Archived - Notes for an address to the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation
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Fredericton, June 3, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you Mr. Carr.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to begin by saying that it’s an honour for me to participate in this discussion with Gérard Bouchard. Professor Bouchard is a man of unquestionable intellect and remarkable academic achievement. I would also like to thank the two presidents of the host universities and congratulate them for this memorable event.
The official program abstract suggests that, “Based on recent history in the Netherlands, France and Germany, one would believe that pluralism is running out of steam.” Let’s stop right there. Canada’s experience is very different, and Quebec’s experience is also very different. Our approach to identity and linguistic duality, our conception of citizenship, our attitude towards those who come to our country, our experience with colonialism—all of these factors have meant that pluralism is not merely a policy, it is a reality. And it’s a reality that, in contrast with some other countries’, is overwhelmingly supported by Canadians from all origins.
Cultural tolerance as a value can be traced to the early days of European contact. In his book Champlain’s Dream, the historian David Hackett Fischer describes how Champlain saw and rejected the use of African slaves in the Caribbean, as well as the brutal conquest of Aboriginal peoples in the American colonies.
From the outset, he established a relationship of respect, alliance and cultural adaptation with First Nations—a tradition that has been breached many times over the past four centuries.
At least one delegate to this conference told me that the highlight for her was watching Professor Fisher autograph Champlain’s Dream for Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo—on Donald Creighton’s desk.
In his recent novel Uashat, Professor Bouchard describes the encounter, in 1954, between a young Laval sociology student and the Innu reserve in Sept-Îles. It is an encounter that reveals much of the ignorance, insensitivity and loss that has characterized the continuing relationship between the European and Aboriginal cultures of Canada.
Canada's multiculturalism and linguistic duality policies are both based on diversity. Cultural diversity and linguistic duality are two fundamental and complementary values that are part of the Canadian identity. Canadian multiculturalism stems from our belief that all citizens are equal. Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging. Linguistic duality fosters respect, acceptance, empathy and intercultural dialogue. Both these policies originate from the recommendations of the Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which was published four decades ago.
Those recommendations now seem self-evident: that discrimination on the basis of race, creed, nationality or place of origin be prohibited; that the same conditions for citizenship and for the right to vote and to stand for public office be accorded to all immigrants, with no regard to their country of origin; that the teaching of languages other than English and French be incorporated as options in public elementary school where there is sufficient demand; that special instruction in the appropriate official language be provided for children who have an inadequate knowledge of that language when they enter the public school system.
The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has for several years seen the need to identify new ways of better understanding Canadians’ perceptions of linguistic duality. Canadian multiculturalism aims to recognize the vitality of diverse minority cultures, without hindering the individual development of their members. For its part, bilingualism is a skill that can build bridges between languages and cultures—this is why I believe that linguistic duality and cultural diversity are complementary and not opposites, as some incorrectly believe.
In 1867, the signing of the British North America Act began the debate about the nature of the Canadian nation. In 1902, Henri Bourassa spoke of the existence of two founding peoples and declared that the 1867 agreement was a double pact: both national and political. This is how the idea of official biculturalism took shape.
In January 1962, John Diefenbaker considerably modified Canada’s immigration policies. This marked the beginning of Canadian multiculturalism.
In 1963, Lester Pearson won the election and spoke out in favour of a bicultural approach. He then proceeded to set up the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, chaired by André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton.
The mandate of this commission was to evaluate the Canadian socio-political situation and make recommendations to ensure that this duality was fair for all Canadians.
As a result of this observation of biculturalism, the government at the time promoted cultural diversity rather than cultural dualism. Some claim that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was adopted to counter the French fact or, more specifically, Quebec nationalism. For example, in 1973, Quebec sociologist Guy Rocher saw in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act an admission of failure: “it recognizes that there is no Canadian culture, either Anglophone or Francophone. While the notion of biculturalism proposes the image of a Canada with a certain internal cultural structure, multiculturalism offers the absence of a national culture.Footnote 1” [translation]
Professor Rocher touched on the heart of the matter: Is there a Canadian culture?
A week ago, this conference heard the presentation of Professor Peter Beyer of the University of Ottawa on how the children of immigrants view Canadian identity. Surprisingly enough, they have “fuzzy, or non-existent” views of what it means to be Canadian, and even denied the existence of Canadian culture.
In contrast, second-generation Canadians in Quebec had a strong sense of the province’s unique identity—to the point where some of them identified themselves as sovereignists. According to Professor Beyer, “this all had to do with the fact that there is a Québécois culture and a sense of nationhood, and something you can attach yourself to.”
In the rest of Canada, when children of immigrants were asked what a Canadian was, some of them answered “who knows?” and even said that there was no such thing as Canadian culture.
Canadian culture may be more difficult to define than Quebec culture. I would argue, however, that there is a distinctive English-speaking culture in Canada, just as there is a distinctive French-speaking culture. It is harder to define, perhaps, but there is an unmistakeakble Canadian-ness to individuals who come from different backgrounds. For all intents and purposes, for example, former governor generals Adrienne Clarkson (née Poy) and Michaëlle Jean, Chief of the Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk, Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (née Gietz) all share a common culture, despite their different origins.
Perhaps what defines Canadian culture is that there is not one culture, but a multitude of Canadian cultures. Professor Bouchard, in his book Genèse des nations et cultures du Nouveau Monde, talks about a “mélange paradoxal de rupture enveloppée dans la continuité” [translation : A paradoxical blending of rupture shelled in continuity]Footnote 2.
