Archived - Notes for a keynote address on Diversity and Languages in Canada at the Halbert Centre for Canadian Studies
This page has been archived on the Web.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.
Jerusalem, May 16, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to speak to you here, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I would like to thank the Halbert Centre for Canadian Studies and the Israel Association for Canadian Studies for their invitation. This is my first visit to Israel, and it is a great pleasure to discover your beautiful country.
I must say that any Canadian who speaks to an audience in Israel about immigration needs to do so with a spirit of humility. Canada’s record on Jewish immigration is stained. As Irving Abella and Harold Troper pointed out in their remarkable book None Is Too Many, Canada tried, quite successfully, to keep the door shut to Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. The title comes from an infamous remark by a senior official in the Mackenzie King government. When asked how many Jewish refugees Canada would accept, he replied “
None is too many.”
Our post-war record is better—and we have hugely benefited from it: four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are Jewish, one of whom is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. The story of the Jewish community in Canada is a story of remarkable success: Jewish writers, filmmakers, artists, businesspeople, lawyers and judges—a group that includes the late Mordecai Richler, David Cronenberg, Charles Pachter, Charles Bronfman, Edward Greenspan and Rosalie Abella—are seen, not as marginal minority elements, but as dominant figures in the mainstream of Canadian life.
That transition, from the margin to the centre of Canadian public life, was not instantaneous or automatic. In 1962, my father was one of a small group of members of the Rideau Club who threatened to resign if the Club did not admit a number of Jewish prospective members, including Louis Rasminsky, then Governor of the Bank of Canada. Until a few decades ago, we were still in the era of firsts: the first Jewish governor of the Bank of Canada, the first Jewish cabinet minister, the first Jewish member of the Supreme Court, and so on. That era, I am glad to say, seems as distant as the era of Jewish quotas at Canadian universities.
Canada, just like Israel, has always been, and will continue to be, a land of immigrants. But in Canadian society, the co-existence of linguistic duality and cultural diversity is an issue of growing importance, although it perhaps looms larger in our Francophone minority communities than elsewhere. Given the small size of these communities, its impact on social life is greater and it is felt sooner.
Linguistic duality is a basic Canadian value, and it is imperative that action be taken to enhance the vitality of our official language minority communities. The socio-linguistic equilibrium of the nation depends on it. However, unlike in some other countries, in Canada English is not a politically neutral language. Because of English’s historical dominance domestically, it cannot be used in Canada as a neutral terrain on which different national and linguistic communities can meet.
I need to be clear. The fact that Canada is a country with two official languages does not mean that all Canadians are, or are expected to become, bilingual.
On the contrary—official bilingualism means that federal institutions are bilingual so that citizens do not need to be. A majority of English-speaking Canadians do not speak French—and a majority of French-speaking Canadians do not speak English. But they have equal rights to services from the federal government in the official language of their choice.
Just a decade ago, Francophone immigration to the various regions of Canada outside Quebec was not on the political or public service agenda. But things have changed because of the commitment and willingness of our governments and partners. And also, as the 2011 Census shows, because of the increasing role of immigration in Canada’s demographic growth and in the preservation of our official language communities.
Israel has used language and language renewal as a tool for bringing together immigrants from around the world, immigrants who have come to Israel since the country’s creation in 1948. The development and adaptation of Hebrew as a modern language and as the public language for Israelis and immigrants to Israel is a remarkable example of how language can be a unifying tool. Israel has stood as a model for anyone interested in the issues of immigration, diversity and linguistic vitality.
Canada’s experience is very different, and Quebec’s experience within Canada is too. Our approach to identity and linguistic duality, our concept 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 supported by Canadians of all origins.
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.
The Jewish community has deep roots in Canada. From 1775 to 1781, during the American Revolution, Quebec’s Jewish communities sided with the British, even though most of them had family connections in the American colonies. In 1807, Ezekiel Hart was the first Jew to be elected to the legislature of Lower Canada. However, he was unable to assume office because he refused to be sworn in “
on the true faith of a Christian.” It was not until 1832 that Canadian Jews gained full rights as British subjects, including the right to sit in Parliament and hold public office.
