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Official Languages Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.))

Act current to 2024-05-28 and last amended on 2024-01-01. Previous Versions

Official Languages Act

R.S.C., 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.)

An Act respecting the status and use of the official languages of Canada

[1988, c. 38, assented to 28th July, 1988]
Preamble

WHEREAS the Constitution of Canada provides that English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada;

AND WHEREAS the Constitution of Canada provides for full and equal access to Parliament, to the laws of Canada and to courts established by Parliament in both official languages;

AND WHEREAS the Constitution of Canada also provides for guarantees relating to the right of any member of the public to communicate with, and to receive available services from, any institution of the Parliament or government of Canada in either official language;

AND WHEREAS employees of institutions of the Parliament or government of Canada should have equal opportunities to use the official language of their choice while working together in pursuing the goals of those institutions;

AND WHEREAS English-speaking Canadians and French-speaking Canadians should, without regard to their ethnic origin or first language learned, have equal opportunities to obtain employment in the institutions of the Parliament or government of Canada;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada is committed to achieving, with due regard to the principle of selection of personnel according to merit, full participation of English-speaking Canadians and French-speaking Canadians in its institutions;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada is committed to enhancing the vitality and supporting the development of English and French linguistic minority communities — taking into account their uniqueness, diversity and historical and cultural contributions to Canadian society — as an integral part of the two official language communities of Canada, and to fostering full recognition and use of English and French in Canadian society;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada is committed to protecting and promoting the French language, recognizing that French is in a minority situation in Canada and North America due to the predominant use of English;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada is committed to cooperating with provincial and territorial governments and their institutions to support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities, to provide services in both English and French, to respect the constitutional guarantees of minority language educational rights and to enhance opportunities for all to learn both English and French;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada is committed to enhancing the bilingual character of the National Capital Region and to encouraging the business community, labour organizations and voluntary organizations in Canada to foster the recognition and use of English and French;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of providing opportunities for everyone in Canada to learn a second official language and the contribution of everyone in Canada who speaks both official languages to a mutual appreciation between the two official language communities of Canada;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting sectors that are essential to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities and protecting and promoting the presence of strong institutions serving those communities;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation contributes through its activities to enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities and to the protection and promotion of both official languages;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of remedying the decline in the demographic weight of French linguistic minority communities, including by restoring and increasing their demographic weight;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of francophone immigration in enhancing the vitality of French linguistic minority communities, including by restoring and increasing their demographic weight;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of the French language to trade and economic activity and the contribution of francophone immigration to the economy;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of including a francophone perspective in funding programs;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the presence of English or French linguistic minority communities in each province and territory;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of the provincial and territorial language regimes that contribute to the advancement of the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society, including that

the Constitution of Canada provides every person with the right to use English or French in the debates of the Houses of the Legislature of Quebec and those of the Legislature of Manitoba and the right to use English or French in any pleading or process in or from the courts of those provinces,

Quebec’s Charter of the French language provides that French is the official language of Quebec,

the Constitution of Canada provides that English and French are the official languages of New Brunswick and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the legislature and government of New Brunswick, and

the Constitution of Canada provides that the English linguistic community and the French linguistic community in New Brunswick have equality of status and equal rights and privileges;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes that each province and territory has adopted laws, policies or programs guaranteeing service in French or recognizing the contribution of the English or French linguistic minority community to Canadian society;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of maintaining and enhancing the use of languages other than English and French and reclaiming, revitalizing and strengthening Indigenous languages while strengthening the status and use of the official languages;

AND WHEREAS all legal obligations related to the official languages apply at all times, including during emergencies;

NOW, THEREFORE, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:

  • R.S., 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.), Preamble
  • 2023, c. 15, s. 2

Short Title

Marginal note:Short title

 This Act may be cited as the Official Languages Act.

Purpose of Act

Marginal note:Purpose

 The purpose of this Act is to

  • (a) ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada and ensure equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions, in particular with respect to their use in parliamentary proceedings, in legislative and other instruments, in the administration of justice, in communicating with or providing services to the public and in carrying out the work of federal institutions;

  • (b) support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities in order to protect them while taking into account the fact that they have different needs;

  • (b.1) advance the equality of status and use of the English and French languages within Canadian society, taking into account the fact that French is in a minority situation in Canada and North America due to the predominant use of English and that there is a diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes that contribute to the advancement, including Quebec’s Charter of the French language, which provides that French is the official language of Quebec;

  • (b.2) advance the existence of a majority-French society in a Quebec where the future of French is assured; and

  • (c) set out the powers, duties and functions of federal institutions with respect to the official languages of Canada.

