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It cannot be denied that the situation of French on the Internet and of linguistic duality in Government On-Line has made progress since the early stages of the Internet and the Government of Canada’s implementation of the electronic government. It has also made progress since the tabling of OCOL’s first two studies in 1999 and the two subsequent studies in 2002.

This improvement is due in part to the government’s earnestness in tackling some of the problems encountered by French-speaking Internet users and identified by the Commissioner. Indeed, as Appendix A shows, out of the 28 recommendations contained in the 2002 studies, 11 have so far been implemented by the government. Two more of the recommendations are currently being implemented, and 5 have been subjected to a partial follow-up. Ten recommendations have received no follow-up, and 4 of them have been withdrawn by the Commissioner in light of the information provided by the departments involved and in response to the evolution of certain issues. Among the most important and promising measures is the launch of the Language Industry Initiative and the considerable efforts by Canadian Heritage to boost the proportion of French cultural content on the Internet.

Unfortunately, appropriate solutions have still not been found for a number of the problems the Commissioner identified in her reports, particularly with respect to the presence of French on the Internet. Having said that, this investigation convinced the Commissioner that, even if the government carried out the recommendations contained in the 2002 studies, it would not be sufficient to prevent the digital divide between Anglophone and Francophone Canadians from widening and to ensure that Government On-Line is used in compliance with the language rights of all Canadians and all federal employees.

In the next few years, the Government of Canada will need to adopt new measures to support the creation of content in French and technolinguistic tools that would help not only those who work in the language industry but also any Canadian citizen who writes in English or in French. It will also need to multiply its efforts to maximize the impact of the resources it devotes to producing, managing, and translating government content.

The following sections summarize the main remaining challenges and present some new challenges, using the three intervention targets as in the previous sections.

Strategic Target 1
To promote the provision of French Internet tools and content.

Support the creation of French language content

In 2002, the Commissioner noted that Quebec was trailing behind most Canadian provinces in terms of connection to the Internet. Indeed, a preliminary study conducted by Media Metrix Canada (2004:1) at Industry Canada’s request revealed that “in categories where unique French content has been developed [over the past few years], there has been substantial growth in the usage [of the Internet] by French-speaking households.”30

There is still work to be done to bridge the digital divide that separates French-speaking Internet users from their English-speaking compatriots. Thus, according to Statistics Canada’s latest data (2003), Quebec (45%) is still behind all of the provinces in Canada (55%) except New Brunswick (43%) and Newfoundland (44%) in terms of household Internet connections. Furthermore, the latest statistics obtained by the Centre francophone sur l’informatisation des organisations [Francophone centre on the computerization of organizations] (CEFRIO) reveal that there is still a major gap in the level of Internet use between Francophones and non-Francophones in Quebec. In 2000, this meant a difference of 11 percentage points: 38% of Francophones used the Internet, as opposed to 49% of non-Francophones; in 2004, there was a gap of 10 percentage points separating Francophones (57%) from non-Francophones (67%)31.

According to Media Metrix Canada, the government’s assistance to Canadian organizations in “[b]reaking down language barriers by allowing for more of the English content sites to be translated or the development of original French content” will contribute to further reducing the gap separating Francophones from Anglophones in Internet usage.

The government’s ongoing support for the creation of digital French language content is all the more important given the relatively small size of the Canadian French language Internet market; the commercial viability of numerous commercial Web initiatives will always be uncertain. Furthermore, in a number of fields, the volume of foreign French language content will never meet all of the needs of Canada’s Francophone Internet users.

Even more important, Canada and the other Francophone countries will need to double their efforts to prevent the increasing transformation of the Internet into a veritable virtual library for the sole benefit of Anglophones, particularly U.S. Anglophones. Indeed, a number of projects are currently aimed at digitizing millions of books contained in U.S. libraries. For example, the goal of the Million Book Project, which is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), is to create a bank of one million works.32 Google recently signed agreements with Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford universities, the University of Michigan, and the New York Public Library to digitize, over the course of six years, some 15 million works.33 In comparison, the Bibliothèque nationale de France has 76,000, the Library of Canada has approximately 11,000, and the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec currently has 1,500 digitized books34.

