The QCGN appreciates the opportunity to share its recommendations with this committee in the following areas: the advancement of English and French under part VII of the Official Languages Act, the creation of stronger mechanisms to oversee compliance with the Official Languages Act, and the role of the Official Languages Act in bringing English and French speakers together.
We refer this committee to the brief that QCGN submitted in November of last year. The brief includes the QCGN's full proposals on the modernization of the Official Languages Act.
The modernization is an opportunity to make the act equally relevant to English and French minority groups in Canada. It is an opportunity to strengthen the idea that there is a sizable English minority in Quebec and to emphasize the benefits of linguistic duality. It is time to truly give effect to the equality of status of English and French.
With this mind, the QCGN proposes a set of recommendations in three areas of particular interest to the committee today.
On the advancement of English and French under part VII of the Official Languages Act, first, Parliament should clarify the obligations under part VII, partly by including clear definitions of the terms used, such as “positive measure”, “enhancing the vitality of”, and assisting in “the development of” official language minority communities. Parliament must also provide clearer lines of accountability for the obligations set out in this part.
Second, Parliament must strengthen the framework for federal-provincial/territorial agreements. This means several things. Parliament should place strict transparency mechanisms in the OLA to account for official languages investments. It should also ensure that official languages obligations are attached to all activities funded by federal resources. These language clauses must ensure equality of status of English and French, and equal treatment of English- and French-speaking minority communities in Canada. They must not allow, for example, different thresholds for acceptable quality of services depending on whether English or French is the minority language at issue. Finally, Parliament should require that all federal-provincial-territorial agreements be made in both official languages and be equally authoritative.
Third, Parliament should create a federal obligation under part VII to encourage and assist provincial governments to ensure access to the entire justice system in both official languages. We note that the Barreau du Québec has made a similar call in its brief to the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
With respect to the creation of stronger mechanisms to oversee compliance with the Official Languages Act, Parliament should create an administrative tribunal with the power to sanction and order compliance. The tribunal should have the power to hear evidence, make findings, adjudicate claims, order remedies and sanction non-compliance.
The QCGN submits that Parliament does not necessarily need to start from scratch in designing such a tribunal. It could, for instance, create a new division within the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which would be specifically designed to hear language rights violations.
Whether Parliament creates a new division within the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal or a new administrative tribunal altogether, it is essential that the members of the new administrative body properly represent Quebec's English-speaking community. Indeed, the relevance of this oversight body across Canada and its capacity to bring English and French speakers together will depend, in part, on a design that affords equal treatment to English and French minority communities.
With respect to the role of the Official Languages Act in bringing English and French speakers together, in addition to ensuring that the equal status of English and French is a guiding principle in the creation and composition of a new administrative tribunal, there are several ways Parliament can modernize the architecture of the Official Languages Act to bring English and French speakers together.
First, the value of bilingualism and the role it plays as an identity marker for a growing number of Canadians should be explicitly recognized in the preamble and the purpose clause of the Official Languages Act.
Parliament should also clarify in part VI of the OLA that bilingualism is a relevant factor in the selection of personnel according to merit.
Under part VII of the act, Parliament should explicitly require that federal institutions involved in the immigration process foster linguistic duality and the growth and development of English and French official language minority communities.
Finally, Parliament should strengthen part VI of the act. Proper representation of language minority communities in the federal public service on a provincial level and beyond the national capital is key to bringing English and French speakers together and incentivizing linguistic duality in the workplace.