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Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages
The Senate of Canada
Canada, K1A 0A4
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About the Committee
INTRODUCTION TO THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE
ON OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages has the mandate to study all matters relating to official languages generally. It studies matters relating to the application of the Official Languages Act (OLA) and of the regulations and directives made under it.
The committee investigates the respect of Canadians’ language rights and the principle of equality of the two official languages. It examines questions pertaining to the OLA and pays particular attention to the federal government’s role and its commitment to advancing English and French in Canadian society and to enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities.
In May 1980, Parliament established the Special Joint Committee on Official Languages to assess what progress had been made since the adoption of the OLA in 1969. Four years later, in May 1984, the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages Policies and Programs was officially created. In February 1986, this joint committee changed its name, becoming thereafter the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.
In 2002, concerned with its mandate to protect minorities and the need to examine official language issues in greater depth, the Senate dissociated itself from the joint committee and created its own standing committee.
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages has tabled many substantive reports since its creation in autumn 2002. The committee has examined each of the three objectives of the OLA, with a particular focus on the objective to support the development of official language minority communities and, in general, to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in Canadian society. Parts IV and VII of the OLA have received the most attention from the committee. The committee is interested in all issues related to official languages.
In the spring of 2017, the committee undertook a five-part special study on Canadians' perspective on modernizing the Official Languages Act. The purpose of the study was to gather comments and recommendations from different segments of the Canadian population on how to adapt this Act to the realities of the 21st century. In total, from April 2017 to April 2019, more than 300 testimonials and 72 briefs and follow-ups fuelled the committee's reflection on the measures to be taken to modernize the Act. The committee presents in this final report 20 practical recommendations for the federal government to update the Act. In June 2019, the committee tabled in the Senate Modernizing the Official Languages Act: The Views of Federal Institutions and Recommendations.
In 2011, the committee began a study the use of the Internet, new media and social media. These new technologies have become a way of life for many Canadians and are a preferred– and indispensible–way for federal institutions and individuals in Canada to share information, deliver services online and interact. The committee examined the use of these new technologies and respect for Canadians language rights.
In the winter of 2009, the committee studied and reported on the vitality of Quebec’s English-language communities. It was the first time in the history of the committee, and of any parliamentary committee on official languages, that an entire study has been devoted exclusively to the English-speaking minority. The committee set three objectives for the study: to provide an overview of the situation of English-speaking communities in Quebec by examining various aspects affecting their development; to define the issues specific to English-speaking communities in Quebec and identify corrective measures deemed necessary for their development; and to make recommendations to the federal government to support the development and enhance the vitality of English-speaking minority communities.
Other important issues have drawn the attention of the committee since its inception. These include Air Canada’s language policy, the obligations of the CBC/Radio‑Canada, reflecting Canada’s linguistic duality at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, francophone arts and culture, and education in French‑language minority communities. Moreover, the committee traditionally invites the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the President of the Treasury Board and the Commissioner of Official Languages to appear before the committee when their annual reports are released. The purpose of the committee appearances is to follow up on the issues raised by these institutions and on the implementation of the recommendations of their reports.
SELECTED LEGISLATIVE WORK
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages conducts special studies and has been called upon several times to consider legislation. Since its inception in the fall of 2002, it has considered seven bills, most of which sought to amend the Official Languages Act.
For information on the current work of the committee, you may wish to review the orders of reference the committee has received from the Senate, or review the committee proceedings. Detailed information on current work of the committee can be found on the parliamentary website at https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/ollo.