However, culture is not the only field in which requirements exist. In fact, French content is rare in a number of industry sectors (specifically, the information technology sector). Moreover, a number of national associations, professional associations, or community organizations post content in English only, despite the fact that the topics dealt with on their Web sites are of interest to all Canadians. This situation creates a genuine disadvantage for Francophones in carrying out research, acquiring skills, or participating in the job market. Unfortunately, few studies exist on the proportion of French language content in various industry sectors. One of our recommendations deals specifically with rectifying this shortcoming.

The support provided by the Government of Canada should continue in the form of grants to create new digitized content or digitize existing content. In particular, the government should intensify its support for the digitization of the English and French language collections in Canadian libraries. In co-operation with other governments, the Government of Canada should also ensure the launch of an international digitization project to transform the Internet into a veritable multilingual and multicultural library. The government could also support the creation of original content through Canadian and French language Internet projects based primarily on public participation (for instance, a project to create a popular dictionary of Canada’s towns and villages), according to the shared model developed by players such as Wikipedia35.

However, there are some new ways in which government support could also be extended. For example, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec could support the creation, at an international level, of a cultural-linguistic quality record similar to the records created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in different fields. This quality record, which each organization would obtain at its own cost, would convey the message that the organization is using exemplary cultural and linguistic practices, particularly in terms of its use on the Internet of the language of its clients and partners. In some cases, this certification could be a prerequisite for obtaining major private or government contracts. AILIA may be a suitable organization to assume this responsibility, which could prove to be a valuable source of income for the association.

Support the creation of technolinguistic tools

The Government of Canada needs to support the creation of French language content, but one fact remains: the proportion of French language content on the Internet, regardless of its origin, will always be relatively small. In August 2004, French language content represented only 5% of all content available on the Web, as opposed to 58% for English language content.36 In the same vein, according to GlobalReach, in September 2004, only 4% of all Internet users in the world—meaning 4% of the world’s potential writers of e-mails, blogs, and personal sites—were French-speaking37.

In this context, it is important for the Government of Canada to continue to support the development of technolinguistic tools facilitating Canadians’ access to Web content produced in their second official language or even content created in languages other than English or French. These links could contribute to increasing Canadians’ knowledge and understanding of the culture of the other official language community. In the end, the development of these types of software will not only help Canadians from each language community to consult the content generated by their fellow countrymen or by producers from other countries; it may also increase international demand for Canadian content.

Different technolinguistic tools may enable the building of a better bridge between Canada’s different language communities. For example, translingual search engines may allow Francophones with a passive knowledge of English to type a query in French to access content prepared or indexed in English (for example, newspaper articles or photographs); controlled writing tools may enable Anglophones to generate digitized texts that are clearer and easier for non-Anglophones to read; and in some fields, English-speaking readers may use automatic translators to obtain a general idea of content produced in French and decide whether it is worthwhile to have it translated by a professional.

The Language Industry Initiative holds much promise as a way for the government to support the creation of these types of technolinguistic tools. Also, the dissemination of linguistic databases owned by the Government of Canada (Recommendation 1.4.3. reworded), including those that support the operation of TERMIUM®, would further the production of technolinguistic tools by the academic and industrial communities. However, other measures may also enable this objective to be met.

In the wake of the creation of the LTRC, the government should ensure that major research grants pay the necessary attention to the production of quality technolinguistic tools. Researchers currently complain that language industry research often gets caught between two sides: for institutions like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), computational linguistics work falls under the responsibility of funding agencies for the pure science field, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC); whereas for NSERC, they often fall under the authority of funding agencies for the social sciences. Centralizing the LTRC’s research and making it a funding agency would greatly enhance the production of high-quality technolinguistic tools.

