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Returning Officer's Manual

Chapter 3 – Official Languages

This Chapter offers returning officers guidance on how best to provide services in both official languages, in accordance with the Official Languages Act.

3.1 Official Languages Act – Service in Both Official Languages

As returning officer (RO), you have a duty, under the Official Languages Act, to ensure that Canadians can communicate with and obtain services from RO offices and other offices, polling places and advance polling places in the official language of their choice.

3.1.1 Communications With and Services to the Public

The Official Languages Act states:

Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that any member of the public can communicate with and obtain available services from its head or central office in either official language, and has the same duty with respect to any of its other offices or facilities

  1. within the National Capital Region; or
  2. in Canada or elsewhere, where there is significant demand for communications with and services from that office or facility in that language.
    Official Languages Act, s. 22

Accordingly, you must ensure the capacity to communicate with and provide services of equal quality in both official languages

Communications with and services to the public include any contact (written and oral) with the public, such as greeting visitors, at reception, at public events, during voting, on signs and postings, as well as in publications.

IMPORTANT

You must make the utmost effort to prioritize the identification, recruitment and staffing of bilingual staff and poll workers, and to have at least one designated person at all times who is bilingual

  • in every RO office and AARO office
  • at every polling site and advance polling site where there is a significant demand for services in the official minority language
  • at every polling site and advance polling site in the NCR

You must contact Elections Canada as soon as possible if you have difficulty recruiting bilingual staff and poll workers, or otherwise anticipate difficulties providing bilingual services.

3.1.2 Active Offer

The Official Languages Act specifies that appropriate measures be taken "to make it known to members of the public that services are available in either official language at the choice of any member of the public." These measures include "the provision of signs, notices and other information on services and the initiation of communication with the public."
Official Languages Act, s. 28

Active offer takes place at the time of initial contact and is a clear indication to members of the public that they can obtain services in both official languages. This means that election officers must make it clear to members of the public that they can communicate and receive services of equal quality in either official language.

Providing active offer means that ROs, elections officers and staff provide the initial bilingual greeting:

IMPORTANT

Active offer is a requirement at every RO office and polling site across Canada.

3.2 Bilingual Capacity Requirements

3.2.1 Identifying the Language Needs of an Electoral District

You must be familiar with the proportion and locations of the population that represents the official language minority in your electoral district (ED). To identify language needs and to adequately plan the delivery of bilingual services, you should first consult your ED's profile, which is available on the Elections Canada Intranet.

You should also review data from the latest Statistics Canada (www.statcan.ca) decennial census, which provides the percentage of the population that reported the "first official language spoken" as being either English or French, and their location.

For EDs where more than 5% of the population reported the "first official language spoken" as being either English or French, Elections Canada will provide you with information on locations where the capacity to communicate with and provide services of equal quality in both official languages at all times will be required.

IMPORTANT

You and the recruitment officers must identify official language needs as part of your recruitment action plans and activities.

3.2.2 Recruiting Qualified Bilingual Staff and Poll Workers

To facilitate the recruitment of bilingual staff and poll workers, you must communicate with, and seek advice and support from, official language minority organizations in your ED. Generally, these official language minority organizations consist of francophones residing outside Quebec or anglophones residing in Quebec.

To support the recruitment of bilingual staff and poll workers, Elections Canada will provide you with information on official language minority organizations at the provincial or territorial level, where possible.

Note: If necessary, Elections Canada will also assist in conducting phone interviews to assess whether applicants meet bilingual requirements.

IMPORTANT

Contact Elections Canada as soon as possible if you are having difficulty recruiting qualified bilingual staff and poll workers.

3.3 Bilingual Services in the Electoral District

3.3.1 Telephone Service

Answering a call

Use the language of the province or territory's official-language majority first, and that of its official-language minority second.

Anyone answering the telephones in the RO office should use the following bilingual greeting:

If the caller responds in the language that the staff member does not speak, they should answer in the same language as the caller, as follows:

While the caller is on hold, the staff member should find the designated bilingual person to assist on the call or seek assistance from other bilingual staff on hand. A list of bilingual staff should be maintained and readily available.

Transferring a call

Inform the caller that you are transferring them to someone who is bilingual. Inform your colleague of the client's language.

