The Commissioner of Official Languages has a broad mission. It is the Commissioner's duty under section 56 of the Official Languages Act to take all actions and measures needed to ensure recognition of both official languages and compliance with the spirit of the Act in the administration of the affairs of federal institutions. Among other things, the Commissioner has the power to initiate and conduct investigations, including audits.

1.0 Introduction

The Official Languages Act imposes certain obligations on federal institutions and some privatized institutions with respect to service to the public, language of work, equitable participation, the development of official-language communities, and promoting the use of English and French in Canadian society.

As the Commissioner is an Officer of Parliament, he must have the information necessary to assess the extent to which the status of each official language is being upheld in the administration of the affairs of federal institutions. The ability to audit is essential in order for the Commissioner to gather the information needed to address non-compliance with the Act, and thereby carry out the mission conferred upon him by Parliament.

Treasury Board (TB) also has audit responsibilities under part VIII of the Official Languages Act and as an employer. It must monitor and audit all federal institutions (except the Senate, the House of Commons, and the Library of Parliament) to ensure that they comply with the principles, instructions, and regulations of parts IV, V, and VI of the Act. This responsibility may be described as internal audit, while the Commissioner acts as an external auditor. In this regard, the Commissioner of Official Languages plays a role similar to that of the Auditor General of Canada, who conducts independent or external audits of institutions, even though they may have their own internal audit function.

For a number of reasons, however, Treasury Board Secretariat's traditional control over compliance with the Official Languages Act is becoming increasingly limited. First, TB has given departments greater responsibility for conducting their own internal audits. Second, with the privatization of a number of organizations that remain subject to the Act and the granting of greater autonomy to others, there are now numerous organizations that feel less obligated to TB. Third, a number of programs have been devolved to the provinces and territories. As such, there is a broad array of services to the public over which the Government exercises less control with regard to the application of the Act.

As an independent observer who must report accurately to Parliament on the linguistic situation of institutions, the Commissioner relies on information from a variety of sources to make an objective assessment. This includes the management reports submitted to central agencies by the institutions themselves.

As a result of major changes that have been made to the federal administration over the last few years, its linguistic health is becoming more difficult to assess accurately. Under these new circumstances, it is crucial that an independent officer ensure adequate monitoring of the institutions subject to the Act in order to inform Canadians and their representatives on the Senate and the House of Commons Standing Committees on Official Languages of how well linguistic rights are being upheld. The Commissioner of Official Languages must be able to validate the information provided through audits.

2.0 Purpose of the Policy

This document sets forth the basis of the External Audit Policy of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and the operational framework for its audit activities in the various institutions subject to the Official Languages Act. The Policy also describes the responsibilities of management at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for audits.

3.0 Policy Statement

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages conducts independent external audits of institutions subject to the Official Languages Act to determine whether they are respecting the Act's requirements.

The new External Audit Policy emphasizes prevention by identifying shortcomings as they emerge, and before they become systemic problems. The purpose of the audit is to assess how well various institutions are carrying out their obligations in the implementation of the Act. The new approach goes well beyond simply auditing compliance to the Act by calling on the managers of the audited institutions to help find optimal solutions to issues identified during the course of the audit. This approach is intended to strengthen managerial commitment to implement corrective measures.

The audit unit discusses the scope of the audit with the managers of the institution before the audit begins, and communicates regularly with them throughout the audit. The audits are conducted in an objective, independent, professional and courteous manner, and are sensitive to the added workload imposed by the process. As soon as possible, the audit unit discusses results and possible recommendations with the institution. The commitments or action plans made by the managers in response to these recommendations are included in the final report. Twelve to 18 months after the publication of the final report, the audit unit follows up on the institution's implementation of recommendations.

4.0 Roles and Responsibilities

4.1 Audit Committee

Purpose of the Committee

The purpose of the Audit Committee at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is to provide support for the Office's external audit function, as well as to ensure that audit activities are undertaken effectively.

Composition of the Committee

The Commissioner of Official Languages chairs the Audit Committee, which comprises representatives of each branch of the organization.

Responsibilities of the Committee

The Audit Committee's responsibilities are to:

  • approve the external audit policy;
  • approve the triennial audit plan;
  • approve the annual audit plan and budget;
  • approve the final audit reports, which include the action plans developed by the institutions in response to the audit recommendations;
  • ensure that the measures taken by the audited institutions in response to the audit recommendations are appropriate and timely; and
  • oversee the performance of the audit function.

Committee Meetings

The Audit Committee meets quarterly.

4.2 External Audit Function

The Assistant Director of Audits in the Investigations Branch at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is responsible for the external audit function. In addition to planning, organizing, and monitoring the audits described in the triennial audit plan approved by the Audit Committee, the Assistant Director also updates the triennial and annual audit plans, organizes the audit teams, submits reports to the Audit Committee, and follows up on recommendations contained in the audit reports.

5.0 Guidelines

Planning

The triennial audit plan is based on a comprehensive risk analysis. Audit activities are planned strategically over a three-year period, using the criteria listed in Appendix A. The triennial audit plan is updated annually. The audits included in the annual audit plan are derived from the triennial plan, in consultation with the various divisions within the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and through the continuous monitoring of institutions and any problems encountered in the implementation of the Act.

Audits are conducted in accordance with the annual audit plan approved by the Audit Committee. This plan includes:

  • the institutions, programs, and activities to be audited;
  • the reasons why these institutions were chosen, and the associated risks;
  • the objectives of the audits;
  • the general approach to be used;
  • the audit schedule; and
  • the resources the audit function needs to carry out the work.

Before it is approved, the annual audit plan is shared with the Official Languages Branch at Treasury Board Secretariat to ensure that there is minimal overlap or duplication in the work of the two organizations, and that all available resources are being used optimally. Audit results are also shared in order to maximize their usefulness.

The Audit Process

There are four phases in the audit process: planning, examination, reporting, and follow-up. These phases are described in Appendix B and summarized in Appendix C.

During the planning phase, audit issues are identified, the audit objectives are established and criteria are developed. Before beginning the audit work, the scope of the audit is communicated to the institution's management through both a written notice of intent to conduct the audit and an introductory meeting.

The audit unit communicates regularly with the institution throughout the examination. The audit is conducted in an objective, independent, professional, and courteous manner, and is sensitive to the added workload it imposes on the institution. As soon as possible after the examination has been completed, the audit unit discusses results and possible recommendations with the managers involved. The commitments made or action plan put forward by the managers in response to these recommendations are included in the final report.

The audit unit has a quality-control process to ensure that audit reports are complete and accurate, and that all tone and balance issues have been addressed prior to the reports being submitted to the Audit Committee for approval. The audit unit also ensures that the draft report is made available to representatives of the organization being audited, so that they have the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns related to the completeness and accuracy of the report.

If an audit report contains recommendations, the managers of the audited institution must draw up an action plan within a mutually agreed-upon time. This plan must describe the stages and schedules of the measures that will be taken to solve the problems raised, and must be included in the final report.

A report is considered final once the Audit Committee has approved it. In addition to being provided to the audited institution, the report is tabled to both the Senate and the House of Commons Standing Committees on Official Languages, and as required by the Official Languages Act is provided to the President of the Treasury Board. The full text of the audit report and the action plan submitted by the audited institution are posted in both official languages on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages' Internet site. In accordance with the spirit and intent of the Access to Information Act, these documents are also available to the public in printed format on request.

A follow-up will be conducted on all audits within 12 to 18 months of the publication of the final report. This follow-up may focus on all of the recommendations in the report, or only on those considered by the Commissioner to be more urgent. The institution involved will be notified in advance of the objectives and planned activities of the follow-up. The follow-up report will be submitted to the Audit Committee for approval.

6.0 Audit Standards

Independence and Objectivity

The audit unit at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages must conduct direct and independent audits of how institutions implement the requirements of the Official Languages Act.

Professional Competence

The audit unit at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages must carry out its responsibilities using the resources at its disposal and qualified staff who meet professional standards, have good communication practices, and comply with the ethics, values, and codes of conduct of both the profession and the Public Service.

Management of the Audit Function

The audit function at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages must be managed efficiently in accordance with approved risk-based plans.

Audit Work

The audit work, including planning activities, studying and evaluating information, communicating results clearly and efficiently, and following up on progress in implementing recommendations, must be undertaken according to professional standards.

Dissemination of Audit Results

Final audit reports are provided to both the Senate and House of Commons Standing Committees on Official Languages, the President of the Treasury Board, and the audited institution. They are also posted on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages' Internet site, and are available to the public in printed format on request.