A number of members of the industrial sector bemoan the fact that the Government of Canada, which is one of Canada’s main producers and disseminators of content, is not a major user of technolinguistic tools. We will return to this issue shortly, but there is no doubt that increasing government funds for the purchase of technolinguistic tools and simplifying the processes for purchasing these types of products and services would give the language industry a powerful boost and increase the supply of certain types of software Canadians need to more readily access the content of other language environments.


Given that, three years after French on the Internet was released, work is still needed to bridge the language gap separating Anglophones and Francophones on the Internet, the Commissioner recommends:

New recommendation 1.6
That Canadian Heritage step up the pace of investment to support the creation of digitized content, particularly the digitization of Canadian French language works and journals contained in Canadian libraries.

New recommendation 1.7
That the department of Foreign Affairs Canada initiate discussions on launching a large-scale international digitization project in the context of its efforts to promote cultural diversity and to ensure the transformation of the Internet into an actual multilingual and multicultural library.

New recommendation 1.8
That Canadian Heritage look into the possibility of supporting the creation of a quality record on linguistic and cultural diversity on the Internet.

Strategic Target 2
To ensure that Government On-Line officials have the knowledge and resources necessary to produce and post high-quality Internet content and provide high-quality Internet services in French.

Like all governments, the Government of Canada devotes a large part of its resources to producing, distributing, and managing written documents. Thousands of federal employees spend each day drafting or reading notes, reports, studies, and memoranda; collecting and analyzing scientific and technical data and knowledge produced within the government or private sector; editing and translating public documents for publication; and so on. In fact, the Government of Canada is one of the largest producers of written language in Canada and in the world (Table 1).

Organization Domain Number of Web pages
Amazon 52,500,000
Yahoo 40,700,000
Google 40,310,000
Government of Canada 14,300,000
Government of the U.K. 9,410,000
The New York Times 7,700,000
IBM 3,270,000
Government of France 2,340,000
Government of Ontario 1,870,000
Dell 1,750,000
Government of Quebec 887,000
Government of British Columbia 731,000
Government of Alberta 724,000
Le Devoir 386,000
The Globe & Mail 51,200

Source: Google, search by domain performed by OCOL representative, February 11, 2005; data revised on May 20, 2005.

In recent years, federal production has increased even more. Indeed, a decade after the Internet first made its way into the lives of Canadians, the government must respond adequately and quickly38 to the thousands of e-mails sent each day by citizens and businesses, inform Canadians through the use of paper documents and millions of Web pages, and ensure effective management of written information circulating electronically among federal employees.

All of these activities must be carried out in accordance with the rules of linguistic duality, and such compliance has only become more costly over the years. By facilitating the national distribution of content produced or managed by the departments and agencies39, the use of the Web has meant an increase in the demand for translation, as a document may be posted on their Web sites only if it is available in both official languages.

Carrying out these various activities is expensive: funding and staff are needed to create quality reports, to respond adequately to the increasing influx of e-mails received by government institutions, to file and identify internal information produced by the organization, to post and update information on Government On-Line sites, to translate that information, and so on.

At the same time, substantial savings are being realized as a result of the increasing use of the Internet for communications within the government and for the exchange of information between the government and Canadian citizens. Nevertheless, there is not an endless supply of financial and human resources at the disposal of departments and agencies to perform these various tasks. As a result, they are often faced with difficult choices. Certain federal institutions have currently given up on posting some scientific, technical or historical material on their Web sites because that information is available in one language only (usually English) and because it would be too expensive to have it translated professionally. For some, the problem goes beyond mere economics—it is difficult to obtain an adequate translation for a technical document that uses terminology that very few translators know.

In this context, there is no doubt that the increase in federal effectiveness and efficiency40 in creating, managing, and translating documents should be a priority. To achieve this objective, the government should continue to ensure that government network and content managers acquire the legal and linguistic knowledge they need to ensure respect for English and French in Government On-Line.

Furthermore, the federal institutions will have to establish linguistic guidelines and policies well-suited to the advent of Government On-Line and to the increasing complexity of meeting the expectations of Canadians.

