Canada’s language policy-choices and the modernization of the Official Languages Act

Linda Cardinal


The article discusses some of the key amendments to Canada’s Official Languages Act, to be adopted in 2023. It argues that they rest on the view that French is vulnerable in the North American context, an understanding which found confirmation in the publication of the 2021 Census results on English and French in Canada. These amendments are also guided by the principle of substantive equality which justifies the adoption of specific measures for the promotion of French in sectors such as immigration, international affairs, postsecondary education, the economy, and research. However, the article shows that these amendments do not depart completely from the more conventional approach to official languages in Canada informed by political compromise and federalism for reasons of national unity. The principle of substantive equality remains subordinated to the view that English and French need to be treated in a symmetrical fashion. In the end, the article shows that the amendments manage to combine both the principles of formal and substantive equality. It also suggests that the recognition of substantive equality will test the limits of Canada’s more conventional approach to official languages. In conclusion, the article calls for more research to monitor the implementation of these amendments.


Canada; language policy; official languages; census data; Bill C-13

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