Government-wide Coordination

Marginal note:President of the Treasury Board

  •  (1) The President of the Treasury Board is responsible for exercising leadership within the Government of Canada in relation to the implementation of this Act.

  • Marginal note:Coordination

    (2) The President of the Treasury Board shall, in consultation with the other ministers of the Crown, coordinate the implementation of this Act, including the implementation of the commitments set out in subsections 41(1) to (3), and ensure good governance of this Act.

Marginal note:Government-wide strategy on official languages

  •  (1) The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall, in consultation with the President of the Treasury Board, develop and maintain a government-wide strategy that sets out the overall official languages priorities.

  • Marginal note:Cooperation

    (1.1) For greater certainty, the Minister of Canadian Heritage shall perform the duty under subsection (1) in cooperation with the other ministers of the Crown.

  • Marginal note:Tabling in Parliament

    (2) That Minister shall cause the strategy to be tabled in each House of Parliament within the first 15 days on which that House is sitting after the strategy has been developed, and periodically after that.

  • Marginal note:Accessible to public

    (3) That Minister shall make the strategy accessible to the public through the Internet or by any other means that that Minister considers appropriate.

Marginal note:Process — implementation of commitment under subsection 41(4)

 The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall establish a process for the Government of Canada to implement its commitment under subsection 41(4).

Interpretation

Marginal note:Definitions

  •  (1) In this Act,

    business day

    business day means a day other than

    • (a) a Saturday;

    • (b) a Sunday or other holiday; and

    • (c) a day that falls during the seasonal recess, as defined in section 2 of the Federal Courts Rules; (jour ouvrable)

    Commissioner

    Commissioner means the Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada appointed under section 49; (commissaire)

    communication

    communication means any form of communication, including oral, written, electronic, virtual or other communications; (communication)

    Crown corporation

    Crown corporation means

    • (a) a corporation that is ultimately accountable, through a Minister, to Parliament for the conduct of its affairs, and

    • (b) a parent Crown corporation or a wholly-owned subsidiary, within the meaning of section 83 of the Financial Administration Act; (sociétés d’État)

    department

    department means a department as defined in section 2 of the Financial Administration Act; (ministère)

    federal institution

    federal institution includes any of the following institutions of the Parliament or government of Canada:

    • (a) the Senate,

    • (b) the House of Commons,

    • (c) the Library of Parliament,

    • (c.1) the office of the Senate Ethics Officer and the office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner,

    • (c.2) the Parliamentary Protective Service,

    • (c.3) the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer,

    • (d) any federal court,

    • (e) any board, commission or council, or other body or office, established to perform a governmental function by or pursuant to an Act of Parliament or by or under the authority of the Governor in Council,

    • (f) a department of the Government of Canada,

    • (g) a Crown corporation established by or pursuant to an Act of Parliament, and

    • (h) any other body that is specified by an Act of Parliament to be an agent of Her Majesty in right of Canada or to be subject to the direction of the Governor in Council or a minister of the Crown,

    but does not include

    • (i) any institution of the Legislative Assembly or government of Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut, or

    • (j) any Indian band, band council or other body established to perform a governmental function in relation to an Indian band or other group of aboriginal people; (institutions fédérales)

    National Capital Region

    National Capital Region means the National Capital Region described in the schedule to the National Capital Act; (région de la capitale nationale)

    publication

    publication means any form of publication, regardless of the medium, including printed, electronic, virtual or other publications; (publication)

    restoration

    restoration means, in relation to the demographic weight of French linguistic minority communities, a return of the demographic weight of all members of those communities whose first official language spoken is French to the level it had at the time of the census of population of Canada taken by Statistics Canada in 1971, namely, 6.1% of the population outside Quebec; (rétablissement)

    service

    service means any form of service provided or made available, including oral, written, electronic, virtual or other services. (service)

  • Marginal note:Definition of federal court

    (2) In this section and in Parts II and III, federal court means any court, tribunal or other body that carries out adjudicative functions and is established by or pursuant to an Act of Parliament.

  • R.S., 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.), s. 3
  • 1993, c. 28, s. 78
  • 2002, c. 7, s. 224
  • 2004, c. 7, s. 26
  • 2006, c. 9, s. 20
  • 2014, c. 2, s. 39
  • 2015, c. 36, s. 144
  • 2017, c. 20, s. 179
  • 2023, c. 15, s. 6

Marginal note:Language rights

 For the purposes of this Act,

  • (a) language rights are to be given a large, liberal and purposive interpretation;

  • (b) language rights are to be interpreted in light of their remedial character;

  • (c) the norm for the interpretation of language rights is substantive equality; and

  • (d) language rights are to be interpreted by taking into account that French is in a minority situation in Canada and North America due to the predominant use of English and that the English linguistic minority community in Quebec and the French linguistic minority communities in the other provinces and territories have different needs.