For much of Canada’s history, immigration and diversity was seen as an exclusive asset for English-speaking Canada, while in French-speaking Canada it was seen as a threat to its future and vitality. In Canada, we often refer to our French- and English-speaking societies as “
les deux solitudes” (two solitudes). Pierre Anctil, who is here today, co-edited a book on Montréal Jewish communities in 2010Footnote 1 in which he refers to the Jewish community as the “
third solitude.” In Montréal, Quebec, the Francophone and Jewish communities have historically lived in two distinct and parallel societies, and bridges between them were scarce until the sixties.
According to Professor Anctil, in between the wars, the Jewish community and French Canadians did not have many ways to meet each other—except perhaps on the street. The Quebec bourgeoisie adopted the Catholic Church’s position, which was very hostile to the Jews. This led to a number of ugly incidents of organized anti-Semitism in the 1930s. In 1963, André Laurendeau, who was Co-Chair of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the 1960s, wrote a moving apology for his own participation in a meeting he had helped organize 30 years earlier. “
I can still see myself and hear myself braying with the best of them at that meeting, while in another part of the world a German Jew, by accepting exile, was snatching his family from death.”
The nature of Canada’s history of mutual suspicion and blame between language groups has meant that those in English Canada who point the figure at Quebec for anti-Semitism tend to forget that, in the same era as the meeting that Laurendeau apologized for in Montréal, there were anti-Semitic riots going on in Toronto in the Christie Pits. And that Jews who were excluded from McGill University and the University of Toronto because of quotas were welcomed at the University of Montréal, a Francophone institution. Neither of our solitudes have much to be proud of in that regard.
Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the traditional dividing line between English-speaking and French-speaking Montréal, was known as “
The Main.” There were no churches—it was a “
zone libre.” The Jews were at home there, and many French Canadians, who came there from the rural villages, arrived in a city that was described to them by the clergy as dangerous, hostile and dominated by Anglophones.
One of the factors that further divided the Jewish community from French-speaking Quebec was that the French-speaking Sephardic Jews who immigrated to Montréal after being forced to leave North Africa in the 1950s were directed to Protestant—in other words, English—schools. The result was that the French-speaking majority grew up having very little contact with or knowledge of their Jewish contemporaries.
Let me give you two examples.
When the Woody Allen film Annie Hall came out in 1977, my family and I were living in Montréal. A Québécois couple who were friends of ours went to see it, and dropped by to see us immediately afterwards. “
You’ve got to explain this film to us,” they said. “
We didn’t understand it at all.”
That was a period of considerable turmoil in Quebec: the Parti Québécois had been elected a year earlier, and many members of the Jewish community were quite simply terrified. They had seen the rise of nationalism before and were convinced it would turn out badly.
The Canadian Jewish Congress hired the late Michael Yarosky to be, in effect, the Jewish community’s de facto ambassador to the new government. Yarosky, whose family had been evacuated from Europe after the war, grew up in a small rural village in the Laurentians, and spoke colloquial French. His argument to the Jewish community was that they had come to Quebec poor, uneducated and unwanted—and that they were now affluent, highly educated and wanted.
The misunderstandings ran both ways. Jews were suspicious of Quebec nationalism, while Quebec nationalists felt that those who supported a small, independent Hebrew-speaking country of six million in the Middle East should support the idea of a small independent French-speaking country of six million in North America. The reluctance—or rather refusal—of the Jewish community in Quebec to support Quebec independence disappointed many Quebec nationalists.
Yolande Cohen, a history professor at Université du Québec à Montréal, says that the Moroccan Sepharads, Francophones who “
arrived in Quebec during troubled times in Quebecois and Canadian identities, were not receptive to the sovereignty project. There were no similarities between their values and the French Canadians from Quebec’s.”Footnote 2
So sharing a language does not necessarily mean sharing culture and values. Canada’s multiculturalism and official languages policies are both based on diversity. Multiculturalism stems from our belief that all citizens are equal and ensures that all citizens can retain their identities, take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging. 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, the right to vote and the right 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 included as options in public elementary schools 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.
For several years, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has seen a need to identify new ways to better understand 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 contradictory, as some incorrectly believe.
The fact remains that Canada is one of the few countries in the developed world where one can find not only consistently high levels of immigration, but also a very positive public attitude towards immigration. Since 1986, immigration levels have almost tripled. In 1986, Canada welcomed 99,354 permanent residents, a number that had risen to 280,681 by 2010.Footnote 3 However, the government has recognized that this great increase in immigration does represent a challenge for official language communities.
