Modernizing the Official Languages Act
Minority language groups unite in pan-Canadian union
For the first time in their history the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), the Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO), and the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick (SANB) have signed a partnership agreement.
The protocol is for one year but renewable every following year. The organizations will meet at least once a month and AFO president Carol Jolin has already stated that the groups will act as a “united front” in defence of minority language communities across the three provinces.
This new partnership, reached on July 2, means a stronger community push for the modernization of the Official Languages Act but also a helping hand for Quebec’s Anglophone community still distraught with the school boards actively being threatened and the transferring of English school properties to French schools in the Montreal area.
The Senate committee has deposited its recommendations
The standing Senate committee on official languages deposited 20 recommendations to address issues with the implementation of the official languages act on June 13, 2019.
The recommendations, which have been gathered and treated from over 100 proposals over the past two years, fall under four main themes: leadership and co-operation, compliance, enforcement principles and judicial bilingualism in an attempt to modernize and reinvigorate the long-standing legal document.
Key findings in the committee’s research process determined that the act in its current form “must be strengthened and fully implemented” due to its provisions being “implemented inconsistently” and the responsibilities it outlines being “neither sufficiently clear nor binding”.
The 20 proposed measures have been drafted to ensure that the federal Department of Justice, which is responsible for drafting the bill to amend the Act, has the most useful information possible when the time comes to do so.
It is the committee’s opinion that the modernized act must provide services in both official languages as well as promote linguistic duality in the workplace and support communities in key sectors such as education, health, justice, immigration, economic development, community media, and arts and culture.
It will clarify the responsibilities of the institutions involved in its implementation and require the federal government to adopt an accountability framework to guide it. With a view to transparency, the plan will be subject to mandatory public disclosure. Responsibility for its adoption and coordination will rest with the Treasury Board.
The Official Languages Act is nearing its fiftieth anniversary. Its last major reform took place in 1988.
Amongst the most notable recommendations proposed by the committee:
- An important amendment in the linguistics of the Official Languages Act which should state that the Treasury Board “must” do, rather than what it “may” do, in carrying out its responsibilities.
- Obligating federal institutions to assess the impact of their decisions on official language minority communities and to ensure that the policies and programs they implement are aligned with their needs.
- The creation of an Official Languages Tribunal, independent of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and based on the model set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
- The institution of a requirement that, upon appointment, deputy ministers must have a sufficient understanding of English and French to be able to perform their duties in both official languages, orally and in writing.
- Many measures to further the vitality and development of official language minority communities by furthering access to quality services.
The Senate committee’s full report and recommendations are available online on the Senate’s website, sencanada.ca, by searching for Modernizing the Official Languages Act: The Views of Federal Institutions and Recommendations.
The winds of change are blowing
For many, such as Linton Garner, Executive Director at Regional Association of West Quebecers, this union is a rallying cry for minority linguistic communities and hopefully a sign of better things to come.
“This union unites people on the issue of minority linguistic communities. It forces every jurisdiction to recognize the presence and importance of these communities. It also shows that issues faced by Francophones in Ontario, Acadians in New Brunswick and Anglophones in Quebec are the same across the board.
“Minority language communities need to work together, especially in situations where it seems like the government is actively working against them, which seems to be the case here in Quebec, so hopefully this partnership helps mediate issues and lets communities be heard clearly.”
Whether or not the 20 recommendations proposed by the Senate committee come to pass, Mr Gardner would like to see “an increased presence of the official languages commission in Quebec, as well as a much more proactive commission that truly acts to help communities be informed and be defended on a grander scale.”
“People need to see that their government is truly fighting for them and their place in society. No one wants to be the other and a lot of the time that’s how the people of these groups feel in their provinces.”
Newspapers and radio stations in minority language situations have a similar national association called the Consortium of Minority Language Media.