Modernizing the Official Languages Act

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Giving Canada an Official Languages Act for the 21st Century

The very first Official Languages Act was enacted 50 years ago. The last complete overhaul of the Act dates back to 1988. Canada has changed significantly since that time and the current Act – which was never adequately implemented – is woefully outdated.

It’s time to finish the work started in 1969. It’s time to give Canada a modern, coherent and fully implemented Official Languages Act. 

An Act that reflects Canada’s commitment to celebrating its diversity and to protecting its two official languages, while maintaining respect for Indigenous languages and traditions.

An Act that enhances Canada’s reputation as a country of laws, where minorities are respected.

An Act that puts our two official languages to work for our country’s economic and social development. 

An Act that strengthens the status of French and English as our two main common languages.

An Act that supports genuinely pan-Canadian linguistic duality, with a strong Francophonie in all regions of the country and a bilingual workforce from coast to coast.

Eight Pillars for Modernizing the Official Languages Act

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  1. Canada’s social contract for the 21st century is based on three key principles that must be constantly reaffirmed: linguistic duality, multiculturalism and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
  2. Canada is as much a member of La Francophonie as it is a member of the Commonwealth. The international Francophonie is expected to experience significant population growth over the coming years (700 million French speakers by 2050) . We must enhance Canada’s bilingual capacity in order to ensure that our country is well positioned in the global economy of tomorrow.
  3. Enhancing Canada’s bilingual capacity requires both strong Francophone communities and a bilingual workforce. These assets will ensure that:
    • The Canadian government can serve citizens in both official languages at all times;
    • Canada can become a real economic force in both French and English.
  4. The full implementation of the Official Languages Act remains the great piece of unfinished political business of the last 50 years. For decades, the Act’s own structural flaws have prevented full compliance, leading to the stagnation of Canada’s linguistic duality.
  5. Fundamental principles of Canada’s linguistic duality remain misunderstood, including equality of status and equal use of our two official languages. The current debate on the bilingualism of party leaders is a perfect example.
  6. The majority of Canadians support our country’s linguistic duality. English and French remain the two most widely spoken languages in Canada.
  7. French remains the vulnerable official language and requires protection. The demographic weight of the Canadian Francophonie is declining, as is the presence of French in the public sphere.
  8. The Official Languages Act has not brought about universal access to second-official language learning for all Canadians who want it.

Eight Good Ideas for Modernizing the Official Languages Act

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1 – Genuine positive measures to support the development of Francophone communities across the country

The Issue

In its current form, the Official Languages Act commits the federal government to taking positive measures to support the development of official language minority communities and to promoting English and French in Canadian society. However, the Act does not specify what positive measures
should be taken, nor how communities should be consulted and actively participate in the implementation of government initiatives that affect them.

The Solution

  • In the Act, specify what positive measures should be taken and assign categories of positive measures to specific federal institutions.
  • Create an official language minority communities advisory council.
  • Support the empowerment and autonomy of official language minority communities.

2 – Universal access to second-official-language learning for all Canadians who want it

The Issue

Demand for French-language education, French immersion programs
and French-as-a-second-language classes exceeds supply.

The Solution

  • In the Act, include the principle of universal access to second-official-language learning for Canadians.
  • In the Act, include an obligation for the Minister of Official Languages to work with the provinces and territories to develop more French-language educational opportunities and French-as-asecond-language programs at the elementary, secondary and postsecondary levels.

3 – An immigration policy that supports Canada’s linguistic duality

The Issue

Year after year, less than 2% of immigrants who settle outside Quebec are French-speaking.

The Solution

An immigration policy that takes into account the government’s commitment to restoring the demographic weight of Francophone and Acadian communities to 4.4% by 2023.

4 – A bilingual federal justice system all the way to the Supreme Court

The Issue

Supreme Court judges who do not understand French rely on interpretation services, which do not always provide an accurate reflection of the arguments made before the Court.

The Solution

Remove the exemption in the Act so that all Supreme Court judges can hear cases in both official languages, without the assistance of an interpreter.

5 – A central agency responsible for enforcing the Act throughout the federal administration

The Issue

No federal institution has the authority or power to ensure consistent implementation of the Official Languages Act throughout the federal administration and to demand results from the other institutions. As a result, several federal institutions simply do what they want, in the manner they
see fit.

The Solution

Assign responsibility to a central agency, namely the Treasury Board, for the overall implementation of the Official Languages Act, and provide it with the powers necessary to fulfil this mandate.

6 – More effective mechanisms for seeking justice when the Act is not respected

The Issue

It can often be difficult for citizens to seek justice when a federal institution fails to meet its language obligations. Complaints to the Commissioner of Official Languages frequently take years to process and federal institutions often ignore the resulting recommendations.

The Solution

Create an official languages administrative tribunal to hear complaints concerning violations of the Act, with the authority to impose penalties on offending institutions.

7 – Binding language clauses in federal-provincial/territorial agreements

The Issue

Federal funding agreements with the provinces and territories often provide little benefit to Francophone minorities, and fail to compel the provinces and territories to report on how the money was spent.

The Solution

Include language clauses in all federal funding agreements, requiring the provinces and territories to take measures to promote linguistic duality and providing for rigorous accountability.

8 – A review of the Official Languages Act every ten years

The Issue

Canadian society is changing at an accelerated pace, and a 30-year-old
Official Languages Act no longer reflects the current context.

The Solution

Review the Act every ten years to ensure it remains relevant and current.

Learn More - Complementary Briefing Notes

Bill Proposal by the FCFA for the Modernization of the Act

In March 2019, the FCFA unveiled a complete and thorough proposal for a bill to modernize the Act. This document, which shows what a modernized Official Languages Act could look like, is the result of 18 months of discussion and reflection by Canada’s Francophone and Acadian communities. The following documents are the key components of the bill: