Historic Symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the Official Languages Act Concludes

News release

OTTAWA, May 28, 2019

Fifty years ago, Canada recognized the equal status of English and French by enacting the Official Languages Act. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of strengthening the act so that it aligns with Canadians’ aspirations and meets the new challenges raised by Canada’s changing society and the broader scope of government action.

The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie, together with the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and the Honourable Joyce Murray, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, hosted the Symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the Official Languages Act—the largest official languages gathering in the country as part of the review to modernize the Official Languages Act.

Nearly 500 stakeholders—including people from official-language minority and majority communities, as well as representatives of organizations, the public sector and the political sector—gathered at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on May 27 and 28 to celebrate the anniversary of the passage of the Official Languages Act and discuss the challenges and progress made to date. These reflections are part of the series of roundtables and forums held in 17 cities across the country as part of the modernization of the Official Languages Act.

Among the many well-known experts and speakers participating in the discussions were Ian Shugart, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet; Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages from 2006 to 2016; Mark Power, an Ottawa lawyer specializing in language rights; Jean Johnson, president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne; Marie‑Philippe Bouchard, president and CEO of TV5-Québec-Canada; and Sylvia Martin‑Laforge, director general of the Quebec Community Groups Network.

Workshops allowed participants to explore several aspects of the key themes discussed at the symposium, including the history and review of the Official Languages Act; federal institutions that embody official languages; promoting culture and bilingualism; official languages and Canada in the digital age; and official languages and Canada’s place in the world.

At the symposium, Minister Joly also announced an investment of more than $16 million to implement a free learning and maintenance program for French and English as second languages.

This discussion, coupled with the cross-Canada meetings held in March and April, will guide the development of a report that will identify the trends, challenges and Canadians’ needs regarding to the modernization of the Official Languages Act.

Activities related to the modernization of the Official Languages Act will continue in the coming months. The Symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the Official Languages Act is one of many events taking place this year to highlight the progress made in official languages since 1969 and to look ahead to modernizing the act.

Quotes

“Fifty years ago, we committed, as a country, to invest in our official languages. Today, it’s important to review the Official Languages Act to ensure it continues to respond to the needs of Canadians and strengthen linguistic communities across the country. I would like to thank everyone who participated in the consultations. Your input will be critical to this modernization process.”

—The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie

“I am proud that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines official language rights in the Constitution. This is one of the reasons why I decided to settle in Montreal and teach at a law school that trains future jurists to work in both French and English. I believe in what we as a country have accomplished in promoting our official languages, but I know that there is much work ahead. Our government will continue working with French-speaking and English-speaking communities across the country to protect our official languages now and into the future.”

—The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

“Canada’s two official languages are at the core of our history and identity. Today’s symposium highlights the important role the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat plays by reinforcing the use of both official languages within the public service and with the public we serve. The Government of Canada remains committed to ensuring that all federal services are delivered to Canadians in the official language of their choice and is nearing completion of a regulatory review that would allow us to protect, maintain and even expand Canadians’ access to federal service in English and French.”

—The Honourable Joyce Murray, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

Quick facts

  • The Official Languages Act, which came into force in 1969, confirmed to Canadians their right to receive federal government services in the language of their choice. It recognized English and French as the country’s two official languages. It has helped to better protect the rights of people living in official-language minority communities, and to promote the full recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society.

  • In June 2018, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, the Government of Canada announced its intention to modernize the act.

  • In March and April 2019, as part of the process of modernizing the Official Languages Act, the Government of Canada held a series of forums and roundtables on the following topics:

    • Federal institutions that embody official languages
    • Promoting culture and bilingualism
    • Official languages and Canada in the digital age
    • Official languages and Canada’s place in the world
  • This exercise complemented the consultations and reviews already conducted in the areas of the administration of justice, the language of government communication, the language of work of federal public servants, the role of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the promotion of official languages, and debates and parliamentary proceedings.

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Contacts

For more information (media only), please contact:

Jérémy Ghio
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie
jeremy.ghio@canada.ca

Media Relations
Canadian Heritage
819-994-9101
1-866-569-6155
pch.media-media.pch@canada.ca


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