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ARCHIVED - Archived - Chapter 3-0 - Equitable Participation - Introduction

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Legal framework

The Preamble and Part VI of the Official Languages Act clearly state the Government of Canada's commitment to ensuring the full and equitable participation of members of the two official language communities in federal institutions. It is based on a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian federal public administration, namely, one in which English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians work together.

Paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Act reiterates the commitment made by the federal government to provide equal opportunities to English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians, regardless of their ethnic origin or first language learned, to obtain employment and advancement in federal institutions. This commitment reflects the principle that Canadians from the two official language communities should not be discriminated against in the area of employment and advancement in federal institutions by reason of their first official language.

Respecting the first part of this two-fold commitment should normally lead to the attainment of the second part — that the composition of the work force of federal institutions tend to reflect the presence of both the English-speaking and the French-speaking communities of Canada, taking into account the characteristics of individual institutions, including their mandates, the public they serve and the location of their offices. Paragraph 39(1)(b) effectively recognizes that the presence of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in the work force may vary depending on the above-mentioned factors and that all institutions are thus not required to have the same rates of participation. This commitment does not in any way allow for the implementation of a quota system, nor for the designation of positions or duties to be reserved for each linguistic group.

Moreover, federal institutions must implement the commitment in a manner that takes into account the duties they must respect under Part IV (Communications with and Services to the Public) and Part V (Language of Work) of the Act.

For the purposes of the policy, a person is "English-speaking" who declares English as his first official language, regardless of his ethnic origin or mother tongue. A person is "French-speaking" who declares French as his first official language, regardless of his ethnic origin or mother tongue. The "first official language" is that language with which an employee has a primary personal identification (that is, the official language in which a person is generally more proficient).

The Act does not provide for any affirmative action measures. As subsection 39(3) of the Act provides, the method of selecting personnel within the federal Public Service will continue to be based on the merit principle (including the knowledge of either or both official languages, as the case may be).

Finally, unlike Parts IV and V of the Act, which deal with service to the public and language of work within federal institutions, Part VI does not create obligations or confer rights. The provisions of Part VI are not eligible for Federal Court remedy provisions under Part X of the Act. Furthermore, section 82 does not give the provisions of Part VI precedence over any other legislation with which it is inconsistent. However, the Commissioner of Official Languages may conduct an investigation, either on his own initiative or as a result of a complaint, to ensure that the spirit and intent of Part VI of the Act are respected.