New law on the use of French in federally regulated private businesses
In March 2022, the Minister of Official Languages introduced Bill C-13 – an improved bill for substantive equality between Canada’s official languages – in the House of Commons. In addition to amendments to the Official Languages Act, Bill C-13 provides for the creation of a new act, namely the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act.
The current Official Languages Act requires federal institutions to take positive measures to implement some of the federal government's commitments. The nature of these positive measures is specified in the bill. They may include measures, among others, to : promote and support the learning of English and French in Canada; foster an acceptance and appreciation of both English and French by members of the public; and support sectors that are essential to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities, including the culture, education — from early childhood to post-secondary education — health, justice, employment and immigration sectors, and protect and promote the presence of strong institutions serving those communities.
Institutions will have to apply these measures on the basis of analyses with the Anglophone and Francophone minorities. A special process will be put in place to ensure compliance with these measures within federal institutions, which will have to consider the negative impact that their decisions could have on the vitality of the English and French linguistic minorities once the Act comes into force.
In order to address the concerns of Francophones, particularly in minority situations, new rights and obligations to work and be served in French will be integrated into these private businesses under federal jurisdiction in Québec and in regions with a strong Francophone presence. Canadian Heritage will be responsible for overseeing the proper application of this Act on both aspects.
Regarding language of service, the bill guarantees consumers in Québec or a region with a strong francophone presence the right to communicate in French with and obtain available services in French from a federally regulated private business that carries out business in Québec or the region. Regarding language of work, the bill guarantees the following new rights for employees who occupy or are assigned to positions in a workplace in Québec or a region with a strong francophone presence : the right to carry out their work and be supervised in French; the right to receive all communications and documents from the business in French; and the right to use regularly and widely used work instruments and computer systems in French. The bill specifies, however, that the business may communicate with employees or provide documents in both official languages, so long as the use of French is at least equivalent to the use of English.
The new act would come into force in Québec at a later date to be fixed by order in council, and two years after that date in regions with a strong francophone presence, to give the businesses concerned time to prepare for the new requirements. The new regime provides that the Commissioner of Official Languages may impose administrative monetary penalties on certain entities that do not meet their linguistic obligations. The entities targeted are current or former Crown corporations that operate in the transportation field and that provide services to and communicate with the travelling public, including Air Canada, Marine Atlantic and VIA Rail.
Certain businesses would be excluded from the scope of the Act, including those with fewer employees than a threshold to be determined by regulation. The Act would allow for different thresholds to be established for businesses that have workplaces in Quebec and those that only conduct business in the province, by regulation. Broadcasting activities and workplaces would not be governed by this Act.
Bill C-13 is currently under consideration in committee in the House of Commons.