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Federal institutions “do not take their linguistic obligations seriously”

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick La Presse canadienne Le commissaire aux langues officielles, Raymond Théberge, dévoilant son rapport pour l’année 2023-2024

There “remains work to do” to ensure that federal institutions respect linguistic rights, warned the Commissioner of Official Languages, Raymond Théberge, on Tuesday, even if the number of complaints has decreased. The latter presented his report for the year 2023-2024 at a press conference.

Several “will have to redouble their efforts in order to respect their linguistic obligations”, which they “do not take […] seriously” and that they have “not well integrated [into their] culture,” said Mr. Théberge. Without targeting any federal institution, he nevertheless agreed that “year after year, Air Canada receives the greatest number of complaints.” Last February, Mr. Théberge also highlighted a cultural problem regarding bilingualism at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

This lack of compliance, almost a year after the adoption of the new version of the Official Languages ​​Act, is partly explained by a lack of awareness of the new obligations, indicates Mr. Théberge, also blaming the appointment of senior executives “who are not able to function in both official languages.”

According to him, the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Canadian Heritage have a role to play play “with respect to the monitoring and promotion of Part VII of the Act”, which concerns “progress towards equality of status and use of French and English”. Mr. Théberge would also like the President of the Treasury Board, Anita Anand, to publish her regulations on this section of the legislative text “sooner rather than later”.

Mr. Théberge also recommends “to all deputy ministers and deputy heads of the federal public service” to put in place a “plan to achieve full implementation” of this part of the text of the law, and this, by May 31, 2025. However, he recalls that, “even while awaiting a settlement, federal institutions have new obligations with which they must comply.”

The Commissioner also recommends that the Minister of Canadian Heritage create “indicators” by June 2026 to evaluate the application of the Act. The new version of the legislative text provides that the ministry “conducts a review of the provisions and application of the Act every 10 years from the perspective of the development of French-speaking and English-speaking minorities and the protection and promotion French in Canada”.

In its 2024-2025 budget, presented in April, Ottawa set aside $26 million to “support the implementation” of the new Official Languages ​​Act.

Drop in complaints

For the first time in five years, the number of complaints deemed admissible by the Office does not exceed the thousand mark. But “one thing is certain, this reduction does not mean that we must take our foot off the accelerator,” warns Mr. Théberge.

According to him, this drop is mainly explained by the absence of “an incident that galvanized” the filing of complaints. In 2021-2022, Raymond Théberge deemed more than 5,000 complaints admissible, “a real tidal wave” which he associates with the “unilingual speech of the CEO. of Air Canada”, Michael Rousseau, and to the “appointment of the Governor General, who is bilingual and who does not speak French”, Mary Simon.

He remains that the 847 admissible complaints from 2023-2024, described as “concerning” by Mr. Théberge, target essentially the same sectors as usual and mainly concern French. “There’s one area in particular that stands out every year, and that’s the traveling public,” he explains. Complaints related to language of work have increased compared to last year. “We need [federal institutions and the travel sector] to recognize their challenges and […] make the necessary corrections. »

A large portion of the complaints were made in Ontario (162), particularly in the National Capital Region (216), which extends on both sides of the Ottawa River, and 175 complaints targeted Quebec.

The new legislation gives the Commissioner the power to impose financial penalties in the event of a violation of the Act. But Mr. Théberge will only be able to use it once the government “has issued a decree […] and adopted a regulation.” A process that could take “a few years.”

This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116