The Commissioner of Official Languages is the spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner. The Commissioner is an officer of Parliament who plays several key roles in promoting and achieving the objectives of the Official Languages Act. These roles include ensuring that federal institutions comply with the Act, upholding the language rights of Canadians and promoting linguistic duality and bilingualism. Subsection 56(1) of the Official Languages Act sets out his mandate.
How does the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages fulfill its mission?
The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages:
- ensures that federal institutions and other organizations subject to the Official Languages Act administer their affairs according to the spirit and the letter of the Act;
- receives complaints;
- investigates complaints related to official languages that are brought against federal institutions and other organizations;
- recommends appropriate corrective measures;
- appeals to the Federal Court on the complainant's behalf when all other avenues have been exhausted;
- conducts audits, evaluations, studies, research and analysis to better understand the evolution of the status and use of English and French in the country;
- responds to requests for information and other communications from the public;
- monitors the advancement of English and French in the federal government and Canadian society;
- helps federal institutions implement the Official Languages Act more effectively;
- contributes to the development and vitality of official language minority communities; and
- submits an annual report on its activities to Parliament, along with recommendations.
Other institutions with special responsibilities in terms of official languages
While each federal institution is responsible for implementing the Official Languages Act within its area of jurisdiction, the following federal departments and agencies have special responsibilities with respect to official languages.
Treasury Board Secretariat
The Treasury Board Secretariat is a central agency responsible for approving the strategic directions and policies related to Parts IV, V and VI of the Act. It also plays a role in implementing other provisions of the Act (including Part VII).
On March 2, 2009, the Canada Public Service Agency and the parts of the Treasury Board Secretariat that deal with compensation and human resources were consolidated into the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO), which is housed within the Treasury Board Secretariat.
The OCHRO is responsible for the overall development and coordination of principles and programs related to:
- communications with and service to the public in both official languages,
- the use of English and French as language of work, and
- the equal participation of English- and French-speaking Canadians in federal institutions.
The OCHRO is responsible for verifying how federal institutions are meeting their language requirements and evaluating official languages programs in federal institutions.
Department of Canadian Heritage
The Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible for coordinating the implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. This part of the Act pertains in particular to the federal government's commitment to enhance the vitality of English and French minority communities and support their development. To achieve these goals, the Department concludes agreements with provincial and territorial governments to promote the teaching of English and French as second languages and education in the language of the Anglophone or Francophone minority. The Department also supports various organizations that work with minority communities.
Since February 2006, the Official Languages Secretariat has reported to Canadian Heritage. The Secretariat plays a central role in implementing the Action Plan for Official Languages. It is responsible for coordinating files related to official languages in the government and for assisting the Minister for Official Languages in their horizontal management.
Department of Justice
The Department of Justice was responsible for developing the 1998 Official Languages Act and retains overall responsibility for it. The Department advises the government on legal matters relating to the status or use of official languages and represents the government in cases involving language rights. The Department also has specific responsibilities for the administration of justice in both official languages and works in cooperation with the Treasury Board and the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Public Service Commission of Canada
The Public Service Commission of Canada is a central agency responsible for implementing the Public Service Employment Act. It plays a major role in monitoring the implementation of language provisions for staffing in the public service. It is also responsible for language evaluation and testing and oversees the application of the Public Service Official Languages Exclusion Approval Order.
Canada School of Public Service
The Canada School of Public Service is the common learning service provider for federal public servants. While the School offers language maintenance courses (in-class) and a variety of on-line courses and tools, since April 2007, it no longer provides in-class second language training. These courses are now offered by private sector service providers, under the supervision of the Canada School of Public Service, who remains responsible for quality assurance.
Standing Committees on Official Languages
The Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages monitor the implementation of the Official Languages Act and the implementation and review of reports to Parliament by the Commissioner of Official Languages, the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Canadian Heritage.