Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

May 19, 2016 10:15 ET

As Commissioner Fraser's Decade in Office Ends, Important Official Languages Issues Remain Unresolved

GATINEAU, QUEBEC--(Marketwired - May 19, 2016) - In his 10th and final annual report, tabled in Parliament today, Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser has two clear recommendations for the Government of Canada: the way in which federal services are provided to official language minority communities must be better defined, and Canadians must be able to obtain justice before the courts in the official language of their choice.

"For decades, federal services have been delivered in both official languages in different parts of the country where there is significant demand for services in the language of the minority. Significant demand is based mainly on the proportion of the linguistic minority population as compared to the majority," said the Commissioner. "A community's vitality-the presence of schools, community centres and community media-should also be taken into account."

Using percentages to determine significant demand means that the rights and services provided to the minority depend on the growth rate of the majority.

"A minority community can be thriving and growing, but if the majority grows faster, services are lost. This is simply unfair," explained Commissioner Fraser. "Bill S-209 provides a way of addressing this injustice, as would a revision of the Official Languages Regulations."

Access to justice has been a long-standing priority for the Commissioner. Canadians who seek to be heard in the official language of their choice in Canadian courts face barriers that are sometimes impossible to overcome. One reason for this is that the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary remains a challenge in a number of provinces and territories.

"Lawyers often feel they have to warn their clients that if they insist on exercising their right to be heard in their preferred official language, the process will take longer and cost more," said the Commissioner. "The federal government has long resisted taking any action to address the inequality. It must act now."

To illustrate how important the justice system is in protecting and promoting official languages rights, the Commissioner also released today an overview of his role before the courts over the past 10 years. The report contains findings that should be taken into consideration by the Government of Canada, by parliamentarians and by federal institutions in order to foster a more effective dialogue on language rights and to strengthen Canada's linguistic duality.

In addition to the Commissioner's two key recommendations, this year's annual report covers a range of issues and shows mixed levels of progress by federal institutions. Detailed report cards rating 33 federal institutions on their compliance with the Official Languages Act can be found on the Office of the Commissioner's Web site.

Commissioner Fraser stated that "it has been a privilege to serve as Commissioner of Official Languages for the past decade. Since I entered office in 2006, it has been a fascinating and challenging journey working to protect language rights and promote linguistic duality as a key element of our national identity. At the core of this vision of linguistic duality is an enduring conviction that our respect for both official languages fosters opportunities for growth and understanding among Canadians."

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RECOMMENDATIONS

RECOMMENDATION 1

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that, by October 31, 2016, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada commit to implementing the recommendations issued in the 2013 study Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary.

RECOMMENDATION 2

The Commissioner of Official Languages recommends:

  • that Parliament make Bill S-209 a priority so that the parliamentary committees examining it are able to conduct a diligent review; and
  • that, by March 31, 2017, the Treasury Board undertake an evaluation, in consultation with official language communities, of the effectiveness and efficiency of its policies and directives for implementing Part IV of the Official Languages Act.

Contact Information

  • Nelson Kalil, Manager
    Strategic Communications and Media Relations
    Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
    819-420-4714 / Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368
    Cellular: 613-324-0999
    nelson.kalil@clo-ocol.gc.ca