In Canada, language is an area of shared jurisdiction between the various levels of government. Although the federal government has established its own support measures, it relies on the provinces and territories to help ensure the nationwide recognition of both official languages – English and French.
This HillStudy provides an overview of the language regimes established by the provinces and territories and briefly identifies their main features. Over the years, efforts have been made across Canada to promote the recognition of English and French and improve service delivery to the public in both languages. There have also been initiatives across the country to revitalize and better protect Indigenous languages.
Each province and territory has its own language regime that evolves over time. Language regimes are governed by a variety of official documents, including the Constitution, Acts, regulations, policies and strategic plans. In addition, they may apply to different areas, such as the delivery of government services, the adoption of legislation, justice, education and municipal services, to name a few.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of provisions in the provinces and territories to enhance the vitality and to support the development of official‑language minority communities. In addition, a number of provincial and territorial governments have updated their legislative, regulatory and policy provisions to adapt to the evolving language needs of their respective populations. And yet, depending on where they live, Canadians experience significant gaps in the types of services available to them in the official language of their choice.
There has also been an upward trend in intergovernmental collaboration, including the development of various regional, national and international partnership mechanisms that aim to improve service delivery in both official languages. Each province and territory has its own governance structure to ensure minority‑language status recognition. Certain jurisdictions have ombudsmen or entities responsible for upholding Canadians’ language rights and to handle language complaints.
At the time of writing, a bill to modernize Canada’s Official Languages Act was still before Parliament. This bill stresses the importance of cooperation among the various orders of government and recognizes that having a diversity of language regimes helps achieve substantive equality between English and French in Canada. In addition, Canada’s Indigenous Languages Act, which received Royal Assent in 2019, highlights the importance of this cooperation for revitalizing Indigenous languages, which involves the provinces and territories as well as Indigenous governments and organizations.
The various language regimes in Canada interact in concert with each other and are constantly called upon to change, as seen by the recent updates to legislation in Ontario and Quebec and the expected update to legislation in the Northwest Territories. In New Brunswick, the recent revision will not result in any updating of the legislation, but will create an official languages secretariat, planned for April 2023.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: Language Regimes In the Provinces and Territories
By Marie-Ève Hudon, Library of Parliament
Categories: Education, language and training, Executive summary, Law, justice and rights