What is the source of my language rights?

What does “language complaint” mean, exactly?

Oui, mais, à quoi ça sert de faire une plainte linguistique ?

What authorities are responsible for receiving and handling language complaints?

Okay, I have filed a complaint. What happens next?

What is the source of my language rights?

Depending on where you live in Canada, you have a range of language rights in your relations with the various levels of government.

For example, Canada and New Brunswick both guarantee the right to use English or French to communicate with or receive services from their government institutions. This right applies to all federal and New Brunswick public institutions, government departments and offices, Crown corporations (such as VIA Rail, the CBC and NB Energy), organizations and corporations acting on behalf of the government, and even some private corporations (such as Air Canada).

Ontario, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have enacted legislation and taken other measures to ensure active offer of government services in French to their francophone minorities.

The Northwest Territories and Nunavut guarantee the provision of government services not only in English and French but also in certain indigenous languages. Nunavut has adopted an ambitious scheme to revitalize Inuktut and make it a prime language of public service in the territory.

In accordance with its statutory obligations, the City of Ottawa guarantees Ottawa residents equal access to municipal services in both official languages.

Some public institutions, such as the University of Ottawa, Laurentian University and the Law Society of Ontario, in addition to having statutory obligations, have adopted internal regulations and policies guaranteeing access to services in French.

All of these governments and institutions have created entities (commissioners, secretariats, offices, etc.) responsible for overseeing the implementation of the applicable language norms through a mechanism for dealing with language complaints.

What does “language complaint” mean, exactly?

A language complaint is a report by an individual of a specific incident in which a law, regulation or policy guaranteeing the offer of services in an official language or languages was not followed.

A complaint is therefore an official mechanism to communicate a person’s dissatisfaction or concerns about the absence of services in the official language of their choice, the inadequate quality of the services, or the lack of personnel to respond to the official language minority community’s needs.

For example, a complaint could be about:

  • At the federal level: a customs inspection at the airport, an Air Canada flight, a VIA Rail train trip, an incident in which an individual interacted with a bilingual federal institution in writing, by telephone or in person, and so on.
  • At the provincial level: renewing your driver’s licence, applying for a birth certificate, an incident in which an individual interacted with the office of a government body in writing, by telephone or in person, and so on.
  • At the municipal level: official communications from municipal offices such as public notices and property tax bills, directional posters and signs, and so on.
  • At the institutional level: in the case of Ontario institutions subject to the French Language Services Act (the Law Society of Ontario and designated universities), an inadequate offer of service that does not meet the legal obligations of the institution in question.

This means that you can file a complaint at any time when you believe your language rights have not been respected.

Yes, but what is the point of making a language complaint?

It is very important to inform the competent authorities of any violations of language rights:

  • To enforce your rights: The federal government, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba, as well as a number of municipalities and major institutions, guarantee your right to receive services in the official language of your choice. Language rights are fundamental rights that should be protected.
  • To identify problems and find solutions: Complaints serve as notifications that a one-time or systemic problem exists of which the persons responsible were not yet aware. By filing a complaint, you make it possible for the competent authorities to take action with the bodies in question, so they are able to find a fair solution and, especially, so they can take steps to prevent similar violations in the future.
  • To educate governments and institutions: Relatively often, language rights violations result from a lack of knowledge or understanding of what is required by the applicable language laws, regulations and policies. By filing a complaint, you help to make the governments and institutions in question aware of the scope of their obligations to respect your language rights.

What authorities are responsible for receiving and handling language complaints?

Planctus allows you to submit language complaints to 12 different competent authorities with responsibility for protecting your language rights; they are:

  1. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada
  2. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
  3. The Ontario Ombudsman
  4. The Languages Commissioner of Nunavut
  5. The Languages Commissioner of the Northwest Territories
  6. The Prince Edward Island Acadian and Francophone Affairs Secretariat and the Complaints Officer
  7. The Manitoba Francophone Affairs Secretariat
  8. The City of Ottawa’s French Language Services Branch
  9. The City of Winnipeg’s French Language Services Branch
  10. The University of Ottawa’s Standing Committee on Francophone Affairs and Official Languages
  11. The Francophone Academic and Affairs Division of the Office of the Associate Vice-President of Laurentian University
  12. The Law Society of Ontario’s French Language Services Advisor

Okay, I have filed a complaint. What happens next?

Well done! When a complaint is submitted via planctus, it is dealt with by the commissioner’s office or complaints office in question. Normally, you should receive an email acknowledging receipt. The competent authority will then determine whether the complaint is admissible (that is, whether it was sent to the right authority) and, if so, will initiate an investigation to discover the causes of the problems and will work with the government department or the institution or office concerned to find a solution. Each competent authority operates by its own service standards, but you can generally expect to receive a follow-up email within a few weeks after you file your complaint.

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Do you know which language commissioner, or which office, you should address your complaint to?