However, the government should also explore new avenues to increase its effectiveness and efficiency in creating, managing, and translating documents. Specifically, it should substantially step up its use of technolinguistic tools and adapt its organizational policies and practices to maximize the impact of its software.

Increased use of technolinguistic tools

Canadian and international experience in recent years has clearly demonstrated that it is possible for organizations to use information technology to increase the productivity of their content creators, managers, and translators.

For example, a number of businesses are using technolinguistic tools to better manage the external e-mails they receive each day: the simplest, often repeated questions receive an automatic response from the organization’s computers, whereas more complicated questions are forwarded to a client service officer who may use one of the responses or part of a response suggested by the software or produce a new response altogether. Using this type of system can help increase staff efficiency considerably. In 2003, a major Canadian organization claimed to have reduced by nearly half (from 12.0 minutes to 6.5 minutes) the average time needed to respond to an e-mail41.

Another example: since 1985, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has been using automatic translation software called ENGSPAN to translate most of its documents from English into Spanish. While fully aware that this technology cannot produce perfect results on its own, PAHO management has put in place a process whereby ENGSPAN supports the work of translators rather than eliminates it: the document to be translated is first subject to an automatic correction and/or human revision; it is then translated automatically by the automatic translation software before finally being revised by a professional translator. The results of this approach are conclusive: PAHO has been able to reduce its translation costs per word by 31%;42 most translations are delivered within specified deadlines; and most readers find the quality acceptable43.

Certain recent actions by the Government of Canada demonstrate its awareness of the potential of information technologies as tools to increase the efficiency of federal institutions in terms of language. For example, the creation of the Language Technologies Research Centre (LTRC) as part of the Language Industry Initiative should foster, in the coming years, the development of technolinguistic tools that are useful to the creators, managers, and translators of content produced by federal institutions and all Canadian organizations. Moreover, the distribution of TERMIUM® throughout the public service and implementation of a repertoire of specialized lexicons (the Language Toolbox) are already enhancing the productivity of federal public servants in terms of language.

However, the Commissioner’s review clearly shows that, the government is underutilizing the potential of technolinguistic tools. The self-assessment guide for federal Web sites is a good example of this. It would have been valuable for TBS to have, from the outset, considered developing an interactive language quality self-assessment grid. When integrated into the work processes of content creators or managers, this technolinguistic tool, similar to a sophisticated spell and grammar check, could have assisted and guided them in their work, in addition to carrying out certain relatively simple tasks for them (for instance, calculating sentence legibility).

The underutilization of technolinguistic tools in the Government of Canada is due to a number of factors. First of all, central agencies and departments are not always aware of the existence of these tools and generally do not have the knowledge and resources needed to develop and deploy them. Thus, as we have already pointed out, there is currently no training or knowledge dissemination program available to allow communications managers to familiarize themselves with the technolinguistic tools available on the market and the issues involved in their use. Furthermore, most senior executives and official language champions in the government know little about the existence and potential of these tools, which can make it difficult to obtain the resources needed to acquire and use these tools.

The creation of the LTRC should help to narrow this gap, at least in part. However, it is worrying to note that the Government of Canada supported the creation of LTRC without granting the Translation Bureau or other federal bodies potentially interested in acquiring technolinguistic tools the financial resources needed to actively take part in the work of the LTRC. This situation poses a problem in that certain departments and agencies with a strong interest in working closely with the LTRC to improve their efficiency and effectiveness in terms of language (for example, the persons responsible for the Job Bank) may have to give up on the idea. Moreover, an operating budget has not been allocated to the LTRC; this could impact its efficiency.

