A Description of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations

Table of Contents

Introduction

This document describes the Official languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations respecting communications with and services to the public in either official language in some detail; it does not, however, cover every aspect, nor provide a legal interpretation of the Regulations. On the other hand, it should help the reader gain a general understanding of their content.

The Regulations were registered by the Clerk of the Privy Council on . These Regulations were made pursuant to Section 32 of the Official Languages Act (OLA), following the extensive consultation process required by sections 84, 85, and 86 of the Act.

It is to be noted that any reference to “federal institutions” in this description applies to departments, organizations, Crown corporations, and privatized organizations affected by enabling legislation or any other legislation containing provisions according to which they are subject to the OLA, except for the Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, and the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

Part I - Significant Demand

The Official Languages Act provides for regulations on what constitutes significant demand for communications with and services from an office of a federal institution in either official language (Section 32). In the present Regulations, the following parameters set out by the Act were taken into account for determining the circumstances in which there is significant demand:

  1. the size of the linguistic minority population of the area served by an office or facility, the particular characteristics of that population and the proportion of the minority to the total population of that area;
  2. the volume of communications or services between an office or facility and the public; and
  3. any other factor considered appropriate.

In the Regulations, the English or French linguistic minority population is defined as the official language minority population in a given province, as determined by Statistics Canada under “Method 1” described in its publication “Population Estimates by First Official Language Spoken”. This statistical method involves combining in an objective way the various figures on knowledge of official languages, mother tongue and home language. The statistics are drawn from the most recent decennial Census. However, where the rules refer to a province in which the linguistic minority represents 5% of the total population of the province, the 1986 Census will be the reference point for establishing the 5% figure.

There are two sets of rules for significant demand in these Regulations. The first set (A) has a general application, the second set (B) only applies to specific services excluded from the application of the general rules. However, it should be noted that these rules do not apply to the National Capital Region (NCR), since federal offices in the NCR are expressly required by the Official Languages Act to provide their services in English and in French.

A. General Rules on Significant Demand

1. Major Urban Areas

Major urban areas with a general population of 100,000 or more are referred to as Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs). Separate sets of rules cover CMAs with a minority population of at least 5,000, and those with less than 5,000.

  1. Census Metropolitan Areas With a Minority of at Least 5,000

    Offices of a federal institution in these CMAs have to provide services in both official languages as follows:

    • when a federal institution has only one office in the CMA providing a certain service, that office has to offer its services in both languages;
    • if a federal institution has several offices in the CMA offering the same services, it has to provide them in both official languages at a proportion of offices at least equal to the proportion of the minority population in the CMA. The distribution of the minority population, the function of the offices and their location within the CMA has to be taken into account in the selection of offices. (In all cases, at least one of the multiple offices is to offer its services in both languages.)
    • in the case of federal institutions providing the following specific services (key services): Post Office, Employment or Human Resources Centre, Income Security Programs office, Income Tax office, Canadian Heritage office and Public Service Commission office, there is an additional provision. If a federal institution has multiple offices offering the above services in a CMA with a minority of 5,000 and with a general population of at least 1,000,000 located in Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick, it must provide them in both official languages at a proportion of these offices at least equal to the proportion of the minority in the CMA, plus one more office per service beyond the number of offices that reflects the proportion of the minority. As of the 1986 Census, only the institutions offering the above specific services in the CMAs of Toronto and Montreal are affected by this rule.

    These rules apply in 20 of the 32 large urban areas (CMAs) across Canada: (Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, Québec, Sherbrooke, Montréal, Kingston, Oshawa, Toronto, Hamilton, St.Catherines-Niagara, Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, London, Windsor, Greater Sudbury-Grand Sudbury, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria)

     (See s. 5(l)(a), (b) and (c) of the Regulations.)

