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 Acts1  has passed at third reading in the House of Commons and is currently being considered by the Senate. Following a study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, Bill C-13 was significantly amended upon its return to the House of Commons at second reading.

Bill C-13 proposes to amend the OLA and create a new act

Bill C-13, a significant modernization of Canada’s official languages regime, comprises two parts. Part 1 amends the Official Languages Act (OLA), by, among other things, clarifying and expanding federal institutions’ legal obligations related to official languages. C-13 also proposes amendments to the OLA that would enhance the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages (the Commissioner), including the ability to make orders and impose penalties. 

Part 2 of Bill C-13 proposes creating the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act (the UFA). The UFA would impose new linguistic obligations on federally regulated private businesses (FRPBs)2 in Quebec and regions with a “strong francophone presence.” In addition, the UFA would grant the right of FRPB employees located in Quebec to carry out their work in French, while also setting out that consumers have the right to obtain services in French from FRPBs that carry on business in Quebec. 

Among the provisions presented in the current version of the UFA and that specifically concern federally regulated workplaces in Quebec, we note the following:

  • The right for employees to carry out their work and to be supervised in French.
  • The right to receive communications and documents from the FRPB in French, which include “offers of employment, transfer or promotion, individual employment contracts, documents related to the conditions of employment, training documents produced for employees, notices of termination of employment, collective agreements and their schedules and grievances.”3

Notwithstanding the above, the bill provides exceptions and a framework for these rights, notably by allowing an employer in Quebec to also transmit "widely distributed" documents and communications in a language other than French, as long as the use of French is at least equivalent to that of the other language. Moreover, direct communications between an employee and his or her employer may be in a language other than French if both parties agree.

In addition, it would also be possible to conclude an individual employment contract in another language if both parties agree. If the employment contract can be qualified as a contract of adhesion, a French version would also need to have been provided to the employee.

Importantly, under the proposed UFA (section 6), FRPBs would be able to elect to comply with the requirements prescribed by Quebec’s Charter of the French Language in relation to communications with or services provided to consumers in Quebec or in relation to workplaces in Quebec,4 rather than the requirements set out in the UFA.

C-13 is amended by the House of Commons

Following a significant study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, the Committee proposed significant changes to Part 1 and Part 2 of the legislation, all of which were adopted by the House of Commons, as well as a number of additional amendments introduced by the government.

The amendments to Part 1 of the legislation largely strengthen the legislation’s focus of protecting the French language within Canada. Additionally, a particular focus of the amendments to Part 1 were the obligations of federal institutions to take positive measures to implement certain commitments provided for in the updated OLA. Part 2 of C-13 has been amended to bring the obligations on UFAs more in line with the obligations set out in the Charter of the French Language. These amendments were proposed following consultations between the governments of Canada and Quebec.


Bill C-13 must now be considered and passed by the Senate before it receives royal assent. Should it be adopted in its current form, FRPBs are advised to begin considering the implications of the proposed UFA. As currently written, the UFA will impose important linguistic obligations on FRPBs, particularly those operating in Quebec. Should Bill C-13 be adopted as currently drafted, it will also impose an important decision on FRPBs in Quebec to elect whether they wish to be subject to the Charter of the French Language or the UFA.

Bill C-13 represents a significant modernization of Canada’s federal language regime and we will continue to follow these developments with interest.

The author wishes to thank Arianne Kent, articling student, for her help in preparing this legal update.


2   Under Bill C-13, a FRPB means an entity that employs employees on or in connection with a federal work, undertaking or business, as defined in section 2 of the Canada Labour Code, subject to some exemptions, including if the business employs fewer employees than the number of employees specified in the forthcoming regulations.

3   Section 9 b) of the UFA.

4   The Quebec Charter of French Language was recently amended by Bill 96. An update by Norton Rose Fulbright on Bill 96 can be found here


Senior Partner, Canadian Head of Corporate Governance
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