Recurring official languages issues: Commissioner offers federal government solutions for sustainable results

Tabling of the 2018–2019 annual report and the position paper on modernizing the Official Languages Act

GATINEAU, QC, May 9, 2019 /CNW/ – Year after year, numerous official languages-related problems are raised and debated, and year after year, they remain unresolved. This situation is cause for great concern and shows the very real need to modernize the Official Languages Act. Today, Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge tabled his 2018–2019 annual report, which provides an overview of the current state of official languages and includes his recommendations for long-term progress. The Commissioner also released his position paper, which includes his recommendations for modernizing the Act.

In 2018–2019, many federal institutions continued to fall short of meeting their language obligations. There is a lack of clarity regarding institutions’ roles and responsibilities with respect to official languages, which prevents them from meeting their obligations fully. In addition, the Act does not provide enough tools or guidance to ensure consistent, uniform application of the rights and obligations therein.

According to the Commissioner, the Act needs to be modernized to become relevant, dynamic and strong: it must be reflective of contemporary Canadian society, keep pace with societal and technological changes, and come with effective application tools. For example, because implementing and interpreting Part VII of the Act (Advancement of English and French) continue to pose significant challenges, the Commissioner is recommending that regulations be developed for Part VII, which would help clarify certain concepts and set parameters to guide federal institutions in taking positive measures.

Changes like this would help federal institutions better understand and meet their obligations under the Act, which is why it is critical that the federal government introduce a bill to modernize the Act by 2021 at the latest.

The 4 recommendations in the annual report and the 18 recommendations in the position paper on modernizing the Act are avenues of action for ensuring effective protection of Canadians’ language rights and promotion of linguistic duality throughout the country.

Next month, the Commissioner will be launching the Official Languages Maturity Model, an essential diagnostic tool for federal institutions that will provide tailored assessments of their strengths and weaknesses to help them continue to improve their compliance with the Act.

Quote
“In 2019, half a century after the Official Languages Act was passed, it is unacceptable that federal institutions are still not able to fully meet their language obligations and that Canadians’ official languages rights are still being infringed. Today, I’m offering solutions to these recurring issues through the recommendations in my annual report and in my position paper on modernizing the Act. Today, I’m calling on the government to provide strong leadership and put its words into action by implementing my recommendations to ensure real long-term progress for official languages and linguistic duality.”

– Raymond Théberge, Commissioner of Official Languages

Highlights

  • In 2018–2019, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages received a total of 1,087 admissible complaints under the Official Languages Act.
  • Of that number:
    • 550 involved communications with and services to the public (Part IV);
    • 212 involved language of work (Part V);
    • 22 involved equitable participation (Part VI);
    • 12 involved the advancement of English and French (Part VII);
    • 285 involved the language requirements of positions (Part XI, section 91); and
    • 6 involved other parts of the Act (Parts III and IX).

Related documents

  • Backgrounder: Annual Report 2018–2019
  • Backgrounder: Modernizing the Official Languages Act: The Commissioner of Official Languages’ Recommendations for an Act that is Relevant, Dynamic and Strong

Related links

Annual Report 2018–2019 

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

Backgrounder
2018-2019 Annual Report

The Commissioner of Official Languages’ 2018–2019 Annual Report is divided into four chapters and contains four recommendations.

Federal government’s progress

  • Commitment to modernize the Official Languages Act
  • Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government calls for improved accessibility and availability of documents in both official languages.
  • Some improvements to the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations
  • Progress on language rights with the tabling of an Indigenous languages bill.

Some systemic issues

  • The division of official languages responsibilities within the government is confusing and inefficient.
  • Basic language rights are still not being respected consistently in Canada.
    • Members of the public can’t always get service in the official language of their choice from federal institutions, even when they have the right.
    • Federal employees can’t always work in the official language of their choice in designated bilingual regions.
    • Official language minority communities aren’t always consulted or heard when the government implements new policies or changes programs.
    • Members of the public don’t always get important security information in the official language of their choice.
    • Citizens can’t always vote in the official language of their choice, even though it’s a fundamental right.

Commissioner’s recommendations

1.

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Prime Minister table a bill on modernizing the Official Languages Act by 2021.

2.

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that, before the end of fiscal year 2019‒2020, the Prime Minister clarify official languages roles and responsibilities in the federal government, taking into account the following five principles in order to ensure an effective official languages governance structure:

  • Establish clear direction and leadership at the most senior levels of the federal government.
  • Establish a consistent accountability framework.
  • Make official languages a top priority and a key aspect of government planning and activities.
  • Ensure effective stewardship of official languages.
    • Address setbacks while ensuring ongoing progress toward the substantive equality of official languages.

3.

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that, when entering into agreements that directly concern official language minority communities, such as those under the Protocol for Agreements for Minority-Language Education and Second-Language Instruction, the Minister of Official Languages:

  • consider adding specific clauses that require the provinces and territories to consult with official language minority communities and to take their needs into account; and
  • clarify these language clauses and include transparency mechanisms that will enable the federal government to measure compliance by the provinces and territories.

4.

For the proposed measures and initiatives in the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in Our Future to have a tangible and meaningful impact on the development of official language minority communities, the Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the Minister of Official Languages:

  • develop and publish an accountability framework by June 2020 that includes strict results assessment mechanisms for federal institutions that play a role in the action plan; and
  • take a transparent approach in setting the terms and conditions for the investments set out in the action plan.

Admissible complaints in 2018–2019

In 2018–2019, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages received 1,087 admissible complaints. The distribution of complaints by part or section of the Act is as follows:

  • 50.6%: Communications with and services to the public (Part IV)
  • 19.5%: Language of work (Part V)
  • 2.0%: Equitable participation (Part VI)
  • 1.1%: Advancement of English and French (Part VII)
  • 26.2%: Language requirements of positions (Part XI, section 91)
  • 0.6%: Other parts of the Act (Parts III and IX)

 

Admissible complaints over 10 years (2009–2010 to 2018–2019), by province and   territory

LOCATION OF INCIDENT

2009

2010

2010

2011

2011

2012

2012

2013

2013

2014

2014

2015

2015

2016

2016

2017

2017

2018

2018

2019

Newfoundland and Labrador

11

6

11

8

18

12

14

28

16

24

Prince Edward Island

17

7

3

3

4

4

2

5

2

7

Nova Scotia

37

52

33

9

8

13

16

10

20

22

New Brunswick

43

35

36

24

31

42

41

87

51

65

Quebec

68

505

55

70

59

56

68

148

129

166

National Capital Region (Quebec)

93

57

49

49

37

64

121

92

96

156

National Capital Region (Ontario)

141

209

200

152

182

193

351

429

307

336

Ontario

956

51

77

52

75

78

58

106

124

153

Manitoba

27

10

25

20

20

13

14

13

18

11

Saskatchewan

8

3

2

2

8

16

4

6

25

14

Alberta

25

11

12

9

9

28

8

43

49

56

British Columbia

38

23

7

8

19

18

16

25

33

25

Yukon

1

3

0

0

0

1

1

1

1

5

Northwest Territories

2

0

1

0

1

0

2

2

4

7

Nunavut

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

Outside Canada

10

8

7

9

5

12

8

23

19

40

TOTAL

1,477*

981

518

415

476

550

725

1,018

894

1,087

*In 2009-2010, 876 public complaints were received relating to CBC/Radio-Canada’s decision to cancel all programs produced and broadcast by the CBEF station in Windsor.

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.
    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.

SOURCE Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

View original content: www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/May2019/09/c6509.html

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