Guide on Part VII of the Official Languages Act: Support to communities and promotion of English and French

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This guide explains the obligations and role of federal institutions to enhance the development and vitality of official language minority communities (OLMCs or communities) and to foster the full recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society, as provided for under Part VII of the Official Languages Act.

Notice to readers

The purpose of this document is to assist federal institutions in identifying, within the framework of their mandate, action plans related to the implementation of Section 41 of the Official Languages Act. Please note that this document does not constitute legal advice. For such advice, please consult the legal services unit of your federal institution, which, when needed, will contact the Official Languages Directorate of Justice Canada.

Questions or comments:

Section 41 of the Official Languages Act

Under section 41 (Part VII of the Official Languages Act), the Government of Canada is committed to:

This commitment is binding on all federal institutions, which are required to ensure that positive measures are taken to implement it. The federal institutions must take into account this commitment during their entire activity cycle:

In all instances, federal institutions must:

A glance at section 41 in the context of the Official Languages Act

Figure 1: Diagram providing an overview of section 41 in the context of the Official Languages Act

Description of figure 1: Diagram providing an overview of section 41 in the context of the Official Languages Act

In the form of a diagram, the illustration provides an overview that provides a context for section 41 in relation to other elements of the Official Languages Act.

Among other things, the Official Languages Act includes the following 10 parts:

  • Part I: Proceedings of Parliament
  • Part II: Legislative and other instruments
  • Part III: Administration of justice
  • Part IV: Communications with and services to the public
  • Part V: Language of work
  • Part VI: Participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians
  • Part VII: Advancement of English and French
  • Part VIII: Responsibilities and duties of Treasury Board in relation to the official languages of Canada
  • Part IX: Commissioner of official languages
  • Part X: Court remedy

Part VII of the Act deals with the advancement of English and French and includes the following sections:

  • Section 41: Government policy and duty of federal institutions
  • Section 42: Coordination (Canadian Heritage)
  • Section 43: Specific mandate of Minister of Canadian Heritage and public consultation (Canadian Heritage)
  • Section 44: Annual report to Parliament (Canadian Heritage)
  • Section 45: Consultation and negotiation with the provinces

Section 41 sets out the commitments and obligations of federal institutions, including the following subsections:

  • 41(1) Government policy: The Government of Canada is committed to enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
  • 41(2) Duty of federal institutions: Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation of the commitments under subsection (1). For greater certainty, this implementation shall be carried out while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.
  • 41(3) Regulations: The Governor in Council may make regulations in respect of federal institutions, other than the Senate, House of Commons, Library of Parliament, office of the Senate Ethics Officer, office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Parliamentary Protective Service or office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, prescribing the manner in which any duties of those institutions under this Part are to be carried out.

Part X, which deals with court remedy, includes subsection 77(1), which reads as follows:

  • Any person who has made a complaint to the Commissioner in respect of a right or duty under sections 4 to 7, sections 10 to 13 or Part IV, V or VII, or in respect of section 91, may apply to the Court for a remedy under this Part.

To learn more, please refer to:

Context of official languages in Canada

In this section

Overview of the evolution of Canada's official languages policy

Official languages in Canada in 2016

Province or territory French-speaking population English-speaking population Bilingual population (English and French)
Newfoundland-and-Labrador 2,428 (0.5%) 512,523 (99.4%) 25,940 (5%)
Prince Edward Island 4,665 (3.3%) 135,130 (95.8%) 17,840 (12.7%)
Nova Scotia 29,368 (3.2%) 880,348 (96.5%) 95,380 (10.5%)
New Brunswick 234,055 (31.8%) 499,970 (67.9%) 249,955 (33.9%)
Quebec 6,890,305 (85.4%) 1,103,475 (13.7%) 3,586,410 (44.5%)
Ontario 550,595 (4.1%) 12,440,795 (93.4%) 1,490,395 (11.2%)
Manitoba 40,978 (3.2%) 1,204,798 (95.5%) 108,455 (8.5%)
Saskatchewan 14,440 (1.3%) 1,061,110 (98%) 51,360 (4.7%)
Alberta 79,838 (2%) 3,888,983 (96.6%) 264,715 (6.6%)
British Columbia 64,323 (1.4%) 4,382,328 (95.3%) 314,925 (6.8%)
Yukon 1,635 (4.6%) 33,785 (95%) 4,900 (13.8%)
Northwest Territories 1,240 (3%) 39,950 (96.5%) 4,275 (10.3%)
Nunavut 630 (1.8%) 33,040 (92.6%) 1,525 (10.3%)
Total 7,914,498 (22.8%) 26,216,233 (75.4%) 6,216,075 (17.9%)

Note: French- and English-speaking populations have been calculated using the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations (SOR/92-48) definition of "first official language spoken."

