Official Languages Governance

Table of contents


Parts I and II of the Official Languages Act (OLA) respectively govern the proceedings of Parliament, and legislative and other instruments.

Under section 88 of the OLA, Parliament must designate or constitute a committee of the Senate, the House of Commons, or both, specifically to review the administration of the OLA, and any regulations or directives made under it. There are currently two committees, one of the House and one of the Senate, that ensure monitoring of the annual reports (or others) of the Commissioner of Official Languages' (sections 66 and 67 of the OLA), the President of the Treasury Board (section 48 of the OLA) and the Minister of Canadian Heritage (section 44 of the OLA).

Parliament acts through parliamentary committees on official languages of the House of Commons and the Senate. These parliamentary committees play an important role in monitoring the application of the OLA and any regulations or directives made under it.

The parliamentary committees may also request the appearance of the minister responsible for official languages and senior officials from any department regarding official languages issues.

Role of Federal Institutions

All federal institutions (subsection 3(1) of the OLA) are subject to the OLA and must implement its provisions.

All federal institutions except the Senate, House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner must conform to the official languages policies and directives adopted by the Treasury Board (subs. 46(2) of the OLA).

Commissioner of Official Languages

Under Part IX of the OLA, any individual or group has the right to complain to the Commissioner of Official Languages regardless of the official language spoken by the complainants (subsection 58(2) of the OLA). Notwithstanding the other provisions of Part IX, the Commissioner shall investigate any complaint made to the Commissioner to the effect that the status of an official language was or is not being recognized, any provision of any Act of Parliament or regulation relating to the status or use of the official languages was not or is not being complied with, or the spirit or intent of the OLA was not or is not being complied with in the administration of any federal institution (subsection 58(1) of the OLA).

The Commissioner may investigate, issue recommendations and, at the conclusion of the investigation, send the report first to the institution in question and then to the Governor in Council (sections 59 to 64 of the OLA). If no action is taken following the recommendations, the Commissioner may submit the report in question to Parliament. The Commissioner may also present a special report to Parliament on any issue under the Commissioner's jurisdiction (sections 66 and 67 of the OLA).

Federal Court

The OLA creates a specific court remedy for breaches of certain provisions of the Act. They are sections 4 to 7 and 10 to 13, and Parts IV, V, VII, as well as section 91 of the OLA. The remedy is subject to certain time limitation conditions for any person who has submitted a complaint to the Commissioner of Official Languages. The Federal Court is the court authorized to hear these remedies (section 77 of the OLA). The Commissioner of Official Languages may seek the remedy himself or appear as an intervenor (section 78 of the OLA). To make access to this remedy easier, the OLA provides a summary procedure and specific rules of evidence.

Moreover, Part III of the OLA creates a number of rights and obligations regarding the administration of justice. These rights and obligations apply to cases before the federal courts (subsection 3(2) of the OLA). As an example, section 18 of the OLA states that when Her Majesty in Right of Canada or a federal institution is a party before a federal court, they shall use, in oral or written proceedings, the official language chosen by the other party or the official language that is most reasonable in the circumstances. The Federal Court is considered such a court.

Department of Justice

The Department of Justice advises the government on legal issues regarding the status or use of official languages and represents the government in language rights cases.

The Department also has specific responsibilities regarding the administration of justice in both official languages and works together with the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Public Service Commission, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and Canadian Heritage.

The Department must respect its constitutional and legislative obligations and all applicable policies and directives. Beyond these obligations, it encourages all its employees to implement best practices to encourage the use of both official languages in the workplace.

Department of Canadian Heritage

Section 42 of the OLA confers on the Minister of Canadian HeritageFootnote 1, in consultation with the other federal ministers, the mandate to encourage and promote a coordinated approach to the implementation by federal institutions of the obligations set out in section 41 of the OLA. The Department of Canadian Heritage ensures the coordination and strategic orientation of this section of the OLA in federal institutions. Among other things, it coordinates the information and best practices sharing activities between federal institutions. It analyzes the federal institutions' annual reviews on official languages and suggests directions or possible steps. It facilitates consultations with representatives from official language minority communities and raises awareness in public servants of the need to take these issues into consideration during the policy and program development process. The Department of Canadian Heritage works closely with all federal institutions and encourages them to take section 41 of the OLA into consideration when planning and implementing their departmental activities.

