Introduction of Bill C-32, an Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act
OTTAWA, June 15, 2021
Our two official languages are woven into the fabric of our country. That is why the Government of Canada showed its commitment to promote, protect and update a law by sharing its vision for official languages reform in February, titled French and English: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada. After 30 years since the last major update, a modernization of the Official Languages Act is necessary to allow the law to keep pace with the social, demographic and technological realities in today’s society, which did not exist during the last revision in 1988.
Today, the Government of Canada took a crucial step toward realizing that vision. The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, supported by the Honourable Jean‑Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board, and the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced Bill C-32, an Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act.
If it is adopted by Parliament, the legislation would promote substantive equality between French and English. It takes into account the evolution of Canadian society since the adoption of the Act in order to make it as relevant to today as in the future.
Amendments to the Act are being proposed to:
- recognize that the French language requires a special approach, including in Quebec, in order to foster substantive equality between the two official languages and continue to protect the rights of linguistic minorities;
- recognize the diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes;
- explicitly state that the Act will not undermine the status, maintenance or enhancement of Indigenous languages while including the important concepts of reappropriation, revitalization and strengthening that are specific to Indigenous languages;
- focus on the importance of learning in our two official languages throughout a student’s school career, across the country;
- demonstrate the Government of Canada's commitment to recognize and strengthen education from early childhood to post-secondary in the minority language;
- recognize that CBC/Radio-Canada is a flagship institution that, through its activities, contributes to the vitality of Canada’s official-language minority communities and to the promotion and protection of both official languages in Canada;
- amend the Act so that the obligation imposed on federal courts to ensure that judges can directly understand the official language chosen by the parties without the assistance of an interpreter also applies to the Supreme Court of Canada;
- recognize the duty to promote and protect the use of French as a language of work and service in private companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec, as well as other regions of the country with a strong Francophone presence;
- strengthen the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure compliance with the Act, in particular by giving permission to publish recommendations, findings and investigation summaries. The Commissioner would also be mandated to receive complaints about language of service and language of work from employees of private companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence. The Commissioner could refer complaints on language of work to the Canada Industrial Relations Board if resolution through the Office of the Commissioner is not possible; and
- give the Treasury Board Secretariat the powers necessary to fully enforce the obligations of federal institutions under the Act.
Defending the rights of Francophone minorities outside Quebec and those of the English-speaking minority in Quebec is a priority for the Government of Canada, which also recognizes that the protection of French requires appropriate measures to achieve substantive equality of the two official languages. The proposed amendments will contribute to the vitality of official-language minority communities by protecting their institutions. In particular, they build on the strength of those institutions and the importance of Francophone immigration.
The bill also provides for new, targeted measures to enhance the vitality and support the development of Canada’s French- and English-speaking minorities and ensure greater compliance with the Act by federal institutions.
The introduction of the bill is a major milestone in paving the way for substantive equality of Canada’s two official languages. These legislative changes will be accompanied by regulatory and administrative measures to complete the reform.
“Today is a historic day: we are taking an important step for language rights in this country. I am proud to introduce this bill that aims to advance the equality of status and use of our two official languages. By working together, we can make progress toward true equality of English and French. Because the French language needs additional support, our government firmly intends to play its part in strengthening it, while protecting the rights and vitality of official-language minority communities. The tabling of this bill is possible thanks to the involvement of many actors and stakeholders, who have been contributing to the reflection on the modernization of the Official Languages Act for many years.”
—The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages
“Canadians need to be able to interact with the legal system in the official language of their choice. This bill affects many facets of the federal linguistic framework. It aims to improve access to justice in both official languages and has a major impact on how we administer our legal system and our courts. More than 30 years have passed since the last Official Languages Act reform. Our government is delivering on its commitment to modernize and strengthen the Official Languages Act.”
—The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
“Our official languages are at the heart of our identity as Canadians. The protection and promotion of French in the public service is essential, and with the introduction of this bill today to modernize the Official Languages Act, we are moving toward greater respect for our language rights, including within federal institutions.”
—The Honourable Jean‑Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board
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 Act was revised 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, and to encourage the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. In 2005, the Act was amended to specify that federal institutions must take positive measures to implement that commitment.
From March to May 2019, Minister Joly conducted cross-Canada consultations on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, culminating in a National Symposium in Ottawa.
In the fall of 2019, the Government of Canada made a commitment to modernize the Official Languages Act and subsequently included this commitment in Minister Joly’s mandate letter.
On February 19, 2021, Minister Joly tabled her reform document in which she outlined the Government of Canada’s vision and intentions for modernizing the Official Languages Act. The document sets out 56 proposals that affect almost all parts of the Act; 33 of them are legislative amendments.
- Backgrounder: Details on the Tabling of the Bill to Modernize and Strengthen the Official Languages Act
- An Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act
- English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada
- Introduction of the bill — Modernizing and Strengthening the Official Languages Act
- History of the Official Languages Act
For more information (media only), please contact:
Office of the Minister Economic Development
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