Source: Official Languages Branch of Canadian Heritage, November 2017, based on data from the 2016 Census of Canada, Statistics Canada, 100% sample

Official language minority communities

Generally speaking, official language minority communities (OLMCs) include Anglophones in Quebec and Francophones in the rest of Canada.

These communities are often represented by national and regional organizations such as:

They work to increase awareness about:

They are represented across Canada in priority areas such as:

Here are some examples of official language minority community organizations that represent different areas of involvement:

Federal institutions' obligations

In this section

All federal institutions must take positive measures to promote the development of official language minority communities and foster recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society.

The Federal Court of Appeal, in Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique v. Canada (Employment and Social Development), 2022 FCA 14, concluded that taking positive measures calls for a two-step analysis. Federal institutions must first be sensitive to the particular circumstances of the country's various official language minorities, and also determine the impact of decisions and initiatives in reference to those communities. In implementing decisions and initiatives, federal institutions must then act to enhance the vitality of these linguistic minority groups, or, if the impact of decisions, initiatives, and equivalent are negative, counter or mitigate these negative repercussions, to the extent possible.

Throughout the cycle of an institution's activities, whether in terms of strategic planning, policy and program development, implementation and evaluation, or reporting, the institution should demonstrate the impact of an initiative on the vitality of official language minorities. If a decision, initiative or equivalent has negative impact, the federal institution must counter or mitigate these repercussions, to the extent possible.

Taking positive measures

The Official Languages Act does not define the term "positive measures". The implementation of positive measures takes many different forms, depending on the mandate of each federal institution. Officials in your institution should have the same understanding of the Official Languages Act obligations.

Your institution may decide that any action that contributes to the vitality of official language minority communities and to the recognition of both official languages is a positive measure. By continuing to listen to the communities and by demonstrating leadership, your institution will be in a position to identify positive measures. Federal institutions must be sensitive to the circumstances of various OLMCs across the country, and determine the impact that decisions and initiatives may have on these communities. Further, when making decisions and implementing initiatives, federal institutions must act to enhance the vitality of OLMCs. When decisions and initiatives are likely to have negative impacts, federal institutions must act to counter or mitigate these negative repercussions, to the extent possible.

The obligation to enhance the vitality of OLMCs contemplates concrete actions. It requires that measures be taken to mitigate potential negative effects if a decision is likely to have negative impacts on OLMCs. This obligation is ongoing, and means that an analysis using an official language lens must be completed, as decisions are made.

You should also optimize the full potential (services, policies, programs, expertise, facilities, etc.) available in your institution to fulfill its mandate. This might involve creating or adapting existing programs to take the needs of communities into account or looking at the possibility of calling on minority community organizations to deliver certain programs or services (what is referred to as the "by and for" approach).

Tapping the full potential of your institution

Optimizing the contribution of an institution and obtaining results requires:

Facilitating the implementation of section 41

Federal institutions may act in the following areas of activity:

Awareness and knowledge improvement
Internal activities aimed at raising the awareness and increasing the knowledge of employees and management concerning the implementation of section 41 of the Official Languages Act.
Sharing of ideas and information between federal institutions and official language minority communities to better understand each other's priorities and mandate, and to identify areas for the development of these communities.
Provision of information (externally) to promote the bilingual character of Canada and provision of information to official language minority communities regarding the federal institution's activities, programs and policies that could be of interest to them.
Coordination and liaison
Networking, cooperation and liaison (joint research, meetings, etc.), either within the federal institution, with other federal institutions or with other levels of government.
Funding and services
Delivery of programs and services (resources, in-kind contributions, advice, etc.) and funding for official language minority communities by the federal institution itself or in collaboration with other federal institutions.
Integration of the needs of official language community minorities.
Developing official languages action plans and reviews, internal evaluations, reviews of the federal institution's departmental policies and processes.

A few examples of ways to implement section 41

The following are some examples of positive measures taken by federal institutions in support of the implementation of section 41 in accordance with their respective mandates:

For other examples, you can also consult Canadian Heritage's annual reports on official languages.

Help for federal institutions

Section 42 states that the Minister of Canadian Heritage, in consultation with other federal ministers, shall encourage and promote a coordinated approach to the federal institution implementation of the commitments set out in section 41.

At the national level, the Official Languages Branch at Canadian Heritage coordinates and liaises with federal institutions. The branch works with all federal institutions to implement section 41.

In every province and territory, Canadian Heritage has a person responsible for interdepartmental coordination whose role it is to facilitate relationships between federal institutions and regional official language minority communities.

The Official Languages Branch at Canadian Heritage:

To learn more about the role of the Official Languages Branch of Canadian Heritage in the implementation of section 41 of the Official Languages Act, you can also consult the section entitled "Interdepartmental relations and accountability" on the following page: Areas of involvement regarding official languages in Canadian society.

More information

Related links

Tools and resources on official languages

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2019
Catalogue number: CH14-46/2019E-PDF, ISBN: 978-0-660-32303-9

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