Archived - Notes for an address to a workshop on the Francophone community at the Nunavut Language Summit
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Iqaluit, February 10, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to be here with you today to recognize the vitality of the Francophone community in Nunavut, as well as its efforts and active involvement in all areas. I am also here to speak with you about the challenges ahead.
Francophones living in Nunavut are in a distinct situation. You represent a minority, not only with respect to Canada’s two official languages, but also with respect to Nunavut’s official languages. Your written and verbal interactions with your fellow citizens are unique. You have learned how to deal with this situation. You continue to speak up in defence of your needs and issues while maintaining a rich and respectful relationship with the territory’s other language communities.
It was with much interest that I read the honest and passionate address given by Daniel Cuerrier before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs last year. He very clearly explained how Francophones in Nunavut have shifted from a confrontational situation, where dialogue between the Francophone community and the government was strained, to a collaborative situation.
I’d like to quote a passage from his speech,Footnote 1 in which he talks about the beginnings of the collaboration between the territorial government and Francophones as the new Official Languages Act was being developed:
Yes, we came on board. I am describing this as if it was very easy. But that is not true. We fought, we argued, but we kept on talking to each other and we finally reached an agreement, we made progress and we moved forward together. It worked so well that we made several recommendations to the Steering Committee charged with drafting the Bill. Those recommendations ended up in the final draft […] So there was a real willingness to get it right.
So now we have changed things, we have changed the paradigm, we are not in confrontational mode anymore […] We are in a situation where we think we can become real partners at last. That is what we feel, perhaps mistakenly […]. We are considered partners, full-fledged human beings, and citizens who are worthy of living in Nunavut and working in partnership with territorial organizations. The beauty of this act is that the Government of Nunavut has imposed upon itself the obligation to produce results.
As Mr. Cuerrier indicated, relations with the government have not been a walk in the park. But when the government invited you to take part in the conversation, you got actively involved, with the view that each culture is entitled to the respect it deserves.
The passion that you have shown can be clearly seen in your community. Your commitment is a source of inspiration to other Francophone communities across the country.
This approach, based on collaboration and respect, makes Nunavut unique in Canada. A new chapter is just beginning in the history of this vast territory. Collaboration between the Inuit majority and the Francophone community will be of great importance. Nunavut is a large-scale governance project. It is also the consolidation of a public space where more than one language or culture can grow despite the lure of the North-American English-speaking culture. Francophones throughout Canada are showing us every day how they are shifting from survival to development mode.
Nunavut’s status as a relatively young territory provides some advantages. As the territory’s governance and laws are gradually defined over time, you are sure to play a significant role, learning from issues that exist elsewhere in the country to help you develop approaches that will meet your specific needs.
Your role will be all the more important now that the Official Languages Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act are in effect in the territory. As I mentioned yesterday, the notion of substantive equality will be particularly important to Nunavut since it applies in some form or another to all of the territory’s citizens. Of course, we must make sure that the Inuit culture and language is fully developed so that they can achieve the same level of vitality as is the case in the majority populations elsewhere in the country. In order to achieve this goal, additional measures will be required, such as supporting education in the Inuktitut language.
It is not surprising that the English-speaking culture has as much influence on youth in Nunavut as in the rest of the country. The concept of substantive equality will serve to protect Inuit communities by giving them the tools they will need in order to offset this influence.
We can acknowledge the need to take measures that support the vitality of the Inuit language and culture, while, at the same time, insisting on respect for Francophone language rights. There is no fundamental contradiction between these two ideas.
As Francophones living in Nunavut, you must also have access to services and programs that respond to your particular needs. To continue to ensure the ongoing vitality of your community and overcome the additional challenges you face, it will be particularly important for the territory to provide services in your language, along with access to French-language education.
The notion of substantive equality has been debated at length over the past ten years. The Supreme Court has frequently been called upon to clarify the matter since the Beaulac decision. In that particular case, the Court noted that:
This principle of substantive equality has meaning. It provides in particular that language rights that are institutionally based require government action for their implementation and therefore create obligations for the State. It also means that the exercise of language rights must not be considered exceptional, or as something in the nature of a request for an accommodation.Footnote 2
The notion of substantive equality was defined once again in the Arseneau-Cameron case, which dealt with access to French-language education in Prince Edward Island. In that case, parents felt that it was unfair that their children had to travel more than 30 km to receive French-language education, while Anglophones had a school located within their community.
In that case, the Court stated that “
Section 23 is premised on the fact that substantive equality requires that official language minorities be treated differently, if necessary, according to their particular circumstances and needs, in order to provide them with a standard of education equivalent to that of the official language majority.”Footnote 3
The Court also stressed the importance of complying with Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which “
is designed to correct, on a national scale, the historically progressive erosion of official language groups and to give effect to the equal partnership of the two official language groups in the context of education.”Footnote 4
Recently, in the DesRochers case, it was noted that applying the same criteria for economic development projects to language minority groups would result in eliminating these minority groups from the process.
The Court stated that the federal government had a constitutional duty to make services of equal quality in both official languages available to the public. It also stated that the notion of equal services had to be given liberal and broad interpretation.
Moreover, official language communities must be just as involved in the implementation of services as they are in the development of these services. The ruling indicated that, in order to achieve linguistic equality, the government may have to provide services with different content. For years, my office has been emphasizing that “
equal services” does not necessarily mean “
From this viewpoint, I encourage the Government of Nunavut to continue to turn to the Francophone community as an ally and collaborator in the implementation of the Official Languages Act and the related regulations. It is also an ally in the implementation of the Nunavut Official Languages Act. Furthermore, I hope to see an improvement in the delivery of services to Francophones, who play a pivotal role in the community’s development.
I believe that together, you are on the right track toward achieving substantive equality among the three major communities that make up Nunavut. Each of these communities has its own specific needs, and I encourage the Government to remain committed to finding new ways of ensuring the full development of each language community.
The Francophone community has shown that it is innovative, deeply committed, and being led in a manner that is both sensible and well-informed. You have already gained access to a wide range of associations, health and education resources, and communications tools, such as French-language radio stations and newspapers, which reflect the vitality of your community. I’m talking about resources like:
- the SaFran health care organization;
- Trois-Soleils elementary school;
- Les petits Nanooks daycare centre;
- the Nunavut Francophone school board;
- CFReT-FM community radio station;
- Le Nunavoix newspaper;
- the Nunavut RDÉE (coordinating group on economic development and employability);
- the Franco-Nunavut real estate company;
- the Nunavut Odyssée co-op;
- the Nunavut co-operation council; and of course
- the Association des Francophones du Nunavut.
The Nunavut Francophone community may be small, but it is strong. I am confident that having access to education, services, health care and jobs will help the community grow over the next few years. The number of people in the community is only one factor among many. As long as your community has a distinct contribution to offer the society in which you live, it will be recognized as an important part of the whole. I believe that this notion applies to all official language communities throughout the country, but even more so here in the North.
I encourage you to maintain your support for these organizations that represent you, while continuing to build bridges between your community and the other two language communities in Nunavut, so that they can fully appreciate your contribution to this young territory.
- Footnote 1
- Footnote 2
R. v Beaulac,  1 R.S.C. 790-791.
- Footnote 3
Arsenault-Cameron v Prince Edward Island,  1 S.C.R., para. 31.
- Footnote 4
Arsenault-Cameron v Prince Edward Island,  1 S.C.R., para. 26; Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Language Rights 1999-2000, p. 24