In summer 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mandated the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie, Mélanie Joly, with reviewing the Official Languages Act as a step towards its modernization.
The objective is clear: strengthen the Act so that it aligns with Canadians’ aspirations, and meets the new challenges raised by changes to Canadian society and the broader scope of government action in order to ensure that it continues to have a positive effect in the long term.
What Canadians have to say
In the passed months, we travelled the country and listened to what Canadians have to say. Five forums and several round tables were held to discuss the major issues likely to impact Canada's official languages and to identify ways to ensure their sustainability. The forums were accessible online so that more Canadians could participate.
This approach complemented the following exercises, which were already underway:
- The House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages is currently consulting Canadians for its report and recommendations on possible improvements to the Official Languages Act.
- The Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages is consulting Canadians, including youth and representatives of official-language minority communities, to hear their point of view on the measures needed to update the Official Languages Act for the 21st century.
- The Commissioner of Official Languages consulted Canadians and will submit his report and recommendations.
- Organizations across the country are also holding conferences, discussions and debates on the opportunities afforded by the modernization of the Act.
The official reports and recommendations to result from these exercises will be appended to the overall summary of national discussions.
The forums and round tables culminated with a major symposium on official languages in Ottawa on May 27 and 28, 2019, where experts in a variety of areas discussed the major issues identified during the forums. Each forum was devoted to one of the following themes:
1. Mobilization, development and vitality of official-language minority communities
Two million Canadians belong to official-language minority communities across the country. These communities are very different: some have aging populations, while others are located in urban areas and have a high mobility rate. These communities are often characterized by a slower growth rate than the overall population. Their diverse needs are a challenge for local associations dedicated to their development.
Questions for discussion:
- What needs to be changed in the Act to strengthen the capacity of these communities to take action and ensure their sustainability?
- Are federal institutions’ communications with and services to these communities sufficiently taken into account by the Act?
- How could the Act do more to protect the heritage (e.g. stories, traditions) of these communities?
- How can we clarify the concept of positive measures to enhance the vitality of these communities?
- How should the mandates of the main stakeholders under the Official Languages Act, including the Commissioner of Official Languages, be changed to better support the vitality of these communities?
- How can the Act better support access to justice in the official language of one’s choice?
- How can the Act ensure respect for language rights in education?
2. Federal institutions that embody official languages
The Official Languages Act recognizes the equality of status and rights of English and French in federal institutions. It affirms the right of Canadians, in certain circumstances, to communicate with the federal government in the official language of their choice. It also gives public servants the right, in certain circumstances, to work in their preferred official language. Over time, however, the Government’s spheres of action in official languages have diversified considerably and have led to closer collaboration with associations, businesses, educational institutions and other levels of government. Questions for discussion:
- How should the Government make sure that it meets its official language obligations in this changing context?
- How can federal institutions better understand and implement positive measures to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities?
- Should we review and strengthen the Official Languages Act’s monitoring and compliance mechanisms?
- How could the Act better support Canadians’ language rights and ensure that they are respected wherever they are in Canada?
- What role can public broadcasting play in supporting the vitality of Canada’s official language communities?
- How can the Court Challenges Program be protected?
3. Promotion of culture and bilingualism
Linguistic duality is one of Canada’s foundational principles, signalling the commitment of English- and French-speaking Canadians to work together for a thriving country. The Government of Canada supports second official language learning. A higher bilingualism rate also enables Canada to better respect and support official-language minority communities.
Questions for discussion:
- How can the Official Languages Act better promote and protect this cultural diversity, our linguistic duality and the promotion of culture?
- How can a modernized Act strengthen second official language learning?
- What are the considerations for Canada’s capital as a bilingual city?
- Should the Act play a role in protecting cultural organizations in official-language minority communities?
- Does the Act do enough to promote bilingualism in Canada?
4. Official languages and Canada’s place in the world
English and French are among the five languages most commonly spoken around the globe. English and French are the working languages of many international organizations, including the UN, NATO, the Commonwealth and the International Organization of La Francophonie. Through their international presence, English and French help strengthen Canada’s leadership, prestige and diplomatic influence in the world. French and English are two of the main languages of business and cultural production, which allow our official-language communities to play a role on the international stage.
Questions for discussion:
- Does the Official Languages Act allow our two official languages to be visible on the international stage?
- Should we attempt to forge closer ties with countries that use our official languages?
- How can our official languages guide our international relations?
- How can we support our cultural exports abroad?
5. Official languages and Canada in the digital age
The Internet and social media have had a profound impact on how Canadians communicate with each other and people around the world. Access to cultural and information products, consumer goods, services and knowledge is now essential. The federal government must take full advantage of the digital shift to share and promote its languages and the cultures they promote in Canada and abroad. This is an opportunity, among other things, to identify the ways in which our society and our Government can commit to keeping the French fact alive and protecting its place in the digital world. In addition, cultural exemptions under free trade agreements and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions provide governments with tools to ensure that artists and cultural professionals receive preferential treatment for their cultural goods and services.
Questions for discussion:
- What changes would have to be made to the Official Languages Act to ensure that digital technology helps maintain and develop Canada’s official languages?
- How could new technologies affect the federal government’s actions in official languages?
- What impact does the Internet and social media have on the future of our official languages?
- How can the Government ensure a strong Francophonie in the digital space?
- How can an independent and community-based media continue to support the vitality of official-language minority communities in a digital environment?
- With the digitization of cultural products and their distribution on global platforms, how can we help our English, French and bilingual works find their rightful place?
- How could our official languages better promote cultural diversity?
Forums, round tables and major symposium
Every Canadian was invited to follow live streams of the forums held across the country.
Find out what Canadians had to say during consultations about the modernization of the Official Languages Act.
|Moncton, New Brunswick||Promotion of culture and bilingualism||March 12, 2019, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Atlantic standard time)|
|Ottawa, Ontario||Federal institutions that embody official languages||March 18, 2019, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (EDT)|
|Sherbrooke, Quebec||Official languages and Canada's place in the world||April 15, 2019, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (EDT)|
|Edmonton, Alberta||Mobilization, development and vitality of official-language minority communities||April 23, 2019, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (MDT)|
|Vancouver, British Columbia||Official languages and Canada in the digital age||April 24, 2019, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (PDT)|
Round table meetings were also held with specific stakeholders across the country. The meeting dates are posted below for your information only. To share your views on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, please click on Have Your Say! below.
|Hemmingford, Quebec||Mobilization, development and vitality of official-language minority communities||March 6, 2019|
|Dartmouth, Nova Scotia||All themes||March 13, 2019|
|Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island||All themes||March 13, 2019|
|St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador||All themes||March 14, 2019|
|Toronto, Ontario||All themes||April 10, 2019|
|Sudbury, Ontario||All themes||April 12, 2019|
|Winnipeg, Manitoba||All themes||April 16, 2019|
|Regina, Saskatchewan||All themes||April 17, 2019|
|Whitehorse, Yukon||All themes||April 25, 2019|
|Montreal, Quebec||All themes||April 26, 2019|
|Yellowknife, Northwest Territories||All themes||April 30, 2019|
|Iqaluit, Nunavut||All themes||May 3, 2019|
Symposium on official languages in Ottawa, 27 and 28 May 2019
The Symposium on official languages was a unifying event where experts in a variety of areas discussed the major issues identified during the forums.
Share your comments – it's important!
Everyone has something to say to keep the Official Languages Act alive and current. Contact us to share your point of view.