On March 1, the Government of Canada presented Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, aiming for a substantive equality of Canada’s official languages.
More than 50 years ago, the desire to build a bilingual Canada inspired the Official Languages Act. Since then, the Act has had a tangible impact on the lives of all Canadians. For example, it grants the right to be served and work in the official language of one’s choice within federal institutions and provides official-language minority communities with powerful developmental levers, such as the opportunity to study and work in the official language of their choice. The Act is the key instrument for ensuring that Canada’s two official languages, English and French, are supported and protected.
More than 30 years after the last major reform, the Act required modernization to ensure that it continues to serve Canadians well, that it responds to current linguistic realities, and that it promotes substantive equality between English and French while contributing to the vitality of official-language minority communities.
The Bill to achieve substantive equality between Canada’s official languages includes improvements designed to meet the challenges facing the French language in North America and the challenges facing official-language minority communities. It will also enable the Government of Canada to establish a new balance in its linguistic framework.
The Bill proposes significant amendments to achieve the following objectives:
Promote a better-supported French language throughout Canada
Clarify and strengthen the part of the Act concerning the promotion of official languages and support for official-language minority communities
Improve the compliance of federal institutions concerning official languages
Achieve a balance so that as many Canadians as possible identify with this modernization
More specifically, here are some of the key improvements that the Bill proposes to meet the various objectives:
Strengthening the Treasury Board’s powers
Changes to Treasury Board powers to replace the discretionary nature of some of these powers with obligations. These will strengthen oversight and accountability for official languages throughout the Government of Canada.
Strengthening the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages
The Commissioner of Official Languages will see an improvement in their ability to intervene by adding new powers, including the power to enter into compliance agreements and to issue an order to a federal institution or other entity subject to the Act to take such measures as the Commissioner considers appropriate to remedy violations identified in the application of certain parts of the Act. The Commissioner’s role would also be strengthened by adding a new power to impose administrative monetary penalties on certain privatized entities and Crown corporations that are currently subject to the Act in the area of transportation serving the travelling public.
More detailed Francophone immigration policy
Francophone immigration is one of the factors that contributes to the maintenance or growth of Francophone minority populations. The modernized Act would set out the obligation for Canada to have a Francophone immigration policy that will contain objectives, targets and indicators to increase Francophone immigration to Francophone minority communities.
Better oversight of positive measures by all federal institutions
One of the key measures is including clarifications regarding federal institutions taking positive measures benefiting official-language minority communities to better promote official languages. These amendments to the Act will be followed by the creation of a new regulation on positive measures that would guide federal institutions concerning consultation and consideration of the priorities of official-language minority communities.
New rights within private businesses under federal jurisdiction
The Bill provides for the creation of new rights to work and to be served in French in private-sector businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec and regions with a strong Francophone presence, as defined by regulations. The Government now proposes to include these rights in a new law, separate from the Official Languages Act, to support federal jurisdiction in these areas.
Support for minority language education
The Government of Canada will now be required to contribute to the estimation of the number of children of parents entitled to minority official-language education. This contribution will better support implementing an important right within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Increased safety in emergencies
The addition of a paragraph to the preamble of the Act will be a reminder that official-language rights and provisions apply even in emergencies to ensure the protection of all Canadians.
The remedial nature of the official language framework
The addition of the remedial nature of language rights to the principles of interpretation of the Act will guide the interpretation of the Act to remedy past injustices and provide greater protection to official-language minority communities across the country.
Translation of judicial decisions
A strengthening of the provisions for court decisions to be translated will provide an immediate translation of more federal court decisions.