7.0 Requests for Information

For further information about this Policy, please contact:

Pierre Coulombe
Director, Performance Measurement Directorate, Compliance Assurance Branch
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
30 Victoria Street, 6th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec  K1A 0T8
Telephone: 819 420-4858
Fax: 819 420-4828
Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368
E-mail: pierre.coulombe@clo-ocol.gc.ca

David Boudreau
Assistant Director, Performance Measurement Directorate, Compliance Assurance Branch
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
30 Victoria Street, 6th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec  K1A 0T8
Telephone: 819-420-4768
Fax: 819-420-4828
Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368
E-mail: david.boudreau@clo-ocol.gc.ca

Appendix A - Planning the Audit Activities

Risk Factors to Consider

Institution
Risk Factor Service to the public (parts I, II III, IV) Language of work (part V) Management of the Official Languages Program (parts VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI)
1. Number of service points designated bilingual      
2. Operations in the regions      
3. Regions designated bilingual for the purposes of language of work (Circular 1977-46)      
4. Type of institution (department, agency, crown corporation, privatized institution)      
5. Impact on federal administration/important language issues      
6. Years since previous audit      
7. Problems arising from the analysis of the annual departmental report on official languages      
8. Past experience with the institution (cooperation, quality of follow-ups, measures taken)      
9. Concerns of OCOL management and the management of the institution      
10. Agreement with OCOL's strategic priorities      
11. Services provided by third parties (sections 23 and 25; Regulations, section 12) or in partnership      
12. Number of complaints received annually by OCOL (parts I to IV)      
13. Number of complaints received annually by OCOL (part V)      
14. Number of complaints received annually by OCOL (part VI)      
15. Impact on francophone and anglophone minorities (part VII)      
16. Number of complaints received annually by OCOL (part XI, section 91)      
 

Appendix B - Phases in the Completion of an Audit

There are four phases in the audit process: planning, examination, reporting, and follow-up.

The auditors undertake the following work.

Phase I: Planning

  • Describe the institution to be audited through:
    • familiarizing themselves with, and documenting, its activities; and
    • identifying the most important activities.
  • Do a preliminary evaluation, which involves:
    • assessing the general framework for the management of the Official Languages Program; and
    • identifying potential problems.
  • Define the scope of the audit by:
    • specifying the audit issues to be pursued in the examination phase; and
    • establishing the audit objectives.
  • Focus the audit on results, while also considering processes and systems.
  • Establish criteria, which involves:
    • identifying the policies, management systems and practices that must be in place, and
    • ensuring that the resulting criteria established are relevant and neutral, and provide a basis for developing observations.

Phase II: Examination

  • Develop an audit program by drawing up a detailed plan of the work to be done and by linking the following components:
    • audit issues;
    • audit objectives;
    • audit criteria;
    • audit procedures to be followed; and
    • evidence to be gathered.
  • Undertake a detailed examination of activities, which involves:
    • seeking evidence to assess performance against the criteria; and
    • identifying the underlying causes of any problems noted.
  • Analyze the audit results, which includes:
    • assessing management effectiveness and the quality of systems and practices; and
    • identifying optimal solutions to deficiencies identified.
  • Develop and provide the preliminary recommendations to the institution.
  • Prepare the audit working papers.

Phase III: Reporting

  • Draft a report that includes the following components:
    • an executive summary;
    • a description of area audited and the audit scope;
    • the audit objectives and criteria;
    • the methodological approach;
    • the findings and recommendations; and
    • an action plan provided by the institution.
  • Ensure that the draft report is written clearly and precisely.
  • Provide the draft report to the audited institution for discussion.
  • Revise and update the report taking into consideration the comments made by the audited institution.
  • Include the institution's responses to recommendations and its action plan in the final report.
  • Submit the audit report and action plan to the Audit Committee for its approval.
  • Ensure that the best approach to presenting and communicating the audit findings is followed.

Phase IV: Follow-up

  • The follow-up on the audit report can focus on all of the recommendations, or only on those considered by the Commissioner to be more urgent.
  • The auditors are responsible for:
    • evaluating the action plan proposed by the audited institution on the basis of the measures undertaken;
    • examining the steps that have been implemented and evaluating the results obtained;
    • discussing the findings with the audited institution;
    • submitting the follow-up report to the Audit Committee for its approval; and
    • publishing the report.
 

Appendix C - Summary of the External Audit Process

Phase I: Planning Phase II: Examination Phase III: Reporting Phase IV: Follow-up
Long-term planning
  • establish triennial plan based on risk analysis
  • prioritize audits
  • seek Audit Committee approval of triennial plan
Develop the audit program Write draft report, including recommendations After 12-18 months, follow-up on progress by institution in implementing recommendations
Annual planning of audits
  • derived from triennial plan
Undertake the audit work Discuss draft report, including recommendations, with institution For follow-up, use same process as that used in original audit
Planning of each audit
  • describe the institution and the audit issues
  • determine the audit's scope and objectives
  • establish the criteria
  • create a work plan and audit schedule
Analyze results and develop findings Revise draft report as needed and obtain from institution an action plan in response to recommendations Draft follow-up report for discussion with institution
Prepare and review working papers Submit final report to Audit Committee for approval and then issue final report Submit final follow-up report to Audit Committee for approval and then issue final follow-up report