PART IProceedings of Parliament

Marginal note:Official languages of Parliament

  •  (1) English and French are the official languages of Parliament, and everyone has the right to use either of those languages in any debates and other proceedings of Parliament.

  • Marginal note:Simultaneous interpretation

    (2) Facilities shall be made available for the simultaneous interpretation of the debates and other proceedings of Parliament from one official language into the other.

  • Marginal note:Official reports

    (3) Everything reported in official reports of debates or other proceedings of Parliament shall be reported in the official language in which it was said and a translation thereof into the other official language shall be included therewith.

PART IILegislative and Other Instruments

Marginal note:Journals and other records

 The journals and other records of Parliament shall be made and kept, and shall be printed and published, in both official languages.

Marginal note:Acts of Parliament

 All Acts of Parliament shall be enacted, printed and published in both official languages.

Marginal note:Legislative instruments

  •  (1) An instrument shall be made in both official languages and, if printed and published, shall be printed and published in both official languages, if it is made in the execution of a legislative power conferred by or under an Act of Parliament and

    • (a) is made by, or with the approval of, the Governor in Council or one or more ministers of the Crown;

    • (b) is required by or under an Act of Parliament to be published in the Canada Gazette; or

    • (c) is of a public and general nature.

  • Marginal note:Instruments under prerogative or other executive power

    (2) All instruments made in the exercise of a prerogative or other executive power that are of a public and general nature shall be made in both official languages and, if printed and published, shall be printed and published in both official languages.

  • Marginal note:Exceptions

    (3) Subsection (1) does not, by reason only that the ordinance, by-law, law or other instrument is of a public and general nature, apply to

    • (a) a law made by the Legislature of Yukon, of the Northwest Territories or for Nunavut, or any instrument made under any such law, or

    • (b) a by-law, law or other instrument of an Indian band, band council or other body established to perform a governmental function in relation to an Indian band or other group of aboriginal people.

  • R.S., 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.), s. 7
  • 1993, c. 28, s. 78
  • 2002, c. 7, s. 225
  • 2014, c. 2, s. 40
  • 2023, c. 15, s. 8

Marginal note:Documents in Parliament

 Any document made by or under the authority of a federal institution that is tabled in the Senate or the House of Commons by the Government of Canada shall be tabled in both official languages.

Marginal note:Rules, etc., governing practice and procedure

 All rules, orders and regulations governing the practice or procedure in any proceedings before a federal court shall be made, printed and published in both official languages.

Marginal note:International treaties

  •  (1) The Government of Canada shall take all possible measures to ensure that any treaty or convention between Canada and one or more other states is authenticated in both official languages.

  • Marginal note:Federal-provincial-territorial agreements

    (2) The Government of Canada has the duty to ensure that the following classes of agreements between Canada and one or more provinces or territories are made in both official languages and that both versions are equally authoritative:

    • (a) agreements that require the authorization of Parliament or the Governor in Council to be effective;

    • (b) agreements entered into with one or more provinces or territories if English and French are declared to be the official languages of any of those provinces or territories or if any of them requests that the agreement be made in English and French; and

    • (c) agreements entered into with two or more provinces or territories if their governments do not use the same official language.

  • Marginal note:Regulations

    (3) The Governor in Council may make regulations prescribing the circumstances in which any class, specified in the regulations, of agreements that are made between Canada and one or more other states or between Canada and one or more provinces or territories

    • (a) must be made in both official languages;

    • (b) must be made available in both official languages at the time of signing or publication; or

    • (c) must, on request, be translated.

Marginal note:Notices, advertisements and other published matters

  •  (1) A notice, advertisement or other matter that is required or authorized by or under an Act of Parliament to be published by or under the authority of a federal institution primarily for the information of members of the public shall,

    • (a) wherever possible, appear in publications in general circulation within each region where the matter applies, with the English version appearing in at least one publication that is mainly in English and the French version appearing in at least one publication that is mainly in French or those two versions appearing in at least one publication that appears equally in English and French; and

    • (b) if there is no publication in general circulation within a region where the matter applies that is mainly in English or mainly in French and no publication in general circulation within that region that appears equally in English and French, appear in both official languages in at least one publication in general circulation within that region.

  • Marginal note:Publications in electronic form

    (1.1) For greater certainty, a publication referred to in subsection (1) includes a publication in an electronic form.

  • Marginal note:Equal prominence

    (2) Where a notice, advertisement or other matter is printed in one or more publications pursuant to subsection (1), it shall be given equal prominence in each official language.

 

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