timeline

Languages Policy

This timeline includes events and debates related languages policy in Canada.

Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

March 08, 1867

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

British North America Act

The British North America Act was passed by the British Parliament and given royal assent by Queen Victoria on 29 March. It came into effect on 1 July. The Act joined the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in one federal union. In 1949, Newfoundland becomes Canada’s newest province. In 1999, Nunavut becomes Canada’s newest territory. Its creation establishes self-governance for the region’s Inuit population.

May 17, 1871

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

New Brunswick Schools

The New Brunswick government passed the Common Schools Act to strengthen and reform the school system. At the same time, it abandoned an informal system of separate schools that had grown up since the 1850s.

March 31, 1890

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Manitoba School Act

The Manitoba School Act abolished publicly funded support for separate schools for Catholics. The aggrieved French minority argued that the Act violated the agreements under which Manitoba entered Confederation.

August 17, 1912

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Circular No. 17

The Ontario Department of Instruction issued Circular No. 17, which banned the use of French in Ontario schools past Grade 1.

March 06, 1934

Activists and Legislators 

Birth of Keith Spicer

Keith Spicer, first commissioner of official languages and later chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, was born at Toronto.

July 12, 1960

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Louis J. Robichaud becomes premier of NB

Elected leader of the NB Liberal Party in 1958, Louis Joseph Robichaud led it to victory over Hugh J. Flemming in 1960, served as attorney general between 1960 and 1965, and as minister of youth in 1968. The first Acadian elected premier of NB, he introduced far-reaching social reforms through the centralizing Programme of Equal Opportunity. His government passed an Official Languages Act, established Université de Moncton, increased Acadian administrative influence, and encouraged the mining and forestry industries.

July 22, 1963

Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Canada Languages Policy 

B&B Commission Formed

The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was announced, to be chaired by André Laurendeau and Arnold Davidson Dunton.

February 25, 1965

Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Canada Languages Policy 

Preliminary B&B Report

The preliminary report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was tabled in the House of Commons.

December 05, 1967

Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Canada Languages Policy 

B&B Report Released

The first volume of the report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was released.

December 09, 1968

Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Canada Languages Policy 

Second B&B Report Released

The second report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism recommended that all children in Canadian schools be required to study the second official language.

July 09, 1969

Canada Languages Policy  Canada Official Languages 

Official Languages Act

The Official Languages Act was given assent, to come into effect on September 7. It declared English and French the official languages of the federal administration.

October 23, 1969

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Bill 63 (Québec)

Jean Jacques Bertrand's government introduces Bill 63, a controversial language bill that allowed parents the freedom to choose their children's language of instruction.

March 02, 1970

Activists and Legislators 

Spicer Appointed Commissioner

Keith Spicer was appointed first Commissioner of Official Languages.

March 20, 1970

Canada Official Languages 

Francophonie Established

Canada signed an agreement with 19 other countries to establish the Francophone International Cooperation Society, for cultural and technological exchange among French-speaking nations.

October 01, 1971

Canada Languages Policy 

Trudeau Introduces Canada's Multicultural Policy

Canada's multiculturalism policy grew partly in reaction to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which endorsed a "bicultural Canada," barely recognizing "other ethnic groups." This dilemma was partially resolved in 1971 by Prime Minister Trudeau's assertion that Canada was a "multicultural country with two official languages."

December 02, 1971

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Gendron Report

The Gendron Report was published, recommending that Québec have French as its official provincial language while maintaining both English and French as its two national languages.

May 23, 1974

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

New Brunswick's Bilingual Acts

New Brunswick became the first province to draft statutes in both official languages.

July 31, 1974

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Bill 22 Passed

Bill 22 made French the language of civic administration and services, and of the workplace, in Québec.

August 26, 1977

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Bill 101 Passed

Bill 101, Québec's French-language charter, was passed by the National Assembly.

September 01, 1981

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

French-Only Sign Law

Québec's French-only sign law came into effect. A part of the original draft of Bill 101, Charter of the French Language, the law stipulated that public signs in Québec were to be in French only.

June 09, 1983

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Bill 101 Violates Charter

The Québec Court of Appeal ruled that Bill 101, Québec's language law, violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

December 15, 1984

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Bill 101 Challenged

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the compulsory exclusive use of French on public commercial signs, as per Bill 101, was contrary to the right of freedom of speech. The Bourassa government reacted by introducing Bill 178, reinstating the use of French-only signs.

December 21, 1988

Bourassa, Robert

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Bill 178

Bourassa's government adopted Bill 178, an Act to countermand Bill 101. The new Bill reinforced that "public signs and posters and commercial advertising, outside or intended for the public outside, shall be solely in French."

November 01, 1990

Brian Mulroney

Canada Languages Policy 

Citizen's Forum Announced

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney launched the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future, with Keith Spicer as chair, to seek opinions and solutions from the people of Canada on the Constitution.

June 27, 1991

Activists and Legislators  Canada Languages Policy  Indigenous Languages 

Spicer Commission Report

The Spicer Commission recommended that the government foster a sense of country, that Québec be recognized as a unique province, that there be a prompt settlement of Indigenous land claims and that the Senate be reformed or abolished.

October 12, 1994

Activists and Legislators 

Death of Gérald Godin

Gérald Godin, poet, journalist, politician and a strong militant for the French language, died at Montréal. He was the minister responsible for enacting Bill 101.

February 17, 1998

Immigrant Languages in Canada 

Race Statistics Released

Statistics Canada released the results of its controversial question on race showing that the percentage of Canadians neither white nor aboriginal identify themselves as visible minorities, of whom 27 per cent were Chinese, 21 per cent South Asians and 18 per cent Blacks.

March 11, 1999

Activists and Legislators 

Death of Camille Laurin

Camille Laurin, psychiatrist, politician and president of the executive committee of the Parti Québécois, died at Montreal. Author of the white paper declaring French as the only official language of government, education and business in Québec, Laurin was known as the father of Bill 101.

November 05, 1999

Challenges and Controversies  Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Sign Law Overturned

A Québec court judge overturned parts of Québec's language law, which rules that French must be the "predominant" language on all signs.

August 06, 2002

Provinces and Territories Language Policies 

Moncton becomes a bilingual city

Moncton, NB, became the first officially bilingual Canadian city.

June 11, 2008

Canada Languages Policy 

Apology to Former Residential Schools Students

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Government of Canada, delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons to former students, their families, and communities for Canada's role in the operation of residential schools. The apology recognized the profoundly damaging and lasting impact the schools had on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language. Some criticized the speech saying that it specifically excluded from the apology the students of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

February 11, 2016

Indigenous Languages 

Last Fluent Nuchatlaht Speaker Dies

Alban Michael, the last fluent speaker of the Nuchatlaht language, died in Campbell River, British Columbia, at age 89. Raised on Nootka Island, Michael spoke only Nuchatlaht until he was forced to learn English at a residential school in Tofino as a child. He nevertheless maintained his fluency in Nuchatlaht so that he could speak with his mother, who did not speak English.

May 10, 2016

Flag of the United Nations

Canada Languages Policy 

Canada Supports UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights

Indigenous Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett announced Canada’s full support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Conservative government under Stephen Harper had endorsed the declaration in 2010, but with qualifications that gave Canada “objector” status at the UN with respect to the document. Bennett's announcement removed this status. The declaration recognizes a wide range of Indigenous rights, from basic human rights to land, language and self-determination rights.