  2. Census Metropolitan Areas With a Minority of Less Than 5,000

    In a CMA with a minority population of less than 5,000, services have to be provided in both official languages:

    • at one office providing the following specific services (key services): Post Office, Employment or Human Resources Centre, Income Security Programs office, Income Tax office, Canadian Heritage office and Public Service Commission office;
    • if a federal institution has several offices offering one of the above‑mentioned services, at a proportion of such offices at least equal to that of the minority population in the CMA, taking into account the distribution of the minority population, the function of the offices and their location;
    • aside from the above offices, at any office located in the CMA whose service area has a minority of at least 5,000 persons;
    • and at other types of offices where, over a year, demand for services in the official language of the minority population is at least 5% of overall demand.

    These rules apply in the following large urban areas (CMAs): St John’s, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Peterborough, Brantford, Guelph, Barrie, Thunder Bay, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna and Abbotsford-Mission.

    (See s. 5(l)(d), (e) and (g) of the Regulations.)

2. Towns and Rural Areas

In defining significant demand, the Regulations also take into account the situation of minority populations living in smaller cities and towns as well as in rural areas. There are, therefore, a number of rules based on Census subdivisions (CSDs), the basic building blocks of the Census. (Census subdivisions outside CMAs represent municipalities, smaller cities and towns, and rural areas.)

  1. Census Subdivisions With a Minority of at Least 500 and Equal to 5% of the Total Population

    Communications and services are to be provided in both official languages at offices located in and serving a Census subdivision with a minority population of at least 500 that is also equal to at least 5% of the general population of the subdivision. This rule is intended to ensure that there is an appropriate test for offices that offer their services at a local level, usually within a town itself.

    In these CSDs, if there are two or more offices providing the same services, a proportion of offices at least equal to the proportion of the minority has to provide communications and services in both official languages. When the minority is 30% or more of the general population, all multiple offices are to provide services in both languages.

    (See s. 5(l)(h)(iii) and 5(1)(i) and (j) of the Regulations.)

  2. Census Subdivisions With a Minority of at Least 500 but Less Than 5% of the Total Population

    A number of rules apply to offices located in and serving a Census subdivision where the minority is at least 500 but less than 5% of the general population. Services are to be provided in both official languages as follows:

    • at one office of each of the following specific services (key services) if these are available in the community: Post Office, Employment or Human Resources Centre, Income Security Programs office, Income Tax office, Canadian Heritage office and Public Service Commission office, Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment;
    • if a federal institution has several offices providing one of these services, at a proportion of these offices that is at least equal to that of the minority, the choice of which must take into account the distribution of the minority population, the function of the offices and their location; and
    • at any other type of office in the CSD where demand in the language of the minority is at least 5% of the overall demand over a year.

    (See s. 5(l)(k), (1) and (m) of the Regulations.)

  3. Census Subdivisions With a Minority of at Least 200 and Less Than 500 but Equal to at Least 5% of the Total Population

    When the office is located in and serves a Census subdivision (CSD) where the minority is between 200 and 500 and equal to at least 5% of the general population, services are to be provided in both official languages at one office of each of the specific services mentioned in (b) and at any other office in the CSD where demand in the language of the minority is at least 5% of overall demand over a year.

    (See s. 5(1) (n) and (o) of the Regulations.)

  4. Census Subdivisions With a Minority of Less Than 200 but Equal to at Least 30% of the Total Population

    The specific services mentioned in (b) have to be provided in both official languages when the office is located in and serves a Census subdivision where the minority is less than 200 but represents at least 30% of the population.

    (See s. 5(l)(p) of the Regulations.)

  5. Service Areas With a Minority of at Least 500 and Equal to 5% of the Total Population, or a Minority of at Least 5,000

    Services in both official languages have to be provided at any office that is located outside a Census Metropolitan Area but whose service area has a minority official language population of at least 500 that is equal to at least 5% of the general population, or a minority of at least 5,000 regardless of the percentage.

