Archived - Notes for a keynote address at the 2nd Ruppin International Conference on Immigration and Social Integration: New Frontiers in Research and Policy Makin
This page has been archived on the Web.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.
Ruppin, May 22, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
(Thank you, Ambassador Hunt.)
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
I am happy to have been given the opportunity to speak to you here, at the Ruppin Academic Center. It is a great honour to be part of this wonderful event and to share our knowledge and experiences on immigration and social integration. I would like to thank Dr. Jack Jedwab for his invitation. This is my first visit to Israel. I have been here for a few days now, and I’m enjoying discovering your beautiful country and meeting so many wonderful people.
I must say that any Canadian who speaks to an audience in Israel about immigration needs to do so in 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 shut the door to Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. But our post-war record is better—and we have hugely benefited from it: four of the nine Supreme Court of Canada 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, businessmen, 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.
Canada, like Israel, has always been, and will continue to be, a land of immigrants. However, I acknowledge that the context of each country is different. My intention today is to talk to you about the specific experience of Canada in regard to official languages. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s 2011 numbers, immigration plays an increasingly important role in its demographic growth and the preservation of official language minority communities. Linguistic duality is a basic Canadian value, and we must take action to enhance the vitality of our official language communities. The sociolinguistic equilibrium of the nation depends on it.
Canada faces many challenges related to official languages—and one of them is federal institutions’ underuse of research as a tool for developing policies and programs.
Just a decade ago, Francophone immigration to the various regions of Canada was not on the political or public service agenda. But things have changed, mostly because of the commitment and willingness of our governments and partners, but also because of research and policy making.
Research remains one of the driving forces behind policy support for linguistic duality. The government must not only support and guide policy and program development, it must also assess the progress made toward bilingualism and the vitality of official language communities. Research can also identify areas of concern in these communities.
This is why international events such as this conference are important. Immigration is increasingly important for the vitality of our communities, and every country should pay attention to the current situation of migration at the world level so they can establish national policies that reflect their demographic realities. A full understanding of social and political realities requires a deep awareness of their complexities. This is true for every immigrant-receiving nation, including Canada and Israel.
In fact, in Canada, research has always been a driving force behind support for linguistic duality. Canada’s official languages policies, which were introduced in 1969 with the Official Languages Act, were built on the mountain of studies commissioned by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, established in 1963. Research has helped us assess the vitality of official language communities, as well as our progress in making all of us more bilingual. It has also enabled us to see the shortcomings, gaps and problems that need to be addressed so government programs and institutions can target their interventions effectively.
The co-existence of linguistic duality and cultural diversity is an issue of growing importance in Canadian society, although it looms larger in our Francophone minority communities than elsewhere. Given the small size of these communities, the arrival of significant numbers of immigrants has a pronounced effect on social life.
You might wonder why immigration affects minority communities more than it does the majority. The difference is because of the context. French-speaking communities outside Quebec have been struggling to survive in an overwhelmingly English-speaking—and historically hostile—environment. They have built their communities on traditional French-Canadian institutions: the Catholic Church, the parish, credit unions and Catholic schools. The arrival of large numbers of immigrants from the Maghreb and other parts of French-speaking Africa has led a number of organizations to redefine themselves as Francophone rather than French-Canadian as they recognize this new challenge of inclusiveness.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, I keep a watchful eye on the vitality of official language communities. I believe that, to ensure that linguistic duality remains a part of our identity, Canada needs French‑speaking immigrants. We need them to settle and remain. The only way to achieve this is to effectively plan their integration into Francophone communities.
Canada’s immigration practices will therefore need to achieve two goals:
- prepare immigrants for Canada’s linguistic reality before they arrive in their new communities; and
- prepare host communities, enabling them to integrate French-speaking immigrants and ensure their inclusion.
In Canada, our minority communities are supported and prepared to play their roles as host communities. Otherwise, the linguistic imbalance would continue to grow. Without proper preparation, neither French-speaking minority communities nor Canadian society as a whole could benefit from the energy that immigrants bring with them.
Francophone immigration is virtually a lifeline for French-speaking official language communities, given that the demographic trend has reflected their decline for several decades. Our official language communities are stronger than they were 10 years ago, but they remain fragile.
