Backgrounder – Details on the modernization of the Official Languages Act
GATINEAU, June 20, 2023
On June 20, Royal Assent was granted to Bill C-13, an Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts. The Bill was tabled by the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. This is the culmination of the linguistic regime reform announced by the federal government in February 2021.
Since its enactment in 1969 and subsequent amendments, the Official Languages Act has had a concrete impact on the lives of all Canadians. It granted the right to be served and to work in the official language of their choice within federal institutions in certain regions and gave official-language minority communities powerful levers for their development. The Act has been a key instrument in ensuring that Canada’s two official languages, English and French, are supported and promoted.
Today, the adoption of a modernized Official Languages Act will reflect the challenges of the 21st century, which are marked by new demographic and social realities, and allow us to have better tools to protect and promote our official languages all across the country.
This new legislation provides for significant changes that will have a real impact on the daily lives of Canadians. Below is a comparative table showing the considerable benefits the adoption of this new legislation will have.
|Existing Official Languages Act
|An Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages
|Protects the language rights of Canadians and promotes the equality of English and French
|Adds strengthening measures to protect the French language in Canada
|Applies to the entire Canadian territory
|Continues to apply to the entire Canadian territory
|Recognizes English and French as Canada’s two official languages
Continues to recognize English and French as Canada’s two official languages
Recognizes the different linguistic realities of the provinces and territories, as well as the minority status of the French language in North America
|Supports the promotion of the use of English and French in Canadian society
|Reinforces the promotion of the use of English and French in Canadian society by enhancing the vitality and supporting the development of official-language minority communities
|Guarantees the public the right to receive government services in the official language of their choice in certain regions
Continues to guarantee the public the right to receive government services in the official language of their choice in certain regions
Strengthens the linguistic rights of English and French speakers, particularly in the areas of justice and public administration
|Promotes bilingualism within federal institutions and encourages the provision of bilingual services
Reinforces the bilingualism obligations of federal institutions and aims to increase the availability of services in French.
Specifies obligations related to positive measures to be taken by federal institutions
Imposes measures to ensure that deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers take language training so they are able to speak and understand both official languages clearly
Also strengthens the Treasury Board's oversight role and the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages
|Promotes minority language instruction
|Reinforces the implementation of the right to minority language education by creating a requirement for the federal government to contribute to statistical data on the children of rights holders
|Makes no reference to Francophone immigration to counter the decline of the French language
|Sets out the obligation to implement a federal Francophone immigration policy to help maintain and increase the demographic weight of Francophone minority communities
|Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
|Establishes the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages as an independent agency responsible for overseeing the application of the Act
|Strengthens the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages, including new powers to enter into compliance agreements, issue orders and impose administrative monetary penalties (the latter applying to the transportation sector)
|Access to justice
|Promotes the publication of judicial decisions in both official languages
Creates an obligation to be heard in the official language of one’s choice at the Supreme Court
Strengthens the provisions on federal court decisions to obtain immediate translation of more judicial decisions coming from federal courts
|Federally regulated private businesses
|Does not establish any language rights and obligations for federally regulated private businesses
|Creates new legislation, the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act, which confers rights and obligations with regard to language of service to consumers and employees of these entities in Quebec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence
The government will now begin the regulatory process, another important milestone in the implementation of the Act. During this regulatory process, clarifications of certain concepts and certain obligations, definitions and methods of execution will have to be made in order to properly implement this new regime.
The Government of Canada encourages all Canadians to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Act and to take full advantage of them. Together, we are building a stronger, more inclusive and resolutely bilingual Canada. Canadian Heritage will post details of its consultation process and how to participate on its website. Information on the implementation of the modernized Official Languages Act will also be available.
Visit the Government of Canada’s website on modernizing and strengthening the Official Languages Act to learn more about the bill and the history of the Official Languages Act.
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