Canadian Government to Review Official Languages Act Regulations

Image credit: By Presidencia de la Republica Mexicana [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Canadian Government to Review Official Languages Act Regulations
Bernadine Racoma

Canada has 25-year old rules that regulate when front counter services should be offered in French and English. Officials now deem that the rules are already outdated, thus the need for a review.

The Liberal government is spearheading the project, which was announced by Mélanie Joly, the Canadian Heritage Minister and Scott Brison, the President of the Canadian Treasury Board on Thursday. They will be reviewing the Official Languages Act regulations. The objective of the review is to have a more fitting calculation to know the demand for services in minority languages, to explore new avenues to utilize technology when providing those services, and to improve the bilingual services for public transportation.

Demand for both languages

According to Brison, minority communities from the Anglophone and Francophone sides demand for the improvement of the outdated regulations so these can relate to the realities of modern times. The contention is that the intervening years have given plenty of lessons to learn as well to take into account the advent of new technologies and a big change in demographics.

Last update

The last update for the language regulations was in 1991. The regulations influence where the services are given. These services are regarded as vital to helping English and French minorities flourish in their communities. During the review, minority language groups, the public, senators and MPs will all be consulted.

Because of the review some 250 government offices that offer bilingual services, which stand to lose their bilingual status due to the old regulations, will have a moratorium. They will be allowed to continue providing services in both languages until the results of the review are put into action.

The 2011 census data will be taken into account when the reviewers compute the size of the communities using official languages. They will also use the census data to ascertain enough demand exists to justify providing services in English and French.

Changes in demographics

Minority language groups are complaining that demographic changes have occurred in many communities whereas the regulations have become too narrow to be applicable to current situations. They point out that there are now more minority languages than what’s taken into account. Graham Fraser, the Official Languages Commissioner already raised this concern in his latest report and said that the Treasury Board should check whether the current regulations are still effective.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau already tasked Scott Brison to work closely with Mélanie Joly on the issue. Brison said that there will be more and better ways to serve the public in both languages and in more places, as well. However, the size of the community will be considered as to whether bilingual services will continue to be provided or in just one dominant language.

The review will start this fall, beginning with public consultations. Then a draft of the new regulations will be sent to the Treasury Board. After review it will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval in the summer of 2018. Parliamentary approval is expected around spring of the following year.

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