Without getting into a historical debate on the origins of the policy and its repercussions on Quebec, for the purposes of our discussion I would like to compare the strengths of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and the Official Languages Act.
If I may, I would like to quote section 5 of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act:
The Minister shall take such measures as the Minister considers appropriate to implement the multiculturalism policy of Canada and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, may
- encourage and assist individuals, organizations and institutions to project the multicultural reality of Canada in their activities in Canada and abroad;
- undertake and assist research relating to Canadian multiculturalism and foster scholarship in the field;
- encourage and promote exchanges and cooperation among the diverse communities of Canada;
And it goes on in this vein for six subsections: encourage, assist, facilitate, provide support… the list is long, but these are all optional powers. The minister MAY take such measures as he considers appropriate.
The Official Languages Act, in contrast, is full of obligations for the government and rights for citizens:
- Section 5: “The journals and other records of Parliament shall be made and kept, and shall be printed and published, in both official languages.”
- Section 15: “Every federal court has, in any proceedings before it, the duty to ensure that any person giving evidence before it may be heard in the official language of his choice […].”
There is no reference in it to “as the Minister considers appropriate.” It’s “shall be made” and “has the duty.” Later, in section 21, it states that “[a]ny member of the public in Canada has the right to communicate with and to receive available services from federal institutions […].”
So it seems clear that, in legislative terms, the federal government has given itself obligations and defined rights for citizens in terms of linguistic duality, and has defined multiculturalism in terms of encouragement and assistance. Ministers can take the measures they deem appropriate to encourage different cultures. But the government itself has a clear obligation to communicate in English and in French—Canada’s two official languages. It’s the law. Language is a measurable and verifiable tool.
That is to say that, in Canada, there are two majority languages—but, officially, there are not two majority cultures. Language is an operational element, but it is also at the heart of Canadian values. Linguistic duality is a fundamental value of Canada, which serves as a bridge between the cultures. It is, in my view, the starting point of Canadian multiculturalism.
The organizers wonder if multiculturalism is an out-dated concept, and if there is an alternative better suited to Canadian society. It is possible. Whether you want to call it multiculturalism, pluralism, or interculturalism—it is easy to get lost in semantics—Canadian society is constantly seeking a balance between cultural respect and social cohesion.
I think the situation is very different now from the one that existed in 1971. When the Royal Commission made its recommendations, immigration was still predominantly from Europe, and refugees were coming from countries behind the Iron Curtain. Asia was poverty-stricken, and Asian immigration was tolerated without being encouraged. The vibrant literature of immigrant communities was a literature of culture shock and cultural adaptation to an often hostile majority. And immigration was a one-way street: immigrants came, adapted, integrated and stayed. In 1951, there were 450,000 Canadians who spoke Ukrainian at home; by 1981, that number had dropped to 45,000. This was the pattern: just as the Ryans and the Johnsons and the Tifos who immigrated to Quebec learned French, so the Diefenbakers and the Hnatyshyns and the Sopinkas who immigrated to Western Canada learned English.
After meeting Canadians of different backgrounds from all across the country, I can say that numerous minority groups are very open to learning the two official languages. Immigrant families choose to encourage their children to master several languages and make multilingualism a priority due to national and international market forces.Footnote 3
As a result of globalization, identities are more fluid, roots are less evident and human relationships are characterized by movement. This is as true for families that have been here for 13 generations as it is for those who have just arrived.
These are signs that indicate, to answer one of the organizers’ questions, that Canada is changing to adapt to a different concept of living together in a diverse world. A concept that is more fluid, more mobile, less static.
In Europe, many initiatives have been implemented in recent years to promote learning a second or even third language, and to attain a sufficient skill level.
Canada has initiatives to measure language skills in adults and future immigrants, particularly through Canadian linguistic standards.
International market forces are redefining the value of languages and a good number of countries have been quick to understand that they can no longer grow using only one language.
This means that the challenges of pluralism are different than those that existed 40 years ago, but not dissimilar. The fundamental challenge is to enlarge the sense of “us.”
One of the important areas of progress over the last 50 years in Canada has been the degree to which the sense of inclusion has grown. For example, faith or religious customs that were marginal 50 years ago are now part of the Canadian landscape.
The next step is for Canadian society to develop the same acceptance towards faiths and customs that have recently appeared on the Canadian radar. Anyone who has heard the fireworks for Diwali, watched the box office competition for the Bollywood holiday releases in India or felt the intensity of the traffic rush in an Islamic city as sundown approaches and the Ramadan fast can be broken, has a better sense of the cultural dynamic that is now changing Canada.
Language is only one of many aspects of how Canadians define their identity. In a changing world where globalization makes it increasingly difficult for citizens to clearly define their national identity, linguistic duality remains an unequivocal Canadian value. It fosters respect, acceptance, empathy and intercultural dialogue.
Anyone who has any doubt about the great speed at which the world is changing and reshaping itself need only look to the new diversity of Parliament, with new MPs like Chungsen Leung, Parm Gill, Costas Menegakis, Roméo Saganash, Sadia Groguhé, Hoang Mai, José Nuñez-Melo, Peter Penashue and Ted Hsu.
- Footnote 1
Guy Rocher, Le Québec en mutation, Montréal, 1973, p. 101.
- Footnote 2
Gérard Bouchard, « Genèse des nations et cultures du Nouveau Monde », Montréal, 2001.
- Footnote 3
Patricia Lamarre, “Language practices of trilingual youth in two Canadian cities,” in Recueil de textes : colloque plurilinguisme et identité(s) : comprendre le pluralisme dans le Québec et le Canada d’aujourd’hui, Montréal, 2007.