    This service area rule is essential for situations in which federal institutions organize their service delivery on the basis of service areas that do not coincide with Census boundaries. This rule is intended to apply, for example, to a situation where one office serves one or more towns as well as the surrounding region and the limits of this service area do not coincide with those of Census units.

    (See s. 5(l)(h)(i) and (ii) of the Regulations.)

  6. Census Subdivisions or Service Areas Where Population Figures Cannot Be Determined

    Services from an office where the minority and total population figures of the Census subdivision or service area of the office cannot be determined, or cannot be released because of Statistics Canada confidentiality requirements, have to be in both languages if demand in the minority language at that office is at least 5% of overall demand over a year.

    (See s. 5(l)(q) and (r) of the Regulations.)

  7. Offices Serving an English-speaking and a French-speaking Province

    Offices serving an area that includes parts of two provinces whose respective linguistic minority populations have different official languages have to provide services in both official languages.

    (See s. 5(l)(h)(iv) of the Regulations.)

3. Other Provisions

The general rules also include a provision to ensure that the majority linguistic population of each province receives services in its language from all offices serving the general public in that province.

(See s. 5(2) of the Regulations.)

4. Offices Outside Canada

An office or facility of a federal institution located outside Canada (other than embassies and consulates) have significant demand in either official language if, over a year, demand from the public for services in that language is at least 5% of overall demand.

(See s. 5(3) of the Regulations.)

B. Specific Rules on Significant Demand

These rules applying to specific services take precedence over the foregoing general rules on significant demand.

(See s. 5(4) of the Regulations.)

1. Restricted Clientele

Services are to be available in English or French from an office when those services are specifically intended for a restricted clientele which is fully identifiable, and at least 5% prefer to have services in that language. Examples of services to such a clientele are the inspection of food processing establishments as well as services to inmates of federal correctional facilities.

(See s. 6(1)(a) of the Regulations.)

2. Maritime Communications

There is significant demand in both official languages at offices providing ship‑to‑shore communications services, such as vessel traffic services and radio services from coast guard stations, if these offices serve the St. Lawrence River, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, or the Bay of Fundy. These communications are also to be provided in either official language from any other office where demand for these services in that language is at least 5% of overall demand over a year.

(See s. 6(1)(b) and 6(2)(a) of the Regulations.)

3. Air Traffic Control

Air traffic control services will continue to be provided pursuant to the Aeronautical Communications Standards and Procedures Order already in place, which provides for bilingual services in the airspace over Quebec and some adjacent areas.

(See s. 6(2)(b) of the Regulations.)

4. Border Crossing and Other Places of Entry Into Canada

Services in both official languages are to be provided at border crossings handling at least 500,000 people per year in a province where the minority is at least 5% of the general population (Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick). Services in either official language will be required at remaining border posts located in these provinces where demand in that language from the public is at least 5% of overall demand over a year.

It should be noted that, under the “nature of the office” rules, at least one border post per province is required to provide its services in both official languages.

(See s. 6(l)(d), 6(2)(c) and 10(e) of the Regulations.)

The services referred to above are those normally provided at border crossings, that is, primarily customs services but also other services including some services related to immigration that customs officers are authorized to provide.

For immigration services to persons seeking to come into Canada that only immigration officers can provide at a place of entry into Canada, these are to be in either official language at a place of entry into Canada where demand in that language from the public is at least 5% of overall demand in a year.

It should be noted that for immigration services there is also a provision under “nature of the office” requiring that at least one point of entry per province provide immigration services in both official languages.

(See s. 6(1)(c) and 10(d) of the Regulations.)

5. Search and Rescue Services

Search and rescue services provided from long‑range vessels and from aircraft distinctively marked by the Coast Guard or the Department of National Defence (ND) or operated by ND crews trained in search and rescue are to be provided in both official languages in or over Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, as well as the adjoining areas of Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait and James Bay and the Halifax search and rescue region (which covers the rest of the Maritime provinces as well as Newfoundland). Search and rescue services provided from such vessels and aircraft will be in either official language in regions in the remainder of Canada if demand in that language is at least 5% of overall demand over a year.

