Mélanie Joly is Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages. Under the Official Languages Act, she is responsible for coordinating the implementation of Part VII of the Act. It sets out the Government’s commitment to enhancing the vitality of English-speaking and French-speaking minority communities and to supporting and assisting their development. Part VII also expresses a commitment to the promotion of bilingualism by fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. In her coordinating role of Part VII, the Minister is supported by the Official Languages Branch. It works with other federal institutions to implement a joint approach in terms of implementing Part VII of the Act. It also develops partnerships with the provinces and territories and offers various funding programs to support education in the minority language and second language learning.

The President of the Treasury Board is Jean-Yves Duclos. He is responsible for the general direction and coordination of the policies and programs of the Government of Canada with respect to Parts IV, V and VI, i.e. communications and services, language of work, and the equitable participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in the federal workforce.

In addition to assuming general responsibility for the Official Languages Act, the Department of Justice “advises the government on legal issues regarding the status or use of official languages and represents the government in language rights cases [and it] also has specific responsibilities regarding the administration of justice in both official languages[1].

The Commissioner of Official Languages, Raymond Théberge, is an agent of Parliament who is responsible for overseeing the fulfilment of the major objectives of the Official Languages Act. To achieve this, he assumes several roles. As an ombudsman, he sees to the protection of language rights by receiving complaints and conducting investigations. He also conducts audits to monitor the compliance of federal institutions and other agencies subject to the Act. He plays a liaison role whereby he collaborates with other stakeholders. He also plays a monitoring role, taking proactive action so that official languages are taken into account by decision-makers. In his promotional and education role, he promotes linguistic duality and raises awareness in federal institutions and among the public. He may choose to act as an intervenor before the courts and plays a reporting role, by submitting a report to Parliament every year[2].

The “Public Service Commission of Canada provides expertise in policy development, application and interpretation with regard to official languages in the appointment process [within the public service]”[3]. The PSC also provides Second Language Evaluation for the assessment of proficiency in the second official language[4].

At the Parliamentary level, two committees focus on the application of the Official Languages Act, its regulations and associated instructions: the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages and the Senate of Canada Standing Committee on Official Languages.

[1] Government of Canada, Council of the Network of Official Language Champions, Roles and Responsibilities, Official Languages Governance. Page consulted online on November 2, 2016.

[2] Prime minister of Canada, news release, Prime Minister welcomes appointment of new Commissioner of Official Languages. Page consulted online on January 14, 2018.

[3] Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mandate and roles. Page consulted online on November 2, 2016.

[4] Public Service Commission of Canada, Official Languages. Page consulted online on November 2, 2016.

Overview of the Laws, Policies and Regulations

Section 133 of the Constitution Act of 1867 stipulates that English and French can be used in the debates of the Houses of Parliament of Canada and the Quebec Legislature. They can also be used before the courts of Canada established under the authority of the Constitution Act and the courts of Quebec. Section 133 also stipulates that both English and French will be used in preparing the archives, records and journals of Parliament as well as in the publication of the laws of the Parliament of Canada and the Quebec Legislature.

Sections 16 to 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, relate to language rights in Canada and in the province of New Brunswick (see section on New Brunswick). Section 16 (1) of the Charter states that “English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.”[1] The Charter re-emphasizes the right to use English and French in parliamentary proceedings and before courts established by Parliament as well as the obligation of having the laws, archives, records and journals of Parliament published in both official languages.

Section 20 specifies the circumstances under which the public can communicate with the office of a federal institution or receive services in the official language of their choice: from the head office of an institution of Parliament or the Government of Canada; when there is a significant demand in that language; and when the nature of the office justifies the use of English and French. Section 23 addresses education rights in the minority official language.

The first Official Languages Act in Canada was adopted in 1969. A new version of the Act was adopted in 1988 and amended in 2005.

Parts I to V of the Official Languages Act cover the use of official languages in the proceedings of Parliament (Part I), in legislative and other instruments (Part II), in the administration of justice (III), in communications with and services to the public (Part IV), and as the language of work in the public service (Part V). Part VI focuses on the equitable participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in the public service, while Part VII addresses the support and development of official language minority communities (Francophones living in a province other than Quebec and Anglophones within Quebec) as well as the promotion of Canada's official languages. The Act specifies the roles and responsibilities of federal institutions, most notably those of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the President of the Treasury Board, and the Commissioner of Official Languages. It also covers avenues for legal recourse when in cases where there are violations of the Act.

The Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations contain the implementational rules that determine which office of a federal institution must communicate with the public and provide services in both official languages. They also include the rules for determining if there is significant demand and if the nature of the office justifies the use of both official languages. Part III of the Regulations focuses on specific rules for the travelling public.

A certain number of policy instruments adopted by Treasury Board and administered by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat also compel and guide federal institutions in the application of various parts of the Official Languages Act. Among these as the Policy on Official Languages, the Directive on Official Languages for People Management, the Directive on Official Languages for Communications and Services and the Directive on the Implementation of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations.

[1] Government of Canada, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Page consulted online on November 2, 2016.