UNDERSTANDING, APPRECIATING AND CELEBRATING THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT IN ENGLISH-SPEAKING QUEBEC 

Canada’s Official Language Act sets out quasi-constitutional rights for English-speaking Quebecers, including the right to access federal services in English; the representation of English-speakers in the federal public service; and the right to work in English in the federal public service. The Act also supports the development of English and French linguistic minority communities and advances the equal status and use of English and French. Moreover, it provides the framework for much-needed financial support for our community’s institutions and networks in a variety of sectors including; education, immigration, justice, and health.

This year, as Canada celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Act, the Quebec Community Groups Network proposes to ensure that English-speaking Quebecers and the groups that serve them better understand and appreciate this piece of legislation that is critical to official language minority communities all across Canada.

We also aim to ensure that our community is better represented in the national conversation surrounding the future of the Official Languages Act that will have huge consequences on our Community of Communities and future generations of English-speaking Quebecers.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGES CONFERENCE

On March 11, the Quebec Community Groups Network hosted a conference surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. This important piece of legislation that sets out constitutional rights for minority language communities across Canada is often misunderstood by English-speaking Quebecers.

To help conference participants and our community take a deeper look at the Act we prepared a number of instructional materials including an infographic on Quebec’s English-speaking Communities and Official Languages as well a special issue of Canadian Identities entitled Shifting Landscapes: English-speaking Quebec and the Official Languages Act. Click on the icons below to download copies of this material. You can also obtain hard copies by contacting Rita Legault, our Director of Communications and Public Relations, at rita.legault@qcgn.ca. We also recommend ACS’s winter 2019 issue of Canadian Issues dedicated to the Official Languages Act entitled Linguistic Duality De jure and de facto.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT

What is the Official Languages Act?

The Official Languages Act is the federal statute that made English and French the official languages of Canada. It requires all federal institutions to provide services in English or French on request.

Adopted in 1969, the Act was revised and reinforced in 1988 and 2005.

The primary goal of the Official Languages Act is to ensure all Canadians have access to federal services in the official language of their choice.

The right to services in the official language of one’s choice applies only to federal institutions

What is the purpose of the Official Languages Act?

To ensure respect for English and French and ensure equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in federal institutions

To support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities

To advance the equal status and use of English and French

The purpose of the Act was NEVER to make all Canadians bilingual.

Who does the Act apply to?

The Official Languages Act applies to federal institutions, including the Parliament of Canada, federal departments and Crown corporations such as VIA Rail and Canada Post. It also applies to certain organizations, such as Air Canada, CN (Canadian National Railway) and NAV CANADA, which retained their language obligations after they were privatized.

What does the Act do?

The Act outlines a number of responsibilities for government services and action in specific areas, which include:

    • Administration of Justice
    • Communications with and services to the public
    • Language of work
    • Participation in the federal civil service of linguistic minorities
    • Advancement of English and French

These actions were designed to make life easier for citizens of official language minority communities.

Creation of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada is an agent of Parliament whose mandate is to promote Canadian linguistic duality and oversee the full implementation of the Official Languages Act.

The creation of the Commissioner of Official Languages provides an outlet for complaints when services fail to be met.

How has the Official Languages Act helped you?

As Canadas largest linguistic minority community, English-speaking Quebec has benefited from the Act in a number of ways:

    • Recognition of English-speaking Quebec as an official linguistic minority community
    • The government of Canadas commitment to supporting and assisting Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs) has provided our community and our organizations with funding and support.
    • Federal departments should have an official languages strategy and they should be consulting with official languages groups before implementing policy
    • Complaints by individuals or organizations to the Commissioner of Official Languages have caused departments to change their official languages strategy

MODERNIZATION OF THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT

A modernized Official Languages Act must include:

The guiding principle of the Official Languages Act must be the equality of status of English and French. The Act must categorically guarantee this equality of status in all institutions subject to the Act across Canada.

Two additional key features:

    • Substantive Equality: In its implementation, the Act must enable adaptation to the specific contexts and needs of the different official language minority communities.
    • Capacity, Consultation, and Representation: The Act should provide for robust, mandatory, and properly-resourced consultation at all levels, including a formal mechanism for consultation at the national level.

A modernized Official Languages Act must include a guarantee for equity in services and a work environment where linguistic minority employees are welcome and able to work and advance in their official language.

A modernized Official Languages Act must include a commitment to enhancing the vitality of minority language communities

A modernized Official Languages Act must provide for effective implementation and central accountability for application of the entire Act

LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION ON THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT