Bulletin 13/04

May 18, 2004
TO: : Executive Council
Alternate Regional Vice-Presidents
Local Presidents
Labour Relations Officers

Re: The Official Languages Act - Language of Work vs Language of Service

You may or may not be aware that a question was raised some time ago by some members in regards to the precedence of Language of Work vs Language of Service under the Official Languages Act. Some members in Revenue Collections Pools, Call Centres and Client Services, generally in bilingual positions, want to be able to write notes in the diaries or notepads in the language of their choice, instead of the language of the Client/Taxpayer that they have dealt with. The CRA has instructed the members to write in the language of the Client/Taxpayer. Their rationale includes the fact that the Client/Taxpayer has the right to request a copy of all information on their file and that information has to be in the language of the Client/Taxpayer in order for them to read it, as well as, the next agent or person to deal with the file has to be able to read the entire file when dealing with the Client/Taxpayer in order to provide immediate service.

After meeting with the CRA we decided that we would jointly approach the Treasury Board Secretariat, Official Languages and outline the situation and request from them a decision of whether language of work (that of the member) prevailed or language of service (that of the Client/Taxpayer). An agreed upon letter, outlining the situations in Revenue Collections and Client Services was sent to the Official Languages section, as well as, a joint face to face meeting was held.

Finally, last week, after over five months, the CRA received their decision. Due to the fact that their interpretation would also affect everyone coming under the Official Languages Act, the Official Languages section issued their decision in the form of a formal “legal opinion”. It was also issued only to the CRA and not to UTE. Generally, it is not proper to share legal opinions. However, in this case the CRA called a meeting with myself and provided me with a copy that is not to be distributed. We had entered into this with the CRA and they agreed that we should be fully informed on this issue and that I would be able to show the decision to lawyers in the PSAC.

The decision outlines that Part IV of the Act supercedes Part V of the Act. Due to the fact that the Client/Taxpayer could have access to any notes on their file, they must be in the language of the Client/Taxpayer. As well, in order to provide on time service to the Client/Taxpayer the notes have to be in the language of the Client/Taxpayer for the subsequent appropriate agent of the CRA to deal with the Client/Taxpayer. Thus, in this case, the language of service (that of the Client/Taxpayer) takes precedence over the language of work (that of the member).

In order to ensure the validity of the legal opinion, I provided it to two different lawyers in the PSAC independently and then met with them together to get their opinion on the ability to successfully challenge the opinion. Both of them agree that based on the information provided and their research into the Official Languages Act that we would not be successful in any attempt to challenge this decision. Both of them, in fact, in this situation, agree with the decision. However, in saying that, I still encourage any of our members to bring forward any further concerns regarding Official Languages in the CRA.

In Solidarity,

Betty Bannon
National President