Note: To help staff members communicate with callers, a brief list of frequently used expressions in both official languages can be found on the Field Personnel Intranet. EC 10126 Usual Expressions on the Telephone

After-hours message

The after-hours message is recorded in both official languages in all EDs.

3.3.2 Receptionist Services in RO and AARO Offices

Receptionist services in the RO office and AARO office should be bilingual at all times.

If, as an exception, the receptionist is not bilingual, they should find the designated bilingual person to assist them or seek assistance from other bilingual staff on hand. A list of bilingual staff should be maintained and readily available.

Referring a client

Inform the client that you are going to ask someone else to see them. If the staff member is busy helping other people:

Note: To help staff members communicate with electors, a brief list of frequently used expressions in both official languages can be found on the Field Personnel Intranet.

3.3.3 Targeted Revision

You must ensure that at least one from each pair of revising agents conducting targeted revision can communicate in both official languages. Bilingual revising agents should be assigned on a priority basis to polling divisions where there is a greater demand for services in the minority official language (see 3.2.1, Identifying the Language Needs of an Electoral District).

When communicating with the public, in general, use the language of the province's official-language majority first, and that of its official-language minority second. Continue the conversation in the official language chosen by the elector and use the corresponding documentation.

3.3.4 Polling Sites

At polling sites, when the number of available bilingual workers is low, you must appoint bilingual workers in priority as central poll supervisors (CPSs), information officers (IOs) and registration officers. These positions are mobile and can be of help to multiple polling stations as well as to the registration desk. Likewise, at polling stations, bilingual deputy returning officers (DROs) and poll clerks must be assigned on a priority basis.

If Staff or Poll Workers Cannot Communicate in an Elector's Language of Choice

If staff members or poll workers are not able to communicate with and provide services to an elector in the official language of the elector's choice, the staff worker or poll worker must find the designated bilingual person to assist the elector or seek assistance from other bilingual staff on hand. A list of bilingual staff should be maintained and readily available.

Note: If it is not possible to provide in-person bilingual service at the polling site, the CPS has a mobile phone that can be used to communicate with a bilingual person from the RO office, an interpreter at a different site or the Dedicated Linguistic Services Line.

3.3.5 Bilingual Services Tent Cards

Use Bilingual Services Tent Cards (EC 50151) to indicate that service is available in both official languages. Tent cards must be in clear public view at all times.

Note: In the province of Quebec, use EC 50151-1. Everywhere else in Canada, use EC 50151.

3.3.6 Bilingual Documents

You must ensure that all staff and all poll workers are trained to properly use both official languages in correspondence and documentation. For example,

Official Notices

Official notices required by the Canada Elections Act must be prepared in a bilingual format.

Notice of Advance Polls (EC 10140), Notice of Mobile Poll (EC 10160) and the second part (polling station list) of Notice of Grant of a Poll (EC 10170) are automatically generated from the ROPS/ SITES application in English and French. The first part of Notice of Grant of a Poll (EC 10170) and Notice of Election (EC 10020) are electronic forms that are completed in both languages.

Public Signs

All public signs and posters must be displayed in both English and French, starting with the official language of the majority of a province or territory. Outside Quebec, the English text must appear to the left or above the French text. In Quebec, the French text must appear to the left or above the English text.

Separate unilingual or double-sided documents must also be displayed in both official languages, either side by side or in a top-down orientation, with French first in Quebec and English first elsewhere in Canada.

IMPORTANT

Temporary signs must be written correctly in both official languages and must follow the directive for the first official language of the province or territory. Contact the Electoral Coordination Help Desk if you have any concerns or difficulties with the proper writing of temporary signs in both official languages.

3.4 Elections Canada Linguistic Support Tools

3.4.1 Bilingual Support Services

Elections Canada offers support services to the RO office for providing bilingual services, such as

3.4.2 Dedicated Linguistic Services Line

If an elector wants to communicate in the minority official language, follow this procedure:

Note: To access bilingual service using Elections Canada's Dedicated Linguistic Services Line, your phone must have the conference call option activated.

3.4.3 Bilingual Cards

If it is not possible to provide in-person bilingual service, and as a very last resort, the following bilingual cards may be used as a support tool to assist a client: