Summary of language rights in Canada and complaint mechanisms


Applicable Norms

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sections 16 to 20
Official Languages Act 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp)
Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, SOR/92-48


Canada became an officially bilingual country in 1969 with the first Official Languages Act (OLA). With the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, Canada's bilingual character was enshrined in the Constitution of Canada, the supreme law of the land. Under the Constitution, English and French are the official languages of Canada, with equal rights, status and privileges as to their use in the institutions of Parliament and the federal government. The OLA recognizes the minority status of the French language and obliges the government to protect and promote it in order to achieve substantive equality with English.

The term “federal institution” includes Parliament, federal government departments, federal courts and administrative tribunals, and federal Crown corporations (VIA Rail and Canada Post). In addition, certain organizations such as Air Canada, CN and NAV CANADA continued to have language obligations after being privatized.

Under the OLA, federal institutions must offer services in the official language of your choice without delay and the services must be of equal quality regardless of the language chosen.

Everyone has the right to communicate with and obtain services from the head or central office of federal institutions in the official language of their choice. Certain offices and points of service of federal offices also have an obligation to provide services in both languages, if they are located in the National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau) or in a region where there is significant demand for the use of a language, or justified by the nature of the office.

The OLA also protects the language rights of federal employees. Whether or not employees of federal institutions hold bilingual positions, they are entitled to work in the official language of their choice in the designated bilingual regions of New Brunswick; in metropolitan Montreal; in certain parts of the Eastern Townships, the Gaspé and west Quebec; in the National Capital Region; and in eastern and northern Ontario.

Complaint Mechanism

The OLA provides for the appointment of a Commissioner of Official Languages whose responsibilities include receiving and processing complaints relating to violations of language rights. The Commissioner has significant investigative powers and reports directly to Parliament.

A complaint can be submitted au Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada by the following methods:

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