Often the communities do not have enough resources to serve immigrants effectively. Though the government has made significant progress in this regard in recent years, it needs to maintain its support of settlement organizations and other groups at the provincial level, and continue its learning process to better harmonize linguistic duality and cultural diversity. Canada must ensure that the Francophonie thrives in all regions of the country.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, I am pleased that the vitality of our official language communities is being assured through the arrival of French‑speaking immigrants. But the challenge is enormous.
In Tel Aviv, there is an exceptional school where children from 48 countries and from diverse backgrounds come together to learn. (I was delighted to visit the school last week, and I was extraordinarily impressed by it.) The Bialik-Rogozin School was featured in a fascinating documentary called Strangers No More,Footnote 1 which follows several students’ struggle to acclimatize to life in a new land. The students, with the help of their teachers, together create new lives for themselves, learn a new language and adapt. Their identities are challenged in every way, not just from a language perspective. Every student comes from a different cultural background—but at school, they’re united by their common language, Hebrew. One comment that stands out in this film is that of a teacher, who said, “We do not talk of fairness, equality, etc.—we live them every day at the school.”
In Canada, immigration is changing our country. In Quebec, the debate over “reasonable accommodation” has raised difficult questions. How much should the majority society adjust to newcomers? At what point is Quebec culture—itself a minority in English-speaking North America—at risk? Outside Quebec, traditional “French-Canadian” communities are changing, little by little, into “Francophone” communities; their cultural identity is being shaken. And this is no smooth process. Both the immigrants and their host communities are experiencing a culture shock to which they must adapt. And our perception of linguistic duality in Canada is being affected.
Many questions come to mind—questions that could as easily be asked in Canada, Israel, or any other welcoming country. How can we improve our immigrants’ sense of belonging to a community? How can we help prepare welcoming communities that already have solid cultural identity reference points? How can we help immigrants find their place among “us?” In other words, how can we expand our sense of “us?”
For a Francophone minority community whose identity has historically been based on traditional resources such as its 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, especially, while the newcomers are settling in.
Take, for example, the Francophone community of Manitoba. Over the last five years, the federal government has been encouraging Francophone immigrants to move to communities outside Quebec—and recent statistics show that Canada is undergoing changes due to increasing immigration. According to 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%. Alberta is the province with the highest rate of growth, at 10.8%. Winnipeg, in comparison with other cities outside Quebec, has the largest proportion of French‑speaking immigrants from Africa.
Most of the time, the only thing French‑speaking immigrants from Africa have in common with Franco-Manitobains is language. Culturally, they come from very different worlds. The resulting bridge-building can be rewarding, but also demanding, for both parties. This is a process not to take lightly, and that requires adequate preparation—and reality checks—by immigrants and by welcoming communities.
The process is not an obvious or simple one. The welcoming communities, which in many cases have a long history of struggle for survival, cannot assume that immigrants are going to want to join them. In many cases, those immigrants came to Canada to become part of English-speaking North America, not to join a minority community. At a meeting I attended with French-speaking immigrants in Toronto, a young man from France told me that he had not known that French was spoken outside Quebec. And a woman from Côte d’Ivoire told me, “French is just a language for me, not an identity. My identity is African.”
We must not deceive ourselves. In minority Francophone communities in Canada, proficiency in English is a necessity for economic reasons. Regardless of what anyone says, finding a job in Manitoba without being able to speak English is no easy task, and keeping it is an even greater challenge.
The new globalized economy is resulting in many language and identity changes within communities. This is true in Canada, in Israel—in any country of the developed world. Tensions are emerging between cultural and linguistic identities within individual cities and provinces. Hybrid cultural and linguistic identities are emerging.
As I have often said during my mandate, multiculturalism and linguistic duality are not opposing concepts. On the contrary, they are both Canadian values, shared by all citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin or mother tongue.
In Canada, because of the growing contribution of ethnocultural minorities to the development of our Francophone communities, we can no longer base identity solely on a shared past. Today, we must value all the cultures that form part of the Francophonie.
Government institutions that encourage Francophone immigrants to settle outside Quebec face their share of challenges. Our institutions have a responsibility to be clear about the nature of our Francophone communities. Everyone is pleased to see the arrival of Francophone immigrants boosting the vitality of our communities, but if these immigrants are not bilingual, speaking both French and English, they will experience a profound shock.
Immigrants do not always understand the complexity of Canada’s linguistic reality. They think that, because Canada is bilingual, it must be bilingual everywhere. That is far from the Canadian reality, and far from the reality of Francophone communities outside Quebec.