Take, for example, the Francophone community of Manitoba. Over the last five years, there has been a specific government policy to encourage Francophone immigrants to move to communities outside Quebec, and recent statistics show that Manitoba’s Francophone communities are undergoing changes due to growing immigration. According to the numbers just published by Statistics Canada, the country’s rate of demographic growth has increased since the last census, and has now reached 5.9%. The province with the highest rate of growth is Alberta, at 10.8%. Winnipeg is the city outside Quebec with the largest proportion of French‑speaking immigrants from Africa. In 2006, 11,955 immigrants arrived in Canada from French-speaking African countries. In 2008 that number jumped to 13,777, and in 2010 it jumped again to 15,608. Since 2006, a total of 1,500 immigrants from primarily French-speaking African nations have settled in Manitoba.Footnote 4
For a Francophone minority community whose identity has historically been based on the traditional cornerstones of parish and church, making the transition from a French-Canadian community to a Francophone host community is a challenge, to say the least. Such communities are experiencing upheaval. They have a lot of preparing to do, both before immigrants arrive and even more so when the newcomers are settling in.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, I am pleased that the vitality of our official language communities is being reinforced through the arrival of French‑speaking immigrants. But the challenge is enormous. How can we bolster the sense of belonging to a community? How can we change communities that already have solid cultural reference points? How can we help these Francophone immigrants find their place among “
us?” Our traditional “
French-Canadian” communities are changing, little by little, into “
Francophone” communities; their cultural identity is being shaken. And this process is not without its bumps along the road. Both the immigrants and their host communities are experiencing a case of “culture shock” to which they must adapt. And our whole perception of linguistic duality in Canada is being affected.
That is to say that, in Canada, there are two majority languages—but, officially, there are not two majority cultures. Language is a transactional element. In other words, while the official languages policy is not intended to require Canadians to be bilingual, a certain number of bilingual Canadians are required so that the government can offer services in both languages. But official languages are also at the heart of Canadian values. Linguistic duality is a fundamental value of Canada, and serves as a link between the cultures. It is, in my view, the foundation of Canadian multiculturalism—acceptance of a society that speaks another language laid the groundwork for creating a country that welcomes newcomers.
Multiculturalism has become a loaded term in Europe, where it has taken on quite a different meaning than in Canada. In Europe, multiculturalism has often been designed as an alternative to citizenship, for instance, education in Turkish for gastarbeiter in Germany on the assumption that they will eventually return to Turkey. In Canada, multiculturalism policies have been intended as a way of integrating newcomers and connecting them to the broader society, as a stepping stone on the path to citizenship. Whether you call it multiculturalism, pluralism, or interculturalism (a term that has become current in Quebec)—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 multiculturalism policy was first introduced. When the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism made its recommendations, immigration was still predominantly from Europe, while refugees came 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.
As a result of globalization, identities are now more fluid, roots are less evident and human relationships are characterized by movement. This is an indication that the concept of “
our country,” whether it is Canada or Israel, is undergoing a transformation. We are living together in a diverse world, and so the concept has become more fluid, more mobile, and less static.
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. Canada’s two official languages—English and French—are international languages. This might be considered to be an advantage for Canada on the international stage. For instance, it enables us as a country to participate in both La Francophonie and the Commonwealth, and to communicate, using these two languages, with a large part of the world.
The fact that Canada has two dynamic languages and cultures is not only a source of tensions and disagreement. It is also a source of creativity, innovation and ongoing dialogue. And the fact that two language groups must constantly work together has helped Canadian society develop its values, which include respect, compromise, empathy and acceptance.
The tensions that we must deal with can lead to progress and be a source of innovation. This means that the challenges of pluralism are different than those that existed 40 years ago, but not dissimilar. The fundamental challenge remains to broaden the sense of “
us.” And this is true both in Canada and Israel.
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 and religious customs that were marginal 50 years ago are now an integral 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; that is the cultural dynamic that is now changing Canada.
Language is only one of many aspects of how Canadians define their identity. But 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. Both as a reality and as a symbol, it fosters respect, acceptance, empathy and intercultural dialogue.
- Footnote 1
Pierre Anctil, Ira Robinson (eds.), Les communautés juives de Montréal: Histoire et enjeux contemporains, Québec, Éditions Septentrion, 2010, 275 p.
- Footnote 2
Pierre Anctil et Ira Robinson : la «troisième solitude» (in French only)
- Footnote 3
- Footnote 4