History of the Official Languages Act
In response to one of the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the government headed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau passes the Official Languages Act. The Act created the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, whose role consists of overseeing the application of the Act, investigating complaints from members of the public, conducting studies and reporting to Parliament.
The Government of Canada repatriates the Constitution and adds to it the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter contains many sections guaranteeing and reinforcing the language rights of Canadians.
Sections 16 to 20 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. The archives, statutes, reports and minutes of Parliament are printed in both official languages, and each version has equal force of law.
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.
The new Official Languages Act is passed to ensure the full implementation of the language rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The scope of the new Act is considerably broader than that of the 1969 Act. First, it updates and specifies the rights of citizens and the obligations of federal institutions with respect to the language of services.
Finally, one of its new components, Part VII, commits federal institutions to assisting in the development of official language minority communities and promoting English and French in Canadian society.
The government adopts the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations.
Resulting from a broad consultation, the Regulations defined the circumstances under which offices of federal institutions are required to offer their services in both official languages. Those offices must fulfill this obligation, in particular when the use of English and French results from "significant demand" or is based on the nature of the office (e.g., when the services provided deal with public health and safety). These regulations also set out specific rules regarding the services offered to the travelling public.
Parliament adopts Bill S-3, which clarifies the scope of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. This amendment to the Act consolidates the legal foundations of Canadian duality.
From this day forward, federal institutions must take positive measures to enhance the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada, and to foster the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
They must show that their policies, programs, guidelines and priorities give due consideration to the interests and needs of official language minority communities, and help to promote the full recognition of both official languages in Canadian society. Moreover, should these obligations be breached, legal action is now possible.