Legal Translation

Official Languages Act review a good first step: Deliscar

By Paul Russell, Contributor

The federal government’s review of the Official Languages Act is a welcome development, says Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar.

“It is time this decades-old law was brought up to date,” says Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation, a law firm that offers services in English, French and Spanish.

“Many people have a hard time understanding what their language rights are, so we need more public education alongside that review.”

According to The Canadian Press, the government is planning a series of meetings across the country to address the 1969 Act, which “enshrined Canadians' right to receive federal services in English or French.”

The news report quotes Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly as stating the government wants to help minority-language communities “meet the new challenges they face.”

Deliscar tells that many people don’t know which government services are offered in French, with the confusion compounded by the fact that some people don’t understand what the municipal, provincial or federal governments administrate.

She gives the example of licence plate renewal being a provincial service while passports fall under the federal umbrella, with only the latter available in both French and English everywhere in Canada.

“People think that since they are living in Canada, they can get French services anywhere they go, but that is not true,” Deliscar says.

Many people aren’t sure if they will be dealing with the federal or provincial levels of government,” she says. “All they know is that they just want to get it done.”

New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada, Deliscar says, noting that language regulations vary widely across Canada.

For example, she says, Quebec is officially unilingual with French, while Ontario has a regionalized language policy, where parts of the province are English-only, and other areas are bilingual.

Language policies are more complicated in the north, Deliscar says, giving the example of the Northwest Territories, which has 11 official languages.

Each province should review its language policies to see if they reflect the population, Deliscar says, citing a large number of East Indians living in Ontario and Chinese residents in British Columbia.

Even in those provinces with only one official language, she says citizens can often access documents in multiple languages.

Deliscar suggests the federal government has to increase awareness about what is covered by the Official Languages Act, and what is not.

“There needs to be a lot more education about how and where you can get services in French,” says Deliscar, suggesting that can be done through public service announcements, advertisements and websites.

The last major reform of the Act was in 1988, and a Senate committee recently called for the legislation to be applied more effectively and consistently, says the Canadian Press report.

“People from other countries are often shocked to find the country is not officially bilingual,” notes Deliscar.

“The truth is — other than Quebec, New Brunswick and parts of Ontario — French services are hit and miss in Canada,” she says.

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