Government of Canada Unveils Plan to Modernize Official Languages Act
OTTAWA, February 19, 2021
After holding extensive consultations with Canadians, the Government of Canada has presented its vision for modernizing and strengthening the Official Languages Act. More than ever, the time has come to examine the linguistic situation in Canada, acknowledge the evolution of official languages over half a century, and to address the challenges they face.
The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, presented the Government of Canada’s intentions to modernize and strengthen the Official Languages Act and its related instruments today. Titled English and French: Towards a Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada, the document proposes a range of changes and new measures to establish a new linguistic balance across the country.
The proposed reform addresses the official languages issues that most concern Canadians. The world is changing and the dramatic growth of digital technology and international trade encourages the use of English. That is why the Government of Canada must assume its responsibility to further protect the use of the French language, support the vitality of official language minority communities and improve the governance of federal institutions. The vast project stemming from this reform is divided into six main priorities:
- Recognize the different linguistic dynamics in the provinces and territories and the explicit addition that the Act could not undermine the maintenance and enhancement of Indigenous languages.
- Provide opportunities for learning both official languages by encouraging, among other things, the offer of French immersion classes.
- Foster the development of the full potential of official language minority communities by supporting the vitality of their institutions in key sectors such as immigration, the education continuum, health, culture and justice.
- Protect and promote the use of French everywhere in Canada, including Quebec, through, among other things, new rights regarding language of work and services in enterprises under federal jurisdiction in Quebec and in other regions of the country with a strong Francophone presence.
- Strengthen the exemplary nature of the State and the bilingualism of the Government of Canada, from the appointment of bilingual judges to improving the support offered to federal public servants in learning their second language.
- Include a periodic review of the Act and its implementation to ensure its relevance to Canada today and in the future.
The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board, as well as all government ministers, will help Minister Joly ensure the success of the measures targeting the justice system and federal institutions.
The Government of Canada is committed to modernizing and strengthening the act so it can better meet the hopes and expectations of Canadians who speak both official languages and expect the Government of Canada to do more to protect them. This commitment is reflected in the most recent Speech from the Throne, which explored the special situation French faces in North America, including Quebec. It also mentioned that defending the rights of francophone minorities outside Quebec and defending the rights of the anglophone minority in Quebec are a priority for the government. The official languages reform document is an important step in achieving these commitments.
Minister Joly invites all Canadians in official language minority communities and linguistic majorities, including Francophones in Quebec, to explore this document and make it their own. This reform, which will pave the way for Canada’s official languages for the next 50 years, is a priority for all Canadians.
“Our two official languages are an integral part of our identity and our country. The ambitious reform we’re unveiling today will adapt government policy to new 21st century realities and build a base for an act that reflects all Canadians. Strengthening the Official Languages Act gives us the tools we need to achieve true equality between French and English throughout the country while also continuing to protect the rights of official languages minority communities for the next 50 years. More than ever, the Government of Canada has a role to play in protecting linguistic rights from coast to coast to coast.”
—The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages
“In Canada, our two official languages represent an important part of our identity. I am proud of the plan announced by the Government of Canada to modernize the Official Languages Act. We are working hard to improve access to justice in both official languages, which has a major impact on how we administer our legal system and our courts. We must continue our efforts so that every Canadian is able to interact with the legal system in the official language of their choice.”
—The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
“The modernization of the Official Languages Act is an unparalleled opportunity to redouble our efforts in ensuring that federal institutions meet their obligations while enhancing language training for public servants, so they can provide the excellent service in both official languages that Canadians expect.”
—The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board
The ambitious reform document sets out 56 proposals that affect almost all parts of the act, 33 of which are legislative amendments to strengthen sections of the act.
The first federal Official Languages Act, adopted in 1969, declared English and French as the two official languages of Parliament and of the Government of Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, also established English and French as Canada’s two official languages.
The second federal Official Languages Act was adopted in 1988 to ensure the implementation of the federal language rights enshrined in the charter. The new act also outlined the Government of Canada’s commitment to enhance the vitality and support the development of official language minority communities as well as encourage the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. In 2005, the Official Languages Act was amended to specify that federal institutions must take positive measures to implement that commitment.
Between March and May 2019, the minister conducted cross-Canada consultations on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, culminating in a national symposium with more than 300 people in Ottawa.
For more information (media only), please contact:
Office of the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages
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