(See s. 6(l)(e) and 6(2)(d) of the Regulations.)

6. Airports, Railway Stations and Ferry Terminals

Federal services are to be provided to the travelling public in both official languages at the following:

  • federal airports and designated airport authorities handling at least one million passengers a year (St-John’s, Halifax, Montréal, Quebec, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria);
  • federal railway stations in Census Metropolitan Areas with a minority of at least 5,000, and Census subdivisions with a minority of at least 500 that is equal to at least 5% of the total population;
  • federal ferry terminals in Canada with at least 100,000 arriving and departing passengers per year .

Services at other federal airports and designated airport authorities, federal railway stations and ferry terminals are to be provided in either official language if demand for services in that language is at least 5% of overall demand over a year.

It should be noted that the same requirements apply to services to the travelling public offered by federal offices in airports that are not themselves subject to the Official Languages Act.  

(See s. 7(1), (3), (4)(a) and (b) of the Regulations.)

7. Conveyances Operated by Air Canada, VIA Rail, and Marine Atlantic

The rules covering services provided by aircraft of Air Canada, VIA Rail trains and Marine Atlantic ferries are based on their routes. (Where appropriate, the definition of a route takes into account two‑way transportation service by the above conveyances; see the “Interpretation” section of the Regulations.)

Services are to be provided in both official languages:

  • on Air Canada routes that start or finish at airports serving the National Capital Region, Montreal and Moncton or that have stopovers at the same airports; as well, routes that start and finish at airports located in the following three provinces: Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick;
  • on VIA Rail routes within or between the above three provinces as well as transcontinental services;
  • on Marine Atlantic ferry routes having at least 100,000 passengers a year.

As well, services are to be provided in either official language:

  • on any other Air Canada, VIA Rail or Marine Atlantic route when demand for services in that language is at least 5% of overall demand over a year.

See s. 7(2) and 7(4)(c), (d) and (e) of the Regulations.)

8. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Detachment

Services are provided in either official language when provided in a province by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment on sections of the Trans-Canada Highway where there is a point of entry into another province that is officially bilingual, when demand for services in that language is at least 5% of overall demand over a year. 

See s.  6 (1)(f)

Part II - Nature of the Office

The Official Languages Act provides for the Governor in Council to specify circumstances in which it is reasonable, because of the nature of an office or facility, that communications and services be available in both official languages (Section 24). These services have to be provided in both languages whenever the stated circumstances apply, without taking into consideration the actual level of demand. The circumstances specified below are listed under the general headings provided for by the Act.

A. Health, Safety and Security of the Public

  • federal offices providing emergency services, including first aid services in a clinic or nursing station at an airport, railway station or ferry terminal;
  • signs and standardized announcements regarding the health, safety and security of (a) travellers using federal aircraft, trains and ferries; (b) the public at federal airports, railway stations and ferry terminals, and (c) the public using federal buildings or their grounds;
  • written notices or signs that include words used by federal institutions to alert the public to explosive, chemical or similar hazards.

(See s. 8(a), (b) and (c) of the Regulations.)

B. Location of the Office

  • offices or facilities of federal institutions located in or serving national and historic parks under the National Parks Act (including one post office per park);
  • the principal offices of federal institutions serving the general public in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon and Nunavut.

(See s. 9(a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) of the Regulations.)

C. National or International Mandate of the Office

  • services provided by embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions;
  • services provided at the principal border crossing in a province, other than services provided by immigration officers;
  • immigration services available at the point of entry into Canada in a province which is the point of entry that serves, in that province, the greatest number of persons seeking to come into Canada;
  • popular exhibitions and games of national or international scope for which federal institutions are responsible, as well as their activities at such events when other organizations are responsible.

