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Bill C-32: Changes to Canada’s Official Languages Act and what it means for businesses

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The Canadian government is currently seeking amendments to the Official languages Act. Why? Because the legislation hasn’t kept up with the social and technological changes of the last thirty years.

The potential new legislation, called Bill C-32, seeks to protect the rights of French-speaking minority groups throughout Canada and the rights of the English-speaking minority in Quebec. 

Screenshot of Canadian Government website page announcing Bill C-32 to strengthen the Official Languages Act

The proposed changes will assure that both French and English-speaking minorities will be able to live, work, and obtain justice using the language of their choice. 

So, what exactly does Bill C-32 propose and what will implementation mean for businesses? Let’s explore these crucial questions and in particular what the effect on company websites will be. 

Then we’ll take a look at what local and international organizations can do to comply as smoothly as possible with becoming bilingual.

How Canada gained two languages

Canada currently has two official languages. The nation is proud of its French heritage and its long history as a British Crown Colony that began in 1759 and metamorphosed into becoming a staunch member of the Commonwealth today. 

Canada’s French roots precede its British influence — in 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec. French speakers celebrate annually in many events on May 20, International Francophonie Day.

Canadians have enjoyed both the French and English languages for hundreds of years. However, it wasn’t until September 9, 1969, that the government passed the Official Languages Act, which recognized both languages. The last major revision was in 1988 — more than thirty years ago.

The purpose of Canada’s language laws is not to force everyone to speak both French and English. The Canadian government’s aim has been to provide citizens with the ability to choose which language the federal government will serve in them.

Today that focus is shifting to include language rights in the private sector. The government of Canada and some members of the public feel that the social, demographic, and technological changes the world has undergone in the last three decades warrant Bill C-32’s amendments to the Official Languages Act.

Canadians want to choose their language of work and have an effective means of redressing violations of Bill C-32’s amendments and the Official Languages Act.

What Bill C-32 is all about

Bill C-32 will force significant changes in the use of bilingualism. Educational institutions, workplaces, businesses, and government organizations will all need to comply with the proposed law. Bill C-32 will empower the federal government to receive complaints and enforce the new regulations through the Ministry of Treasury.

Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages introduced Canada Bill C-32 to the House of Commons on June 15, 2021, during the 2nd session of the 43rd Parliament, and the bill passed the first reading. 

The proposed amendments modernizing the Official Languages Act had broad support in the Liberal Party and other federal government branches.

Bill C-32’s proposed changes will benefit French users. Section I in the summary of Bill C-32 states, “provide for rights-respecting the use of French as a language of service and a language of work in relation to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and regions with a strong francophone presence.” 

This is generally interpreted to mean that any business providing services or selling products in these areas must provide consumers with both French and English language options. So brick-and-mortar businesses must have French/English speakers to interact with consumers while websites, chat, and customer service must be bilingual.

Bill C-32 goes on to make other guarantees:

  • Private enterprise employees in the affected areas have the right to work and be supervised in their chosen language — French or English. Employers will not be allowed to penalize workers for their inability to communicate in a language not their own. 

  • Bilingualism will be extended throughout the federal judicial system to include the right to have proceedings in French without the use of an interpreter in the Supreme Court of Canada and all other federal courts. 

  • Educational institutions in areas with a strong Francophone presence will have to provide bilingual options. This includes post-secondary higher learning and life-long learning.

Bill C-32’s protections will extend to the rights of other linguistic minorities in Canadian society. An additional proposed amendment to the Act protects the rights of Canadian Indigenous people, reading, “explicitly state that the Act will not undermine the status, maintenance or enhancement of Indigenous languages.”

The current status of Bill C-32 and the issues it faces

Screenshot of the status of Bill C-32 on the Canadian government website as of August 2021

Canadian Bill C-32 has not advanced beyond its first reading in the House of Commons, so it has yet to be introduced to the Senate. The current bill died when the 2nd session of the 43rd Parliament ended in August to make way for the Canadian federal elections on September 20, 2021. 

Although Liberals have promised to reintroduce Bill C-32 within the first 100 days of the new government, it didn’t happen in 2021. 

Bill C-32 applied to websites and digital businesses

So if Bill C-32 is made law, what does that mean for business owners? It implies that websites need to have a French version, along with the English, if a business has offices in Canada and advertises its products and services in the country.

  • All digital businesses will empower their customers to do business in either language, which will lead to increased sales as previously untapped market segments open.

  • Businesses will be seen as socially aware and responsible, which is of ever-increasing importance in today’s social climate.

  • International corporations have long enjoyed a competitive advantage over local, Canadian-based businesses because their size makes offering multilingual options affordable. Bill C-32 will level the field. And, fortunately, there are low-cost options available even for the smallest local businesses.

So, while the bill isn’t official law yet, for many businesses it could be a wise idea to get ahead in terms of offering a multilingual website

There are two ways for businesses to handle becoming digitally bilingual — build two websites or use translation software to translate their website content.

Building and maintaining two websites will enable you to display content tailored explicitly to either French or English speakers. However, operations become a logistical nightmare because you must duplicate everything you do to operate one website on the other site. 

You’ll also have to maintain two inventories and two accounts. You spend double in time and money, both of which would provide a better ROI if invested elsewhere.

The website translation software option has several advantages over maintaining two sites. You can:

  • Target English and French speakers from a single site
  • Launch available stock much faster
  • Maintain a single inventory
  • Use a single set of accounts
  • Be fully compliant with Canadian language laws

Website translation can be inexpensive and is easy to set up quickly. You can look at five examples of websites using website translation here.

Translating your website doesn’t have to be a pain

Website translation using an adapted solution is far easier and less expensive when compared to maintaining two sites or translating everything manually. Weglot lets you enjoy many advantages:

  • It installs and starts translating in minutes with no coding needed
  • Instant translation with machine translation which you can then make manual changes to fit your translation quality needs
  • Weglot suits many different business needs. It’s compatible with all websites, including WordPress and Drupal, and major shopping platforms — Shopify, WooCommerce, including custom-built sites – check out all integrations
  • Support is fast, friendly and will help with custom integrations
  • Your speed to market will be fast because Weglot’s content detection feature instantly translates any newly added content
  • Multilingual SEO is simplified. Weglot translates your metadata, adds hreflang tags, and displays the content of your site under language-specific subdomains or subdirectories

Learn more about Weglot’s many features and how it can simplify your website translation project.

Use Bill C-32 to gain powerful business advantages

Bill C-32 hasn’t become law yet, but you can get ahead of your competition by modernizing your website now to display in English and French.

Prime Minister Trudeau publicly directed the new Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages to investigate the matter of language after a firestorm of complaints erupted over the English-only speech given by Air Canada’s CEO. 

The social matter of language equality isn’t going away. The forces powering the movement to update language laws are gaining momentum.

Bill C-32’s requirements will force change, and with change comes opportunity. Your business will gain sales, credibility, and a better social image if your website displays high-quality translations that make browsing easy and enjoyable for your visitors.

You can have your website displayed in French Canadian and English in minutes with a free trial of Weglot.

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