Archived - Notes for an address to the employees of Citizenship and Immigration Canada on Linguistic Duality Day
This page has been archived on the Web.
Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.
Ottawa, September 6, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good afternoon, bonjour.
First of all, I would like to welcome you all, and thank you for joining us, here in person or via videoconferencing. It is a pleasure for me to be here today at Citizenship and Immigration Canada for your Linguistic Duality Day activities. I would also like to thank your official languages champions, Les Linklater and Diane Mikaelsson, for inviting me today and for their commitment to the promotion of linguistic duality at CIC.
Linguistic duality as a value
It’s important for me to be here today to celebrate Linguistic Duality Day – a few days ahead of time. Linguistic duality is an unchanging value in Canadian society—part of the country’s very nature. Canada’s identity was built with English and French as the national languages of dialogue, and that national conversation in both languages continues today. Linguistic duality is a key value of Canadian society, and it is all the more important in the public service.
As CIC employees, you all contribute to a diverse society that promotes linguistic duality and social inclusion through your department’s policies and programs. Linguistic duality is at the heart of your everyday actions; it is through all of you that immigrants to Canada learn of Canadian values and their importance in their adopted country. You have a huge responsibility when it comes to promoting linguistic duality as a Canadian value. Today is an opportunity for you to take a moment to realize that—one immigrant at a time, one family at a time—you’re making a difference.
I recently had the experience of talking to a group of immigrants to Canada, several of whom had previously lived in different bilingual countries. I was struck by the fact that they were particularly impressed with Canada’s language policies, with the fact that they had been able to get services in French from the federal government across Canada, and with the fact that, in the words of one immigrant, “there is no persecution of language minorities in Canada.”
Your attitude toward linguistic duality and, in particular, how you respect language of work—YOUR language of work—has a decisive influence on how managers, colleagues, newcomers to Canada and all Canadians integrate linguistic duality in their lives. Your work does not go unnoticed.
That said, we need to make sure that this value does not become a burden.
It’s a value we need to share, but one that we must also cherish and engage with. And that begins here, with your day-to-day activities as public servants.
Last year, I gave a speech during a citizenship ceremony. It was a very moving experience to see all those people who were ready to embrace Canadian values as their own. But the truth is, Canadian linguistic duality is complex. We live in a paradox: a bilingual country where few people speak both official languages. Sometimes immigrants are surprised when they realize that the majority of Canadians do not know both official languages. But that duality—and duality does not necessarily mean bilingualism—is at the core of our identity. It is a distinctive trait of Canada’s personality.
Linguistic duality is a core value of the public service and of Canada—and it is an integral part of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s mandate. You need to embody this value and give linguistic duality a heart. This way, it is not an abstract concept, but rather becomes anchored in the lives of all Canadians, whether they were born here or chose Canada as their adopted home.
Language of work
What does linguistic duality mean to you in your daily work as CIC employees?
Many of you are bilingual—some perfectly, some partially. But before linguistic duality became a value or an obligation for you, it had to be an object of curiosity, of discovery. Learning a second language—or in some cases, a third or forth—is a labour of love, a thirst for knowledge, even a quest for identity. Everyone has a story about how they first learned their second language, or when they first understood how important linguistic duality is for Canadians. One of the great things about my job is getting to hear those stories.
It is sometimes hard to understand why, in this globalizing world with its abundance of information, unilingual Canadians (Francophones as well as Anglophones) don’t rush to learn the other official language. There’s so much to discover!
Now, I would like you to think about the fact that all of you play an absolutely critical role in keeping linguistic duality at the heart of Canadian values. Let me explain.
In the public service, the linguistic minority can shift many times over, especially here in the National Capital Region. It is not determined by provincial borders, it is determined by your boss!
Employees tend to use the language that their manager prefers. That’s understandable, but staff need to learn to overcome this reflex.
Of course, no one wants to make waves in their organization. But report after report and study after study indicate that Francophones are reluctant to use French at work. Why is that?
There are invisible pressures not to use French: an Anglophone manager might say, “Oh, thank you, you just made my life easier,” to a Francophone employee who speaks English or submits his report in English. We accept that documents, briefing notes and e-mails are not translated, or at best are hastily translated, because deadlines are often very tight.
This approach, though never spoken of aloud or written down, must change! You have the right to work in the official language of your choice. When you exercise that right, do it with a positive attitude, but also make yourself understood.
As public servants, you have rights—but you also have responsibilities when it comes to linguistic duality. As the Official Languages Act states:
- the public has the right to communicate in English or French with the head offices of federal institutions that are subject to the Act, and
- federal public servants have the right to work in the official language of their choice in regions that are designated bilingual.
But there’s a condition: in return for this right, you must dare to use the language of your choice at work.
Your right to work in the official language of your choice includes the right to participate in meetings using the official language of your choice. And central services in your department, such as pay and benefits, must be bilingual?
There are easy ways of breaking the ice on these issues. You can say, “Si cela ne vous dérange pas, j’aimerais remettre ce rapport en français,” to your bilingual Anglophone manager, or “If it’s OK with you, I would like to write this report in English because I can express myself better in my first language ,” to your bilingual Francophone manager.
This is your right, and your manager should encourage you to use the official language of your choice! But it is your responsibility to assert yourself.
We must also remember that the federal government is committed to enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities—to supporting their development and to fostering full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. Since 2005, federal institutions have been required to take positive measures to live up to this commitment.
Your department, CIC, is committed to enabling official language communities to enjoy the economic and social benefits of immigration. To ensure demographic balance across the country, CIC wants to increase the current annual numbers of French-speaking immigrants who settle in Francophone minority communities. As CIC employees, you play a major role in achieving this objective. Therefore, I call on you to take part in activities promoting linguistic duality in your department, as you are doing here today. That will equip you to understand the importance of the official language communities to Canada’s identity as a bilingual country, as well as your responsibility for fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages released a study entitled Beyond Bilingual Meetings: Leadership Behaviours for Managers. However, note that leadership is not reserved for managers, directors and deputy ministers—though of course we do expect it from our superiors.
How frustrating it is to work in a group whose leader is unable to show the way? Sometimes, leaders need a little push!
You can find our leadership study on our website. You can also find there a self-assessment tool for evaluating how official languages are handled in your workplace and for identifying what remains to be done. The idea is to foster the use of both official languages in the workplace.
We also have print copies of the study and the self-assessment tool for those who want them.
Linguistic duality is not a burden that holds us back. On the contrary, it allows us to advance, to see the future of the public service with optimism. Canadian linguistic duality is recognized around the world. We should be proud of it and foster it.
You all have to be official languages advocates, guided by the values of linguistic duality and respect. You must demonstrate behaviour that shows your commitment to linguistic duality in the public service.
It’s important to make linguistic duality central to our discussions of social issues and central to our work as public servants. It defines us a society, and it helps us serve the Canadian public.
The success of your department’s language policy depends on your behaviour, your actions, the messages you send, the heart you put into it.
Thank you. If we still have time, I would be happy to hear any comments you’d like to share or answer any questions you may have.