Recognition for the equal status of English and French in Canada dates back to Confederation when the Constitution Act of 1867 recognized the use of both languages in Parliament and in federal courts.
Status for the two languages was reinforced by the first Official Languages Act of 1969 and the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), which declared English and French as Canada’s official languages and provided for their equality of status in Parliament and in the Government of Canada.
The Act was revised in 1988. It integrates and specifies the principles set out in the earlier legislation and the Charter and it provides for federal policies to put those principles into action. In 2005, Parts VII and X were modified to strengthen the commitment to official language minority communities and to foster linguistic duality.
This document describes the main components of the Official Languages Act and is not an official interpretation. For greater detail, consult the Official Languages Act itself, and the policies and directives on official languages.
Communications with and Services to the Public (Part IV)
A key principle of the Act is that Canadians have the right to communicate with and receive services from federal institutions in either official language. Accordingly, Part IV sets out criteria to identify the offices or facilities that must offer services to and be able to communicate with the public in both official languages. These criteria include:
- the head or central office of a federal institution, as well as offices or facilities located in the National Capital Region
- offices or facilities of a federal institution that reports directly to Parliament
- circumstances prescribed by the Official Languages
(Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, such as:
- offices or facilities where there is significant demand for communications and services in both official languages (for example, from the travelling public)
- offices or facilities in certain specific cases (for example, circumstances relating to public health, safety and security) or where the nature of the office or facility makes it reasonable to provide services and communications in both official languages.
Currently, approximately 33 percent of the nearly 11,700 offices or facilities of federal institutions must communicate with and serve the public in both official languages. These offices or facilities must actively offer their services and communications in English and French.
To find out where these offices or facilities are located, consult the Burolis directory.
Language of Work (Part V)
Part V recognizes English and French as the languages of work in federal institutions. It states that employees of such institutions, in regions designated as bilingual for language-of-work purposes (National Capital Region, New Brunswick, parts of Northern and Eastern Ontario, the bilingual region of Montréal, as well as parts of the Eastern Townships, the Gaspé and Western Quebec), have the right to work in their chosen official language in accordance with the conditions set out in Part V. In these bilingual regions:
- institutions create and maintain a work environment conducive to the effective use of both official languages
- supervision, personal and central services such as human resources, and regularly and widely used work instruments such as computer software, are available in English and French
- senior management has the capacity to function in both official languages.
In addition, central and common services agencies respect the language-of-work rights of employees in the institutions they serve.
In order to meet their service-to-the-public and language-of-work obligations, federal institutions assign language requirements to positions or functions using objective criteria.
Participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians (Part VI)
Part VI sets out the Government of Canada’s commitment to ensuring that English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians have equal opportunities for employment and advancement within federal institutions, and that the composition of the workforce of federal institutions tends to reflect the presence of both official language communities in the general population, taking into account the particular characteristics of individual institutions, including their mandates, the public they serve and their location.
Advancement of English and French (Part VII)
Part VII specifies the commitment of the Government of Canada to enhance the vitality of the official-language minority communities in Canada and to support their development, as well as to foster the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. This commitment binds all federal government institutions, which must see to it that positive measures are taken for its implementation.
The federal commitment applies to an institution’s entire cycle of activities, whether it be during the strategic planning stage, or the development, implementation, evaluation or accountability phases of its policies and programs. In all cases, the institution must be tuned in to the minority communities as well as to other key stakeholders involved in the promotion of duality, and determine if its actions have an impact on these communities or on the recognition of the two official languages.
It should also be noted that Part VII of the Act assigns a specific role to Canadian Heritage, which is called upon to encourage and promote a coordinated approach to the implementation by federal institutions of the government’s commitment as stated in this part of the Act.
See also resources on the implementation of Part VII of the Act.
Other features of interest
Part VIII establishes that the Treasury Board is responsible for the general direction and coordination of policies and programs to implement Parts IV, V and VI of the Act within federal institutions. The Canada Public Service Agency is responsible for developing and evaluating these policies and programs.
The Act also establishes, in Part IX, the mandate and powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure recognition of the equal status of the two official languages and compliance with the spirit and intent of the Act. It also creates, in Part X, a court remedy for complaints made under the Act, such as under Parts IV, V, VII and section 91.
For more information about official languages:
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