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Questions on the Official Languages Act, the Official Languages Regulations and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

 

What is the purpose of the Official Languages Act?

The Parliament of Canada adopted the Official Languages ActGovernment site in 1969. In 1988, the Act was amended to recognize Canada's bilingual character and was modified again in 2005 to reinforce the federal government's obligation to enhance the development of official language communities and promote linguistic duality.

Among other things, the Act:

  • provides for the equal status of both official languages in Parliament and before the courts established by Parliament, in accordance with the Constitution;
  • gives Canadians the right to receive federal government services in either English or French in the National Capital Region and wherever, as defined by the Official Languages RegulationsGovernment site, the size of the minority population and the nature of the office warrants it;
  • guarantees equal employment and career advancement opportunities in federal institutions for English- and French-speaking Canadians;
  • commits federal institutions to hiring, subject to the merit principle, English- and French-speaking Canadians in numbers that reflect their proportion in the overall Canadian population;
  • gives federal government employees the right to work in the official language of their choice in the National Capital Region and in designated regions (New Brunswick, parts of northern and eastern Ontario, the Montréal area, parts of the Eastern Townships, the Gaspé region and western Quebec);
  • commits the federal government to the promotion of English and French in Canadian society and to cooperation with the provinces and territories in enhancing the vitality of the official language communities and supporting their development;
  • provides Canadians with opportunities to learn both English and French.

The Official Languages Act does not grant special rights or privileges to either language group. The Act must not be interpreted in a manner that is inconsistent with the preservation and enhancement of languages other than English and French. It should also be noted that the Act does not apply to provincial, territorial or municipal governments.

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How have Canadians benefited from official languages policies?

The benefits have been most evident at the federal level (in the delivery and reception of bilingual services). Here are some examples of the progress made in other areas:

Education

The Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsGovernment site guarantees the right to education in the language of the minority in all provinces and territories.

In addition, a majority of Canadian school children, both English- and French-speaking, are currently learning their second official language. Some two million English-speaking students are studying French, and about 300,000 of them are enrolled in immersion programs. In Quebec, there are about 600,000 students learning English as a second language.

Services

Most Canadians have access to English and French radio and television programming, even though the service provided is sometimes minimal.

In some provinces, a range of health and social services are available in both languages.

Business

Federal legislation governing product labelling requires all products to include essential information in English and French, in other words, the generic name of the product, the ingredients, the manufacturer's address and any health or safety information.

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How does the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee my language rights?

Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsGovernment site, which is part of the Constitution of the country, English and French are the official languages of Canada. This means the two languages have equal status in the institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains many sections guaranteeing and reinforcing the language rights of Canadians. Sections 16 to 20 of the Charter guarantee the right to use the official language of one’s choice in Parliament, in certain communications with the federal public service and before the federal courts. Moreover, section 23 of the Charter protects the right of official language minority parents to have their children educated in their language and to manage public educational institutions.

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