(See s. 10(a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) of the Regulations.)

D. Other Circumstances

  • correspondence and toll‑free long‑distance telephone services (“800” and “888”) provided by a federal office serving a whole province or several entire provinces (also services provided by local telephone lines if the services are the same as those provided by long distance telephone);
  • federal services made available by an office through automated systems accessible to the public;
  • signs of federal institutions in federal airports, railway stations and ferry terminals (that is, signs other than what is already covered under “Health, Safety and Security”), including information display systems for flights, train services, ferry services and baggage.

(See s. 11(a), (b) and (c) of the Regulations.)

Part III - Services to the Travelling Public Provided By Contract

The Official Languages Act establishes obligations on federal institutions with regard to certain services for the travelling public provided by commercial establishments through a contract in federal airports, railway stations, ferry terminals, and conveyances, if these facilities have significant demand (as established under the rules in Part I of the Regulations entitled “Significant Demand”).

A. Services

This Part of the Regulations prescribes those services that are to be provided to the travelling public in either official language as follows:

  • restaurants, cafeterias, car rental services, travel insurance, ground transportation dispatch services, foreign exchange, duty‑free shops, and hotel services;
  • self‑service equipment, for example, automated banking machines and instructions for public telephones; and
  • services provided by carriers (except for the services of bus companies in railway stations), including counter services for tickets, procedures for boarding and public announcements.

B. Manner of Providing Services

All printed and pre‑recorded material, such as signs, notices and menus, etc., are to be displayed or made available to the travelling public in both official languages. Services provided by other means are to be offered to the travelling public by using such means as will enable the client to obtain them in the official language of his or her choice (these could include, for example, telephone links or automated devices as well as face‑to‑face communications).

(For both of the above, see s. 12(1), (2) and (3) of the Regulations.)

Part IV - Coming Into Force of Regulations

It should be noted that the actual registration date of the Regulations, namely , determines the starting point for the calculation of the time available before they came into force. Part IV of the Regulations in fact specifies different time frames for the coming into force of the various provisions (set out in s. 13).

Offices that fall under criteria for “automatic” significant demand, that is, where no measurement of demand is required, as well as those covered by most of the nature of the office rules, have one year to implement the Regulations from the time they were registered.

(Specifically, s. 1 to 4, s. 5(1) (a) to (c), s. 5(l)(e) to (j), s. 5(1)(l) to (p), s. 5(2) and s. 5(4), s. 6(2)(b) and (c), s. 7(3) and (4), s. 8, s. 9(a) to (c), s. 10 and s. 11 of the Regulations.)

Offices that must first measure demand have two years to measure it and to meet their obligations. Two provisions under nature of the office are also in this group because they require a determination of the offices in the Yukon and Northwest Territories that serve the greatest number of persons wishing to receive their services in French.

(Specifically, s. 5(l)(d), (k), (n), (q), and (r), s. 5(3), s. 6(l)(a), (c) and (d), s. 7(1) and (2), and s. 9(d) and (e) of the Regulations.)

Certain specific federal services, as well as services provided by carriers and commercial establishments that provide contracted services to the travelling public at facilities where there is significant demand, have three years to implement the requirements that concern them. The federal services in question are maritime communications and search and rescue services.

(Specifically, s. 6(l)(b), (e) and (d), s. 6(2), and (d) and s. 12 of the Regulations.)

A Note on Measuring Demand

For the majority of federal offices with the obligation to provide services in both official languages as required by the Regulations, this obligation is established through definitions of significant demand based on the demographic characteristics of the population served by an office, on the volume of services provided, or on an appropriate combination of these, without having to assess the actual amount or proportion of services requested in either official language. However, the Regulations also provide for a few situations in which some offices will be required to measure demand. The Regulations themselves only define significant demand but do not specify the methods to be used for measuring it. Treasury Board has, under the Official Languages Act, the power to issue directives relating to matters such as measuring demand.

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