. The OLA recognizes, for example, that French is the official language of Quebec and that French and English are the official languages of New Brunswick and that they have legal status and equal rights and privileges. This addition would recognize the fact that various constitutional, legislative, regulatory, policy and other provisions are in force in these provinces and territories, illustrating the diversity of Canada’s linguistic landscape. Furthermore, the modernized OLA would explicitly recognize the importance of reclaiming, revitalizing and strengthening Indigenous languages in Canada and the fact that nothing in the OLA must interfere with these objectives.

Increased protection for French

The Government of Canada intends to act within its jurisdiction to protect and promote the French language. To do so, the OLA would be amended to include this commitment. More concretely, this new wording would make specific reference to the need to protect and promote French in each province and territory given the language’s minority status in Canada and in North America as a whole. In addition, it would contain a commitment by the Minister of Canadian Heritage to take appropriate measures with respect to organizations within their portfolio to support the development and promotion of Francophone culture in Canada. The OLA would also contain a commitment to support the use of both official language in Canadian diplomacy and to promote French abroad.

Learning of official languages

In the amended OLA, the federal government would recognize the importance of opportunities to learn a second official language in Canada. The Act would also affirm the Government of Canada’s commitment to enhancing French‑ and English-speaking minorities’ access to quality learning opportunities in their own language throughout their lives, from early childhood to post-secondary studies. The bill also takes into account the importance of second-language learning programs, including French immersion, for the achievement of a bilingual Canada. The government is committed to working with the provinces and territories to improve access to these programs so that Canadian children can receive the best that our country has to offer.

In addition, the federal government would commit to helping estimate the number of children whose parents have the right, under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to have them educated in the minority official language of their province or territory.

Protecting the institutions of official language minority communities

The modernized OLA would be more specific about the key sectors linked to the development of official language minority communities (for example, immigration, education from early childhood to post-secondary studies, health, culture and justice) and would explicitly seek to protect and promote the presence of strong institutions serving these communities. Indeed, one of the proposed additions is to recognize CBC/Radio Canada as a flagship institution that, through its activities, contributes to the vitality of official-language minority communities and to the promotion and protection of both official languages. The Act would also contain an obligation for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to adopt a Francophone immigration policy to support the vitality of Canada’s French linguistic minority communities outside Quebec. This is an essential measure to ensure the support of the demographic weight of these communities.

Federally regulated private businesses

The modernized OLA would recognize the need for a federal government that intends to act in its area of jurisdiction to promote and protect the use of French as a language of work and a language of service in certain federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and in other regions of the country with a strong Francophone presence. This would ensure the private sector’s contribution to the protection of French by providing new rights for consumers to receive service in French and for employees to work in French. The implementation of these measures will be gradual, over a period of three years for federally regulated private businesses in Quebec of 25 employees and more and over a period of five years for federally regulated private businesses of 50 employees and more in regions with a strong Francophone presence.

Employees of a private federally regulated company who occupy a position in a place of work located in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence will have the following rights:

a) the right to do their work and to be supervised in French;

b) the right to receive all communications and documentation from the company in French, including offers of employment or promotion, notices of dismissal, collective agreements and grievances;

c) the right to use work tools and computer systems in common and general use in French.

The bill allows for the development of regulations to guide the mandate of French language promotion committees, which will be able to normalize the use of the French language in these businesses. This will be in keeping with the obligations under the Charter of the French language in Quebec and will ensure that affected businesses in regions with a strong Francophone presence embrace and respect the newly recognized rights.

Strengthened official languages governance

The Government of Canada must be exemplary in its implementation of the Act and it must continue its work in order to realize the vision of a public service where everyone works in the official language of their choice wherever this right exists.

Part VII of the OLA—Advancement of English and French—would be amended to include a list of examples of positive measures that federal institutions could take to support official-language minority communities and to promote both official languages. Official languages governance would be strengthened to ensure better implementation of the OLA. For example, the Treasury Board would be able to establish policy instruments (implementation principles, instructions, policies and directives) for the implementation of the commitment to promote English and French. The Minister of Canadian Heritage would be given a leading role within the federal government with respect to implementing the OLA. In addition, the Treasury Board would exercise the following powers: monitoring and auditing the compliance of federal institutions; evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of the policies and programs of federal institutions; and informing employees of federal institutions about the principles and implementation programs (for Part IV [Communications with and Services to the Public], Part V [Language of Work] and subsection 41[2] of Part VII [Advancement of English and French]).

Access to justice

The amended OLA would include a commitment to financially support a body independent of the Government of Canada that would be responsible for administering a program, such as the Court Challenges Program, whose purpose would be to provide funding for test cases of national importance relating to language rights to be brought before the courts. The OLA would also state clearly that final decisions of federal courts that establish a precedent in a given area of law would be made available to the public in both official languages simultaneously. There are also plans to amend the OLA so that the judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada are bilingual and can therefore directly understand the official language chosen by the parties without the assistance of an interpreter.

Increased powers for the Commissioner of Official Languages

The role of the Commissioner is to promote official languages and exercise the ombudsman function in a spirit of cooperation with the parties concerned. The OLA gives the Commissioner great latitude in action. In order to provide the Commissioner with the tools required to bring federal institutions to resolve compliance problems, the government is proposing to strengthen the scope of their powers and add a gradation to it.

The amended OLA would include a provision allowing the Commissioner of Official Languages, after carrying out an investigation, to make available to the public their recommendations, findings and summaries of investigations. Henceforth, the Commissioner would be able to enter into compliance agreements and/or issue orders to federal institutions or other entities subject to the OLA. These amendments would allow the Commissioner to take such measures as they deem necessary to remedy violations identified in respect of Part IV (Communications with and Services to the Public) and Part V (Language of Work) of the Act.

As detailed in the reform document, French and English: Towards a real equality of official languages in Canada, these legislative changes would be accompanied by regulatory measures, namely a regulation on positive measures for federal institutions and a secondary regulations for private companies under federal jurisdiction. For this reform to be complete, the proposed changes to the OLA would also be accompanied by administrative measures.  

Associated Links

Backgrounder: Details on the Tabling of the Bill to Modernize and Strengthen the Official Languages Act  

An Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act  

English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada  

Introduction of the bill — Modernizing and Strengthening the Official Languages Act

History of the Official Languages Act

SOURCE Canadian Heritage

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