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Description found in Archives

Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages fonds [multiple media] 

Date(s)

1925-2003

Place of creation

Canada

49.4 m of textual records.
720 microfiche.
330 photographs
75 videocassettes (ca. 57 h, 30 min)
64 audio cassettes (ca. 62 h, 45 min)
37 audio reels (ca. 35 h, 42 min)
6 film reels (1 h, 54 min)
3 video reels (ca. 1 h, 40 min)

Scope and content

Fonds consists of records created and/or maintained by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and its predecessors. Researchers are cautioned that unprocessed textual records and records in other media are not reflected in this description. Moving images and sound recording descriptions can be found in the series entitled Audio-Visual Material from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Multiple media - for use in descriptive records only
96: Restrictions vary
Archival reference no.
Former archival reference no.

Terms of use

Copyright belongs to the Crown.

Finding aids are available. See lower level descriptions and accession records in ArchiviaNet (the NA website). (Other)

Biography / Administrative history

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages was established in 1969 by the Official Languages Act, S C 1968-69, c 54, and R S C 1993, c O-3 and became operational under the authority of PC 1970-530, 24 March 1970. The Act and the Office arose out of recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1965) and the determination of the federal government after 1963 to redress the national linguistic balance and counter the appeal of political separatism among the linguistic majority of Quebec. Before 1970, there was no agency which possessed a similar mandate or role.

The administrative mandate and sphere of the Commissioner of Official Languages is defined in very broad terms. The Commissioner was instructed by the Act "to take all actions and measures within his authority with a view to ensuring recognition of the status of each of the official languages and compliance with the spirit and intent of this act in the administration of the affairs of the institutions of the Parliament and the Government of Canada." (S C 1967-68, c. 54, s. 25). Such a mandate is inherently ambitious from the standpoint of defining programs, functions and focus in what amounts to the role of independent ombudsman and watchdog in relation to a set of institutions that are central to the modern definition of the Canadian state.

In theory, the Commissioner has the power to investigate and report on any matter related to linguistic practices in the federal public sector or the status and state of a linguistic minority community anywhere in the country. In practice the role has evolved more in the direction of a linguistic ombudsman than a regulatory watchdog. The Office has no independent enforcement mechanism aside from its published report to Parliament and enhanced court remedy since 1988.

The mandate has come to focus on five main functions and activities: complaints redress, general investigations, focused investigations and audits of federal institutions, promotion of principles and an annual assessment to Parliament. Primarily, the Office of the Commissioner investigates any complaint related to the administration of Official Languages Programs in the federal public sector and it may assist with (or initiate on its own) litigation where the Act or regulations under the Act have been violated. The Office of the Commissioner on his own initiative may also investigate or research any other matter related to rights under the Act. Under this latter term of reference, the office developed for a time a more formal external language audit function in relation to government departments (1971-1995). In these three regards, the Office in effect acts as a linguistic ombudsman in relation to conflicts over linguistic rights whether they occur in relation to the language of work within the federal Public Service, the requirements of bilingual service to the public provided by federal offices or the status of both official languages generally.

In addition to these central functions, the Office of the Commissioner also promotes in its own small way the use of both official languages, bilingualism and linguistic tolerance throughout Canada especially in relation to linguistic minorities; for example, the Office of the Commissioner makes periodic educational initiatives directed at both at adults and children and it publishes Language and Society in-house as an active and engaged forum for promoting understanding and linguistic diversity. Finally, the Office provides an independent annual report directly to Parliament providing evaluations of the health and vitality of the principles of bilingualism in the federal Public Service and Canadian society as a whole.

The Office of the Commissioner does not administer federal Official Languages Programs either within or outside the Public Service. The Treasury Board administers an accountability regime internal to the federal Public Service to ensure compliance; on a delegated basis, Deputy Heads or their equivalent administer the programs within the public sector whose principles and standards are set by Treasury Board in conformity with the legislation (in total adding up to a self-regulated and accountable regime of "institutional" bilingualism). Before 1993, the Secretary of State administered the programs supporting linguistic minorities, outreach and promotion, and French immersion education programs; since 1993 the Department of Heritage has administered these programs. The Office of the Commissioner has the authority to investigate any matter related to any of these programs inside or outside the Public Service as well as the Parliamentary practices in relation to the two official languages and make his independent assessment. In practice, there are high levels of interaction with senior departmental managements and Treasury Board as the central agency responsible for coordinating the regime as a whole.

In one sense the Office has evolved and changed from the first day of its inception and each of the four incumbents to the Office have brought to it innovative approaches designed to overcome obstacles to the realization of its broad mandate or to cope with changing circumstances which have forced adjustments to programs and activities. The terms of each of the first four Commissioners, Keith Spicer (1970-1977), Max F. Yalden (1977-1984), D'Iberville Fortier (1984-1991), and Victor C. Goldbloom (1991- ) have defined distinct differences in style and emphasis during their tenures.

Through its first 20 years the Office had to deal with all the ambiguity of the original Act and the early implementation of the program in the federal Public Service, widespread public disillusion among both Anglophones and Francophones and a heated external political context that was often antithetic to the spirit and principles of the Official Languages Act. The Parliamentary Resolution on Bilingualism of 6 June 1973 sought to clarify the basis and principles on which Official Languages Policy would be implemented in the Public Service and clarified the basis on which complaints under the Act would be resolved in relation to the principles of the active offer of service, the language of work and equitable participation. Since 1980, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Official Languages [first special and then after 1984 standing] has provided a forum in which the Commissioner may elaborate on his concerns.

The most dramatic change in the institutional environment in which the Office works was the passage of the Constitution Act of 1982 and the entrenchment of the basic linguistic principles of the Official Languages Act in the Charter of Rights. The Charter of Rights and the revised legislation of 1988 entrenched, codified and somewhat extended the provisions of the original Act and the practical standards that Treasury Board had developed in the previous 16 years but the amended Act left the principles and goals much as they were defined in 1969. With the revised Official Languages Act of 1988, the Office of the Commissioner gained enhanced recourse to initiate litigation in the context of alleged violations of the Act (and the decisions of the Commissioner became subject to appeal to the Federal Court). The revised Act gave a sounder statutory basis to the Commissioner's mandate to promote linguistic duality. The ambiguities inherent in the administration of the Act in the federal Public Service and in the broader context of geolinguistic asymmetry in the country as a whole continue to make it difficult to assess the precise role of the Office while at the same time ensuring that it continues to remain relevant to the overriding issue of national unity.

The Office of the Commissioner is designated as a department (PC 1970-102, 21 April 1970) and the Commissioner has the status of a deputy head with the statutory salary of a judge. The Office is structured to be independent of the Government of the day as the Commissioner unlike a regular Deputy Head holds office "during good behaviour" for a seven year term (in theory renewable once) and the Commissioner reports directly to Parliament. The Office of the Commissioner developed a system of five regional Offices beginning with an Office in Moncton in 1977, and one in Winnipeg in 1978 and expanded through 1986 to include Montreal, Edmonton, Toronto while part time liaison offices have operated in other centres since 1987-88. There was for a time a Sudbury Office which has since been consolidated with Toronto.

Additional information

Source of title
The title is based on the Act creating the office. Official Languages Act 1969, 1988 ( SC 1968-69, c 54 RSC 38, 1993, c O-3) Loi sur les langues officielles and PC 1970-530, 24 March 1970

Accruals
Further accruals are expected.

Government

Other system control no.