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Bill C-13’s French language requirements in Québec or regions with a strong francophone presence: Implications for federally regulated entities in Canada


Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts (hereinafter, referred to as the “Bill”) received royal assent on June 20, 2023. The Canadian government’s push to adopt Bill C-13 followed the Québec National Assembly’s adoption of Bill 96, which ushered in significant amendments to the Charter of the French Language, impacting, among other things, the rights of employees in Québec workplaces. In this regard, Bill C-13 provides that federally regulated employees working in Québec, or another region of Canada with a strong francophone presence, with the express right to work in French.

This publication summarizes key elements of the Bill that are relevant to federally regulated entities in Canada.

I. Official Languages Act (“OLA”)

The OLA was originally enacted in 1969 and made English and French the official languages of Canada. It applies to federal institutions under the Canadian government and ensures equality of status as to their use of English and French language, in particular with respect to their use in parliamentary proceedings, in the administration of justice, and in communicating with or providing services to the public.

Part 1 of the Bill’s amends to OLA, under Part 1, recognizes the diversity of provincial and territorial language regimes and recognizes that Québec’s Charter of the French language provides that French is the official language of Québec. The amendments to the OLA include the following:

  • mandating the simultaneous availability in both official languages of any final decision, order, or judgment from a federal court that holds precedential significance;
  • establishing particular positive measures that federal institutions can take to fulfill specific commitments made by the Government of Canada such as protecting and promoting French. These measures include:
    • encouraging and facilitating the development of English and French language skills in Canada, and
    • providing assistance to sectors that play a critical role in enhancing English and French linguistic minority communities and safeguarding as well as advancing robust institutions that serve these communities;
  • mandating that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration must establish a policy regarding francophone immigration, which should encompass various elements such as goals, benchmarks, and indicators;
  • requiring the Treasury Board to:
    • develop policies to implement specific aspects of the OLA;
    • oversee and audit federal institutions to ensure their adherence to policies, directives, and regulations concerning the official languages;
    • assess the effectiveness and efficiency of federal institutions' policies and programs pertaining to the official languages; and
    • provide specific information to the public and employees of federal institutions; and
  • authorizing the Commissioner of Official Languages to enter into compliance agreements, to impose administrative monetary penalties, and, under particular circumstances, issue orders.

II. Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act (the “Act”)

The Act protects and promotes the French language. It aims at ensuring that employees of federally regulated private businesses who work in Québec or a region with a strong francophone presence have the right to work in French. Federally regulated private businesses include banks, airlines and air transportation, port services, marine shipping, ferries, pipelines (oil and gas) that cross international or provincial borders, postal and courier services, railways or road transportation businesses that cross provincial or international borders, including trucks and buses, telecommunications, such as, telephone, Internet and cable systems (except broadcasting).

             1. Language of Work

Those employed by businesses subject to the Act are entitled to the following:[1]

  • the right to perform their work and be supervised in French;
  • the right to receive all communications and documentation from their employer in French, including policies, guidelines, pension plan texts and related documentation, employment and promotion offers, termination notices, and collective agreements and grievances; and
  • the right to utilize regularly and widely used work instruments and computer systems in French.

An employee’s right to receive communications and documents from a federally regulated private business in French continues even if the employee ceases to be employed by the business.[2]

Employers bound by the Act will also have to incorporate measures to promote the use of French in their places of work. This includes:[3]

  • alerting staff that the Act applies to the business;
  • informing employees of their rights under the Act and about the remedies that are available when the business does not comply with these rights; and
  • establishing a committee tasked with supporting the use of French within all areas of the business. This may entail increasing the number of employees with knowledge of the French language.

If a job advertisement is posted in a language other than French by an employer subject to the Act, they must also post it in French as well as ensure the advertisement is of the same nature as the other linguistic version and is capable of reaching an audience of a comparable size.[4]

It should be noted as well that the Act prohibits a federally regulated private business that has workplaces in Québec or in regions with a strong francophone presence from treating or behaving unfavourably towards a member of staff that exercises their rights under the Act or initiates a complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada (referred to as the “Commissioner”).

The Commissioner is responsible for ensuring that businesses bound by the Act comply with its provisions. As such, the Commissioner receives and investigates complaints from employees that believe their employers are in contravention of the Act. It is important to note that the Commissioner cannot initiate an investigation on its own, unless it pertains to a consumer or a complaint has been filed by an employee or a member of the public.[5] Further, the Commissioner can request to be informed of the actions that the entity plans to take in response.[6]

There are some exceptions to the provisions of the Act. For instance, employee-employer communications are allowed to be in a language other than French, so long as both parties are in agreement.[7]

It is also possible to enter into an individual employment contract, that is a contract of adhesion (i.e., non-negotiable contract), in another language than French, if both parties agree to it and the employer has provided the employee with a version of the employment contract in French first.[8]

            2. Consumers

In terms of consumers, for those businesses situated in Québec and in regions with a strong francophone presence, the Act permits consumers to communicate in French with these entities, either orally or in writing. Additionally, consumers can request to receive services and correspondence from those businesses in French or another language.[9] The right to be served in French includes all related documentation received from those entities (i.e., contracts).

           3. Québec’s Charter of the French Language

A federally regulated private business that chooses to be subject to Québec’s Charter of the French language, must then give notice of the day on which it will become subject to it. This must be done in accordance with the regulations to Bill C-13 yet to be released.

           4. Coming into force

The Act is supposed to come into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council. As of the date of this article, no Order in Council has fixed that date. In addition, “regions with a strong francophone presence” will be defined by regulations. This definition will come into effect on the second anniversary of the Act coming into force.

 III. Related Amendments

The Bill also amends the Department of Canadian Heritage Act, which established the Department of Canadian Heritage in 1993 to promote and support Canadian identity and values, cultural development, and heritage. The amendment provides that the Minister may take measures to provide funding to an organization, independent of the Government of Canada, responsible for administering a program whose purpose is to provide funding for test cases of national significance to be brought before the courts to clarify and assert constitutional human rights. The amendment requires that the cases have the objective of promoting a greater understanding of human rights, fundamental freedoms and related values.



[1] ss. 54(9)(1)(a), (b), and (c)

[2] ss. 54(9)(1.1)

[3] ss. 54(10)(1)(a), (b), and (c)

[4] ss. 54(9)(2.1)

[5] ss. 54(14)(2)(a) and 19(2)

[6] ss. 54(14)(1) and (2)

[7] ss. 54(9)(6)

[8] ss. 54(9)(4) and (5)

[9] ss. 56(7)(1)



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