Second, some of the processes currently in place within the Government of Canada do not promote the effective and efficient use of technolinguistic tools. For example, senior management at the Translation Bureau has rightly stated that it would be unreasonable, at this time, to use technolinguistic tools to translate the content of several government Web sites automatically, because any drop in translation costs would inevitably come at the cost of a dramatic drop in quality44. However, the Translation Bureau believes that automatic translation could at some point yield good results for a number of institutions if it were possible to convince government content creators to draft their texts using directed or controlled English or French.45 Eliminating most of the ambiguities and turns of phrase that cause problems for automatic translators could mean that, in some cases, it is in fact cost-effective to use this technology and give translation professionals a different task: revising the translated texts.

The Commissioner believes that all of the government linguistic procedures and practices should be reviewed in light of the emergence of technolinguistic tools and the greater need for the Government of Canada to increase its linguistic efficiency.


The Commissioner believes that increasing federal efficiency in creating, managing, and translating content should be a priority for the Government of Canada, particularly given that the needs of Canadians for quality government information are on the rise, despite the fact that the resources at the government’s disposal to meet those needs remain unchanged.

Thus, the Commissioner reiterates that she expects the government, in the wake of this recommendation, to “provide ongoing training to network and content managers of federal institution Web sites in order to increase their awareness of official languages issues and of the technolinguistic tools available.” That being said, the Commissioner also expects the government to ensure proper follow-up of two new recommendations.

New recommendation 2.10
That the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada (PSHRMAC) inform senior government officials and official language champions of the existence of new tools and approaches that may potentially increase the productivity of English- and French-language content creators, managers, and translators.

New recommendation 2.11
That PSHRMAC, in co-operation with the Translation Bureau, review the government language policies and, if necessary, amend them so as to promote the implementation of language processes based on a more intensive use of technolinguistic tools to meet the expectations of Canadians.

In its response to the preliminary version of this report, PSHRMAC has agreed to implement Recommendation 2.10. As for Recommendation 2.11, the Agency feels that the responsibility belongs to Privy Council Office and Industry Canada. However, the Commissionner believes the issue is a PSHRMAC responsibility as it touches on language policies and she therefore maintains her position to address the recommendation to PSHRMAC.

Strategic Target 3
To ensure the implementation of a robust governance framework regarding the Internet and official languages.

Since 1999, the Commissioner has emphasized the need for the government to set up a robust governance framework for official languages issues on the Internet. Indeed, such a framework is required to ensure that the government makes the best decisions possible to increase the presence of French on the Internet and to ensure respect for official languages in Government On-Line, that each government player knows its role and specific responsibilities in this regard, and that each relevant program or project meets the expected objectives.

Unfortunately, many of the framework components intended to promote the growth of linguistic duality on the Internet are still missing, three years after OCOL’s special studies were tabled. Although the issue of official languages in Government On-Line has been addressed, an authority to handle the issue of French on the Internet still does not exist.

Some of the weaknesses identified in that study should be resolved by the work currently being carried out by the Official Languages branches of PCO and PSHRMAC. The Horizontal Results-Based Management and Accountability Framework (HRMAF) currently developed by PCO should present mechanisms to ensure the strengthening of linguistic duality on the Internet and in Government On-Line. The Commissioner will follow the development of the HRMAF with great interest, along with efforts to bolster the governance framework for linguistic duality on the Internet and in Government On-Line, as this is an important issue in the context of the Internet.

That being said, the government should also ensure that it makes available to the governance decision makers the quantitative and qualitative data they need to advise the government and prioritize or assess its actions in terms of language and the Internet. At this time, this information is often missing, incomplete, or difficult to obtain.

For example, it is striking to note that there are very few recent statistics to compare the presence of English and French on the Internet and in the e-business environment. Moreover, there is no Canadian equivalent of the ambitious Pew Internet & American Life Project, which promises to explore the impact of the Internet on all spheres of the lives of Americans46.


The Internet and Government On-Line are increasingly present in the lives of Canadian citizens. It is therefore crucial that the government set up a governance framework conducive to promoting the presence of Canada’s official languages on the Internet and in Government On-Line. The Commissioner expects the government to ensure appropriate follow-up of the recommendations which have yet to be implemented, in whole or in part.

