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Policies for Ministers' Offices - January 2011

Part 9 — Official Languages

9.1 Official languages

Ministers, as well as their staff, must act in accordance with the prescriptions and requirements of the legislative, policy, and program framework described here. Provisions and requirements applicable to ministers' parliamentary, departmental, and constituency offices respectively can differ.

9.2 Background

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equal rights and privileges in all institutions of Parliament and government and sets out several other provisions on official languages.

The Official Languages Act (1988) gives effect to the Charter provisions on English and French as official languages. The Act and the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations govern the provision of service to the public in both official languages. There are also policies concerning the application of the Act and Regulations, as well as mechanisms in support of the Official Languages Program, most notably access to language training and the provision of translation and interpretation services.

Together, the Act and Regulations set out the circumstances in which communication with the public is to take place and services are to be provided in either official language, as the public chooses.

Section 22 of the Official Languages Act applies to those offices of ministers located in the National Capital Region (NCR). The Regulations apply to those offices that are not located in the NCR. The Directory of Offices and Service Points (BUROLIS) identifies all offices and service points obligated to provide services and communications in both official languages.

Also, employees of federal institutions have the right to work in the official language of their choice in regions designated bilingual for that purpose when they are not serving the public, if their position is bilingual or unilingual in their own language.

The Government of Canada is committed to achieving, with due regard to the merit principle, equitable participation, as well as equal opportunities for employment and advancement of English‑speaking and French‑speaking Canadians in federal institutions.

Each institution that is subject to the Act is responsible for its implementation within its area of responsibility.

The Treasury Board Secretariat is responsible for general direction and co-ordination regarding the Act's requirements of service to the public, language of work, and equitable participation in all institutions subject to the Official Languages Act. The Senate, the House of Commons, and the Library of Parliament are subject to the Act, but are not required to follow Treasury Board Secretariat policies on official languages and are not accountable to Treasury Board Secretariat for their performance.

9.3 Service to the public

Ministers' offices located in the NCR must have the capacity to communicate with and serve the public in both official languages. This obligation must effectively be discharged in all aspects of their interface with the public, whether written or oral. Ministers' offices must therefore have enough qualified staff to meet these requirements, which range from simple bilingual reception, in person or on the telephone, to the ability to deal with the public on substantive issues in both official languages.

9.4 Language of work

The NCR is one of the regions designated as bilingual for language of work. In ministers' offices that are located in the NCR, a work environment must be created that allows employees to use the official language of their choice when they are not serving the public. This must be reflected in the conduct and character of meetings, in the acceptance of documents and presentations in either official language, and in the issuing of instructions. Employees occupying bilingual positions or positions requiring the use of either English or French exclusively must be supervised or have supervision available to them in the language(s) of the position(s) supervised so that employees can speak and write in the official language of their choice.

9.5 Equitable participation

The Official Languages Act commits the federal government to ensuring that English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians have equal opportunities for employment and advancement within federal institutions without regard to their ethnic origin or their first language. The composition of the workforce of federal institutions should therefore reflect the presence of both linguistic communities. Ministers' offices should take these principles into account when establishing the composition of the personnel that will enable them to meet their needs and the office's obligations as regards service to the public and language of work.

9.6 Support mechanisms

Ministers' exempt staff should consult the deputy head of their respective department for additional general information on official languages. Departments have a director of official languages or another official responsible for official languages. This person can answer specific questions on departmental official languages programs, policies, and issues.

There are support mechanisms to help meet official-language requirements in federal institutions, including language training and translation services. There are Treasury Board policies on determining the language requirements of positions and the staffing of bilingual positions. Language training can be made available to ministers and their staff to enable those who require knowledge of both official languages to perform their duties. Translation and interpretation services are also available. These services, language training (when required of the position) and translation and interpretation services are funded through departmental operating budgets. Language training for positions not designated bilingual may be authorized at the discretion of the minister and is to be funded from the minister's operating budget.

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