This timeline illustrates highlights in the history of language rights in Canada that have shaped our identity and who we are today as Canadians.

Highlights (1848 to 2018)

  • Establishment of responsible government in United Canada

    Establishment of responsible government in United Canada

    A responsible government is a government that is accountable to the elected representatives of the people. This means, for example, that government ministers are accountable to Parliament for their actions and decisions.

    The term “responsible government” is also referred to as “departmental responsibility.”

    Louis-Hyppolite La Fontaine and Robert Baldwin, joint leaders of the United Canada government (then including Quebec and Ontario), were the main instigators of responsible government.

    It was Louis-⁠Hyppolite La Fontaine who gave his first speech to Parliament in French, a language that had been prohibited since the Act of Union of 1840.

  • The British North America Act (BNAA)

    The <em>British North America Act</em> (BNAA)

    Later renamed the Constitution Act, 1867, the British North America Act (BNAA) established Canadian Confederation by uniting three British colonies: United Canada (which at that time included Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

    It was the foundation of a country in the making…

  • Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (Laurendeau-Dunton Commission)

    Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (Laurendeau-Dunton Commission)

    The government of Lester B. Pearson established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963.

    Its mandate: To recommend measures to be taken to ensure that the Canadian Confederation develops in accordance with the principle of equality between the two majority linguistic communities.

    The Commission was co-chaired by André Laurendeau (editor of the newspaper Le Devoir) and Davidson Dunton, President of Carleton University.

  • Various volumes of the report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

    Various volumes of the report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

    During its mandate, the Commission submitted a report in six volumes, spread over the period from 1967 to 1970.

    The recommendations made in the various volumes addressed official languages, education, the world of work, the cultural contribution of other ethnic groups and the status of French in the federal public service, among other things.

    Its main recommendation: That English and French be declared official languages at the federal level for all of Canada.

  • Canada’s Official Languages Act

    Canada’s <em>Official Languages Act</em>

    Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government passed the Official Languages Act, which made English and French Canada’s two official languages.

    The Act recognizes that both official languages have equality of status, rights and privileges as to their use in the institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.

    Individuals can therefore receive federal government services in the language of their choice.

    The Official Languages Act also promotes the vitality of English and French linguistic minorities in Canadian society.

  • New Brunswick becomes an officially bilingual province

    New Brunswick becomes an officially bilingual province

    New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act, passed in 1969 by the government of Premier Louis Robichaud, grants citizens the right to receive government services in the official language of their choice.

    New Brunswick thus became the first—and only—officially bilingual province in Canada.

  • Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages created

    Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages created

    The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, created in 1970, is in a way the protector of Canadian citizens with respect to official languages.

    Its mandate: To ensure that federal institutions comply with the Official Languages Act and to promote English and French throughout Canada.

    The current Commissioner, Raymond Théberge, has been in this role since January 2018. Seven other commissioners have previously been appointed: Keith Spicer (1970-⁠1977), Maxwell Yalden (1977-⁠⁠1984), D’Iberville Fortier (1984-⁠⁠1991), Victor Goldbloom (1991-⁠1999), Dyane Adam (1999-⁠⁠2006), Graham Fraser (2006-⁠⁠2016) and Ghislaine Saikaley (2016-⁠⁠2018).

  • Fédération des francophones hors Québec (FFHQ) founded

    Fédération des francophones hors Québec (FFHQ) founded

    Canada’s Francophone minority communities share a common vision and joined forces when they founded the Fédération des francophones hors Québec (FFHQ) in 1975.

    Its mandate: Defend and promote the rights of Francophones living outside Quebec.

    In 1991, the FFHQ became the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada (FCFA).

    Today, the FCFA is made up of 12 provincial and territorial organizations and 10 national associations. It provides political representation, promotion and support for the development of Canada’s Francophone and Acadian communities.

  • Canadian Parents for French created

    Canadian Parents for French created

    Canadian Parents for French is a national association of volunteer parents who care about the French language and value it as an integral part of Canada.

