Introduction of the bill — An Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages
The Official Languages Act (OLA) is the key instrument ensuring that Canada’s two official languages, English and French, are promoted and protected for the benefit of all Canadians. The unique reality of French in North America and, Canada’s evolving linguistic dynamics call for, changes to our language regime and a modernization of the OLA, a statue that has not undergone a major reform since 1988.
Introduction of the bill
On March 1st, the Government of Canada introduced a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act in order to reflect an evolving society. Linguistic realities are changing. More than ever, the exchange of digital content and the globalization of trade are favoring the use of the English language. In order for the French language to continue to flourish in Canada, it must be further protected and promoted. There continue to be numerous challenges, including the need to strengthen the use of French in multiple sectors, such as, culture and diplomacy; the need to provide Anglophones in majority communities with more opportunities to learn French; and the need to vigorously support the institutions of English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada.
The bill recognizes the diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes, and focuses on opportunities to learn one’s first language in minority settings and opportunities to learn a second official language in a majority settings, in order to improve the rate of bilingualism among Canadians.
The bill also seeks to protect the institutions of official language minority communities – Quebec’s English-speaking communities and Francophone minority communities in the rest of the country – and proposes stronger tools to protect French in Canada. For example, the bill would grant the right to receive services in French and to work in some French federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence.
For more information on the bill:
Expected results of the Act
The expected results of the bill are as follows:
- Canadians have better access to opportunities to learn the official languages.
- Federal institutions better understand their official languages obligations and fulfill those obligations to the benefit of all Canadians.
- Certain discretionary powers of the Treasury Board become mandatory, resulting in increased monitoring by the Board and stronger official languages accountability and compliance across the federal government.
- The Commissioner of Official Languages is able to intervene more effectively thanks to new powers over and above those he previously wielded. For example, he has the power to impose administrative monetary penalties on certain privatized entities and Crown corporations that currently have obligations under the Official Languages Act in the transportation sector serving the travelling public, allowing him to play a stronger role.
- Official language minority communities see benefits and the official languages are better promoted thanks to new clarifications on positive measures to be taken by federal institutions.
- The institutions of official language minority communities are better protected across Canada.
- The French language is better supported across Canada, including in Quebec, and on the international scene.
- The introduction of a new statute distinct from the Official Languages Act ushering in new rights to work and to receive service in French in federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence.
- The modernized Act requires Canada to adopt a Francophone immigration policy with objectives, targets and indicators to increase Francophone immigration to Francophone minority communities.
- Amend the OLA by removing the existing exception so that the Supreme Court would have the same duty as other federal courts to ensure that judges who hear proceedings can do so directly, in the official language or languages chosen by the parties, without the assistance of an interpreter.
- The OLA would be amended to support a body independent of the Government of Canada that would be responsible for administering a program, such as the Court Challenges Program, whose purpose would be to provide funding for test cases of national importance relating to language rights to be brought before the courts
- The modernized OLA would be more specific about the key sectors linked to the development of official language minority communities (for example, immigration, education from early childhood to post-secondary studies, health, culture and justice) and would explicitly seek to protect and promote the presence of strong institutions serving these communities.
If the bill is passed by Parliament, the Minister of Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will begin the process of adopting related sets of regulations on positive measures by federal institutions to enhance the vitality of official languages minority communities and promote the official languages. Regulations would also be on administrative monetary penalties and on the new obligations of federally regulated private businesses. In addition, the Government of Canada will implement administrative measures accompanying the modernized Act, measures that will form part of the next Action Plan for Official Languages.
The introduction of the official languages modernization bill is a testament to the Government of Canada’s efforts to adapt the language regime in order to bolster the official languages in a changing society.
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