As part of its mandate, the Minister of Canadian Heritage takes measures deemed appropriate to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society (section 43 of the OLA). For example, the Minister enters into agreements with the provinces and territories regarding education and other fields to improve service provision by the provinces and territories to the communities in their own official language.

In accordance with section 44 of the OLA, the Minister of Canadian Heritage submits an annual report to Parliament on the matters relating to its official languages mandate (Part VII). In practice, this report presents the yearly results obtained by Canadian Heritage in its role (i) in supporting minority communities and official languages organizations, (ii) in supporting provincial and territorial governments regarding education and services, and (iii) in coordinating the implementation of section 41 of the OLA.

Treasury Board Secretariat

As attributed by Part VIII of the OLA, the Treasury Board is responsible for the general development and coordination of federal principles and programs for the implementation of Parts IV and V of the OLA (communications with and services to the public and language of work) in federal institutions (with the exception of the Senate, House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner) (section 46 of the OLA). In this capacity, the Treasury Board Secretariat develops official languages policies and directives and it monitors the status of official languages programs within federal institutions.

The Treasury Board, through the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO), ensures the strategic orientation and coordination of Parts IV and V in federal departments and agencies, Crown corporations and certain private organizations, supports federal institutions to serve and communicate with the public in the official language of its choice, in offices that have this obligation and so they introduce and maintain a work environment that is conducive to the effective use of both official languages in the regions designated bilingual for the purposes of Part V.

In accordance with section 48 of the OLA, the President of the Treasury Board shall submit an annual report to Parliament on the status of the programs relating to official languages (Parts IV, V and VI) in the institutions subject to the OLA.

Public Service Commission

On behalf of Parliament, the Public Service Commission safeguards the integrity of staffing and the non-partisan nature of the public service. In this respect, the Public Service Commission works closely with government but is independent from ministerial direction and is accountable to Parliament.

The Public Service Commission is mandated to administer provisions of the Public Service Employment Act. Appointments by the Commission to or from within the public service shall be made on the basis of merit, which includes official language proficiency (paragraph 30(2)(a) of the Public Service Employment Act). The Commission provides expert advice on the implementation of language provisions for appointments to and from within the public service. It is also responsible for language evaluation and testing and it oversees the application of the Public Service Official Languages Exclusion Approval Order and the Public Service Official Languages Appointment Regulations.

Committee of Assistant Deputy Ministers on Official Languages

The Committee of Assistant Deputy Ministers on Official Languages (CADMOL) is a central element of the governance structure of the official languages program. The CADMOL is the senior governance forum for the horizontal management and coordination of official languages in the public service.

It is responsible for supporting and monitoring the development of official languages programs and policies, and contributes to fostering a whole-of-government approach to meeting official languages obligations. It is responsible for providing leadership mainly on three priorities: the language of work within the federal public service, federal horizontal strategies on official languages (official languages action plan) and the management of other issues of interest related to the OLA.

The committee's constituent authority is vested in the Deputy Minister responsible for Official Languages at Canadian Heritage. In his absence, the meetings are hosted on a rotational basis by each co-chair of the committee. The Assistant Deputy Ministers of Canadian Heritage, of Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, of the Privy Council Office and Justice Canada.

Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions

The Council of the Network of Official Languages Champions is a horizontal organization of the Government of Canada within which departments, agencies, Crown corporations and regional federal councils all work together. It provides a voice for the community of official languages champions, which includes 215 members.

Its mandate is to act as an agent of influence for official languages within the Government of Canada and mobilize deputy heads and official languages champions, with the aim of promoting common approaches and ensuring that official languages are a top-of-mind issue at the senior management level.


Members of the public have various language rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the OLA. They may exercise them under the conditions listed in those instruments.

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