Between Bill C‑32, the first version of the bill, and Bill C‑13, there was a change in the preamble.
In Bill C-13, there is now a sentence stating that the Official Languages Act applies “during emergencies“. I think it’s the very last sentence in the preamble. The pandemic taught us the importance of this reality. Legislation to protect official language minorities must apply in times of crisis.
We also saw the temporary and unfortunate suspension of rules for bilingual signage at the beginning of the pandemic. This was allowed under the interpretation of the Minister of Health’s regulatory powers. It seems to me, however, that this exercise of authority should not have been allowed. It would have been possible to allow the import of necessary health products, like disinfectants and medication, with bilingual labels. Once again, we saw that French and English are not on a level playing field, and that French can be disregarded in the name of other imperatives.
It’s true that public health and safety are important, but so is upholding official languages. It must be included in the Official Languages Act. It must also be included in the Emergencies Act. The preamble in the Emergencies Act could include a reminder to this effect, meaning that the Official Languages Act also applies when the former act is invoked.
We must remind the minister responsible for public safety that implementing emergency plans in response to a crisis must be done in compliance with the Official Languages Act.