    Its mission: To promote and create learning opportunities for youth across Canada who use French as a second language and to improve French immersion learning programs.

    This organization ensures that young Canadians have the opportunity to acquire a knowledge of the French language and its various cultures.

  • Constitution Act, 1982 repatriated and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined in the Constitution

    <em>Constitution Act, 1982</em> repatriated and <em>Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms</em> enshrined in the Constitution

    The Constitution Act, 1982 allowed the constitutional rights of the British Parliament to be brought back to Canada. This means that Canada can now amend its Constitution without British consent.

    This legislation marked a turning point in the country’s history by incorporating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which sets out the rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are essential to the maintenance of a free and democratic society. The Charter also strengthens the language rights of official language minority communities. Section 23 of the Charter requires provincial and territorial governments to provide education to Canadians in the official language of their choice.

    This Act also contains provisions concerning the Canadian government’s commitment to promote linguistic duality in Canadian society.

  • Ontario passes the French Language Services Act

    Ontario passes the <em>French Language Services Act</em>

    Adopted unanimously in 1986 under David Peterson’s government, Ontario’s French Language Services Act, Bill 8, came into force in 1989.

    This Act gives Ontario residents the right to receive services in French from the provincial government in certain designated regions, more than 20 in number, where Francophones represent at least 5,000 people or 10% of the population.

    Bernard Grand Maître, then Minister of Francophone Affairs in the Peterson government, is known as the father of Bill 8.

  • Canada’s new Official Languages Act comes into effect

    Canada’s new <em>Official Languages Act</em> comes into effect

    It was under the leadership of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that the 1969 Official Languages Act was amended in 1988.

    It is a fairly significant reform of the 1969 Act because it broadens its scope by taking over and clarifying the obligations contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms regarding the use of both languages in government services. It also adds several dimensions, including language of work and the promotion of linguistic duality and official language minority communities.

    This new legislation also contains clarifications on the right of federal public servants to work in the language of their choice.

    The 1988 Act also differs from the 1969 Act in that its main provisions are enforceable, which is to say that they can be taken before the courts.

  • Meech Lake Agreement fails

    Meech Lake Agreement fails

    The Meech Lake Accord set out a proposed constitutional amendment negotiated in 1987 between Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the premiers of the Canadian provinces and territories to amend the Constitution Act, 1982 to strengthen provincial powers and recognize Quebec as a “distinct society.”

    Without the support of all provinces, the agreement is doomed to failure.

    In 1991, one year after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, the Fédération des francophones hors Québec demanded that it be acknowledged that there is a need for a partnership between Quebec and Francophones outside Quebec where each party could contribute to the other’s development.

  • Charlottetown Accord fails

    Charlottetown Accord fails

    The Charlottetown Accord was a second attempt by the Brian Mulroney government to establish a new constitutional agreement with the provincial and territorial governments, following the failure of the Meech Lake Accord a few years earlier.

    The agreement was rejected by a majority of Canadians in a national referendum held on October 26, 1992.

  • Bill S-3 received royal assent

    Bill S-3 received royal assent

    Jean-Robert Gauthier, a senator since 1994, introduced Bill S-3 in September 2001 to give effect to Part VII (promotion of English and French) of the Official Languages Act, i.e. to allow official language minorities legal recourse if the government does not fulfill its obligations towards their vitality.

    Bill S-3 was finally passed in the Senate in November 2005. This is the one and only change to the Official Languages Act since the 1988 reform.

  • Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in our Future

    Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: <em>Investing in our Future</em>

    This Plan, put forward by Justin Trudeau’s government, sets out three priorities: strengthening official language minority communities, increasing access to services and promoting a bilingual Canada.

    It reaffirms that “English and French are at the heart of who we are as Canadians and that linguistic duality is at the heart of Confederation.”

    This Plan follows the previous government’s Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008–2013, which aimed to support minority communities by promoting their access to education, government services and living environments in their language.

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