Archived - Notes for an address at the Discussion Forum on the Perspectives of Canadians of Diverse Backgrounds on Linguistic Duality – Bridging Event
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Halifax, November 8, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you again for coming to the third forum on linguistic duality and cultural diversity organized by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. We are now halfway through the forum—today, we met with the French-speaking participants. We learned a lot, and I want to thank them all for their energy and enthusiasm, which made the discussions such a success. Tomorrow, we will see the same energy and enthusiasm when we repeat the exercise with our English-speaking participants.
Canada’s policies on linguistic duality and multiculturalism help not only to strengthen our social cohesion, but also to define us as Canadians. These features—by themselves and in interaction with each other—have helped shape the evolution of Canada since its early days. However, in practice, there are still some obstacles to overcome before we can truly benefit from these policies and ensure they are fully implemented. One of these obstacles is definitely the disconnect between aspirations for linguistic duality, as expressed by our laws and political discourse, and reality, which shows that linguistic duality is absent from the day-to-day life of many Canadians.
It is within this context that this discussion forum is being held. Today, we explored the perceptions that French-speaking Canadians of diverse backgrounds who live in the Atlantic provinces have about linguistic duality. Tomorrow, we will explore the perceptions of English-speaking Canadians. Together, we will build bridges between linguistic duality and cultural diversity in an effort to continue the dialogue that we began a few years ago.
Today, linguistic duality and cultural diversity are important values and symbols in Canadian society that play a role in defining how Canadians see themselves and are perceived around the world. While linguistic duality is not always apparent throughout the country, a significant majority of Canadians support official bilingualism.
What is linguistic duality? As many of you pointed out today, it refers to the fact that Canada has two official languages with equal status, and that it reinforces the existence of the two linguistic communities that share the same country. You are, of course, correct. But linguistic duality is more than that.
The idea of linguistic duality highlights the concepts of sharing and dialogue between Anglophones and Francophones. Granted, building bridges between communities is not an easy task. It requires time and effort. Tonight, we hope that you will benefit from this opportunity for discussion and exchange with other participants. We may come from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds, but perhaps we share similar views on the country we are building together.
I would like to thank Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Société Nationale de l’Acadie, the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration and the Office of Acadian Affairs, as well as the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, whose generous support made this evening possible.
It is a privilege to find ourselves here this evening at Pier 21. One million immigrants entered Canada here. Walking around this museum, we are revisiting the history of these immigrants, refugees, war brides, children and displaced people who passed through this gateway between 1928 and 1971. Pier 21 is also Canada’s sixth national museum and the second to be created outside the National Capital Region—a treasure trove of Canada’s rich history. When Pier 21 was designated as a national museum about a year ago, museum administrators showed excellent leadership by making every effort to fulfill their language obligations, from ensuring that signs were posted in both official languages to encouraging employees to take French-language training. They also approached the Francophone community to explore potential avenues for collaboration on various projects. It is clear that Pier 21 is on the right track when it comes to Canada’s two official languages.
Tonight, as I look around me, I can’t help but think how impressive it is to have the past meet the future. As time goes by, Canadian linguistic duality evolves and transforms us as a country. Canada is a country of immigrants—Anglophone and Francophone Canadians come from all over the world, and each of you contributes to the richness of our Canadian identity. As Commissioner of Official Languages, it is very moving to see all of you participate in an event that will allow us to keep linguistic duality at the heart of our aspirations as Canadians, regardless of our backgrounds. Understanding how Canadians of diverse origins perceive linguistic duality will help us ensure that our rich past develops into a promising future. Together, we will take a step towards having a national discourse in both official languages, without any of us feeling that we were left behind.
It is my very great great pleasure to present our special guest, Mr. Wayn Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton is very active in his community and embodies the twin values of linguistic duality and cultural diversity. He has been the CEO of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs since 2005 and, prior to that, he was a regional educator for the Nova Scotia Black Educators Association and a student services consultant for the African Canadian Services Division of Nova Scotia’s Department of Education. Mr. Hamilton lived and worked in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone for 15 years and has visited most of the countries in West Africa.
Without further ado, let’s give a warm welcome to Mr. Wayn Hamilton.