Directive on the Implementation of the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations

Enables the Government of Canada to minimize the risks of applications for remedy before the courts because of an institutions’ violation of the public’s rights to communicate with that institutions and receive services from it in the official language of their choice.
Date modified: 2012-10-15

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actively offers (active offer)

Clearly indicate visually and verbally that members of the public can communicate with and obtain services from a designated office in either English or French. Mechanisms are in place to ensure that services are available in the official language chosen. The availability of communications and services in both official languages can be promoted in a number of ways:

  • Prominently displaying the official languages symbol

The official languages symbol: greeting the public in both official languages, beginning with French displayed first in Quebec and

The official languages symbol: greeting the public in both official languages, beginning with English displayed first elsewhere in Canada.

Institutions for which Treasury Board is not the employer may use this symbol or a comparable symbol.

  • Greeting members of the public in both official languages, beginning with the official language of the majority of the population of the province or territory where the office is located.
  • Ensuring that the office's recorded messages are entirely in both official languages.
  • Displaying forms and brochures of institutions subject to the OLA in a manner that respects the equal status of English and French.
  • Using permanent or temporary signs in both official languages to direct the public within an office.
  • Ensuring public-access computers permit the use of English and French software and keyboards.
bilingual regions

The list of Bilingual Regions of Canada for Language-of-Work Purposes is available on the TBS Web site.

conducive (workplace)

An organizational culture in which employees are systematically encouraged to use the official language of their choice in the workplace.

deputy heads

This term is equivalent to "deputy minister", "chief executive officer" and other titles denoting this level of responsibility.

designated offices

An office is designated bilingual for communications with and services to the members of the public if it meets criteria set out in the OLA or in the Regulations such as (not an exhaustive list):

  • an institution's head or central office;
  • an office within the National Capital Region;
  • an office of an institution that reports directly to Parliament;
  • an office where there is significant demand for services in either official languages;
  • an office, where due to its nature, it is reasonable that communications with and services from that office be available in both English and French.

A list of offices designated bilingual is available in Burolis.

English and French linguistic minority communities

English-speaking population in Quebec and French-speaking population outside Quebec.


Institution means:

  • Any institution subject to Parts IV, V and VI and section 91 of 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. For a formal definition of “federal institutions”, see section 3 of the OLA; and
  • Any institution whose acts of incorporation provide for the application of the OLA (e.g. Air Canada and NavCanada). 
key service

The Regulations list certain federal services to which specific provisions apply, namely, the following services within a Census Metropolitan Area: post office, employment or human resources centre, Income Security Programs office, tax office, Canadian Heritage office and Public Service Commission office. Within a Census Subdivision, the key services are the six services listed above, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachments.

method of communication

Any correspondence, memorandum, book, plan, map, drawing, diagram, pictorial or graphic work, photograph, film, microform, sound recording, videotape, machine readable record, and any other documentary material, regardless of whether it's in physical, electronic or any other format, and any copy thereof.


Any location where a federal institution provides services or information to the public. It can be a post office, a border port of entry, an information counter, a toll-free service telephone number, a train, boat or plane route or a commemorative plaque.

official languages unit

The official languages unit is a structure whose size and role are appropriate with regard to the institution's mandate. The unit may be a distinct unit, or it may be combined with another unit within the institution.

personal and central services

In bilingual regions, personal and central services are offered to all employees in the official language of their choice. These services are those that affect the employee on a personal level (their health and well-being, personal development, their career) or that are essential for the employee to perform their duties. Some examples:

Personal services:

  • pay and benefits services
  • career counselling services

Central services:

  • information systems services
  • legal services
principle of proportionality

Principle taken from the Regulations according to which a federal institution with several offices in a given Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) or a Census Subdivision (CSD) must provide services in both official languages in the number of offices equal to or greater than the proportion that represents the minority compared to the total population in the CMA or CSD.

The following provisions of the Regulations concern the principle of proportionality: paragraphs 5(1) (b), (c), (g), (i), and (m).

The Regulations stipulate that the following factors must be considered in the choice of offices that provide communications and services in both official languages: the distribution of the language minority population in the region, the function of the offices, as well as their clientele and their location in the region.

Example of the Application of the Principle of Proportionality

Fictional CMA:

  • Total population: 147,655
  • Minority population: 41,850
  • Percentage: 28.3

Almost 90% of the French-speaking population of the CMA is found in three of the seven localities that make up the CMA: 48% of the French-speaking population lives in the principal city, 22% in locality A and 20% in locality B.

Under the principle of proportionality, if 10 of the offices of a given institution offer the same services, the number of these offices that have to provide their services in both official languages should be calculated as follows: 10 x 28.3% = 2.8 or 3 offices. When the application of proportionality results in a fraction (e.g. 2.8) rather than a whole number, the figure has to be rounded to the next higher whole number. This is because the regulatory provision requires that, in comparison to the total number of the institution's offices in the area, the number of offices offering their services in both official languages must be at least equal to or greater than the proportion of the total population that the minority represents. (If the result had been 2.3 or 2.5 out of 10, the number of offices would likewise be three.)

Since a large number of the members of the minority population live outside the principal city, it would be inappropriate to designate three offices in that city as the ones required to serve the public in both official languages.

Thus, it would perhaps be more appropriate to provide services in both official languages at two offices in the principal city and one in either locality A or B, or to offer services in both official languages at one office in each of these three localities.

The final decision will also have to take into account the function of the office and results of the consultation with the minority population.

When the principle of proportionality is applied in a CSD instead of a CMA, the number and location of offices required to provide services in both official languages are determined the same way.


Any person, group of persons (professional associations or others) or organization or company (other than a Crown corporation) in Canada or abroad, any representative of another level of government communicating with or receiving a service from an institution, excluding officers and employees of institutions subject to the OLA when carrying out their duties

restricted and identifiable clientele
  1. The services specifically target a restricted clientele. The expression “restricted clientele” designates clientele of an office that has been given the mandate of providing certain services exclusively to a specific group or category of clients. The services that are covered by the restricted clientele provisions are services not available to the general public since they are intended only for clients, or their representatives, that make up a specific group that is defined in a statutory document or a government policy. This would be the case, for example, with businesses or entities carrying out activities in a regulated sector that are registered or that must secure a licence in accordance with federal legislation.

    The institution must be able to show that the services in question are intended for a stable clientele, whose composition can be clearly specified. As a general rule, the clientele of an office cannot be considered a restricted clientele if the number of clients to whom an institution provides the type of services described above corresponds to more than 1% of the total population of Canada as defined in subsection 4(2) of the Regulations. 

  2. The clientele is identifiable. The term “identifiable” means that the name of each client and the official language in which he or she prefers to be served can be determined. The institution has an up-to-date list of its clients.

substantive equality

Substantive equality is achieved when one takes into account, where necessary, the differences in characteristics and circumstances of minority communities and provides services with distinct content or using a different method of delivery to ensure that the minority receives services of the same quality as the majority. This approach is the norm in Canadian law. Please also see the Analytical Grid (Substantive Equality).

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