Furthermore, as those responsible for ensuring the governance will need up-to-date and precise information on the presence of the Internet in the lives of Canadians in order to make sound decisions, the Commissioner recommends:

New recommendation 3.5
That Canadian Heritage and Statistics Canada initiate an ongoing research project to collect data on Internet use by Canadians and to make these data available to decision-makers so they can prioritize and assess government action to promote linguistic duality on the Internet and in Government On-Line.


30. Taken from the draft of a Media Metrix Canada study submitted to Industry Canada.

31. CEFRIO (2005), NetTendances—Sondage sur l’utilisation des TI par la population adulte au Québec [Net trends – survey on the use of IT by Quebec ’s adult population], Quebec.

32. The books are shipped from the United States to India by boat. When they arrive, they are digitized. The digitized versions of the works are then revised and placed on the Web, and the originals are returned to their owners.

33. Quint, Barbara (2004), “Google and Research Libraries Launch Massive Digitization Project,” Infotoday, December 20. Consulted on February 19, 2005, at site. Amazon also continues to enrich its bank of digitized works as part of its Search Inside the Book program. In 2004, it contained 125,000 titles.

34. Rioux, Christian (2005), “La bibliothèque virtuelle sera-t-elle en anglais?” [Will the virtual library be in English ?], Le Devoir, February 23, pp. A1 and A8.

35. See site, consulted on February 22, 2005. Wikipedia is a free U.S. encyclopedia whose multilingual content is generated on free software by thousands of volunteers. For years, Jean-Claude Guédon, a professor of literature at the University of Montréal, has been calling for the production of popular works in shared mode. He says that this encyclopedia would be produced through the Internet by the people who live in our towns, villages, and neighborhoods. In the end, this collective shared work would provide insight into what Canada is and what it has the potential to be. Lecture delivered at the Vitrine-forum sur l’informatisation des langues [Showcase-forum on the computerization of languages] held in Montréal on June 13, 2003.

36. See Aguillo, Isidro, et al. (2004), Regional and Linguistic Patterns in Positioning, Madrid, Centro de Información y Documentatión Científica. Consulted on February 6, 2005, at site. According to the estimates of Aguillo et al. made using Yahoo! and Google, German is used slightly more often than French on the Web, with 7% of the total Web content. Japanese is tied with French at 5%. Spanish (3%), Chinese (3%), Russian (3%), Italian (3%), Dutch (2%), Portuguese (2%), and Korean (2%) are next. If these data are compared with the data gathered by Alis after INET 1996, the use of French on the Internet has more than tripled from 1997 until now, climbing from 1.5% to 5%, while English has dropped from 82% to 58%.

37. See site, consulted on February 1, 2005.

38. The standard is to respond to e-mails within one business day or less. For more information, see the Canada Site,, consulted on February 11, 2005.

39. The Government of Canada occasionally posts public information that has been produced outside the government on its sites. For example, job offers in the Job Bank, maintained by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, are produced by Canadian employers. However, they must be translated in English or French to be posted on the Internet.

40. Efficiency is the relationship that exists between the results obtained by an organization and the resources used to achieve those results.

41. Judd, Elizabeth (2003), “Automatic Response,” The Banking Strategies, September-October, volume LXXIX, no. V.

42. The translators involved in post-revision agree to receive reduced fees per word because they consider the work required of them to take less time.

43. Silva, Gustavo (2000), The Use of ENGSPAN at the Pan American Health Organization: A Reviser’s Perspective, document available during the MT in Practice: The User Experience workshop during the conference held by the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas (AMTA).

44. is a good example of this.

45. In directed or controlled English or French, a word has only one meaning (e.g., “right” [in English] means only “droite” [in French], never “exact” [in French]), and the use of passive forms is prohibited or discouraged. This greatly simplifies the job of automatic translation software and helps to decrease the number of errors made. Several organizations operating in technical fields, such as aeronautics or automobiles, have begun preparing documents using directed or controlled language.

46. See site.

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