At the same time, today’s English‑speaking communities in Quebec find themselves in a position where uncertainty and insecurity are less present in their social fabric. Through the creation of French immersion programs, and through their support of and commitment to them, Quebec’s English-speaking communities have shown not only their willingness, but their determination to be an important and integral part of Quebec society. They are ready to participate in the language of the majority, while retaining pride in their own language, heritage and institutions.
Quebec has the highest proportion of bilingual people in Canada: in the 2006 census, more than one third of Francophones (36%) and two thirds of Anglophones (69%) in the province reported that they speak English and French. Among English-speaking Quebecers aged 18 to 34, this percentage reached nearly 80%. In the past 40 years, no other Canadian community has increased its ability to speak a second official language as much as Quebec’s English‑speaking communities.
The importance of community associations should not be underestimated when it comes to the integration of immigrants. A few years ago, I was moved by the story of a University of Moncton professor of Algerian origin regarding his arrival in the Acadian peninsula. He said that, without the support of the Scouting movement, he would have returned to Algeria. The culture shock would have been too great.
It is also important not to be led astray by the somewhat idealistic values we convey to immigrants. During a workshop on Canadian values in Halifax, part of a discussion forum on the perspectives of Canadians of diverse backgrounds on linguistic duality, I heard an account given by a man originally from Colombia. The participants were all referring to typically Canadian values, good values—tolerance, inclusiveness, cooperation. But when the man from Colombia spoke, he said that this was not at all what he had found when he arrived in Canada. What he noticed was competition, individualism, materialism. Only when he left Montréal for a small community in New Brunswick did he discover that those “good” values, such as solidarity and inclusiveness, really did exist in Canada. He now works for an organization that provides settlement services to immigrants arriving in Acadia.
That led me to think about the way in which we welcome new immigrants. We repeat fine words about Canadian values. We promote an idealistic version of Canada as welcoming and inclusive, without necessarily acknowledging that the reality is at times entirely different and that there is enormous variation from province to province and from city to city.
This discrepancy must be addressed with the greatest respect and tact. A “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work when it comes to our policies for welcoming immigrants into our minority communities. Welcoming a Belgian chef who wants to open a restaurant in Winnipeg is not at all the same as welcoming a family that has spent the past five years in a refugee camp on the border between Rwanda and Congo. These situations require contributions from a variety of organizations and different types of reception infrastructure, as well as a great deal of cooperation among those involved. To effectively help those who have had traumatic experiences, we must give them appropriate assistance and support. And we must pay special attention to young people whose educational level does not match their age and experiences. Putting a 16-year-old into a Grade 6 or Grade 8 class is almost encouraging him or her to drop out. Many immigrant families are under considerable stress, with both parents out working at two jobs, often at minimum wage. This is a reality that settlement organizations must deal with.
I would like to repeat something I said earlier: the importance of community associations in the integration of French-speaking immigrants must not be underestimated. Integrating Francophone newcomers and French-speaking ethnocultural minorities requires sensitivity. Many organizations in Canada are key in promoting inclusiveness, combating racism and facilitating the full and equitable participation of Francophone newcomers in all aspects of Canadian life. They play a pivotal role in the success or failure of immigrant settlement policies.
The vitality of our linguistic communities depends on the extent of immigrants’ participation and commitment. That is what my team found over the past few years as we prepared case studies on community vitality. Immigration was identified as an important factor in the development of every community we looked at: the Francophone communities of Sudbury, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary and British Columbia; rural communities in Saskatchewan; and the various English-speaking communities in Quebec. In almost every case, there was a direct relationship between greater diversity and community vitality. These studies on community vitality are available on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages’ website.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Canada is going through a period of intense reflection on its approach to diversity and immigration—and it is not alone. The world is changing rapidly; therefore, we need tools and flexible policies to enable us to adapt to the current reality. Populations will continue to diversify at an accelerating rate. Drawing on this, certain Canadian journalists have declared that assimilation is becoming more and more prevalent and French will disappear from the national political arena. But people have been making such pronouncements for two centuries now, and they have always been wrong. There is a vital Francophone presence throughout Canada, and that will continue to be the case.
The challenge is how to promote social integration so that established communities and newcomers can flourish side by side in the interest of furthering mutual understanding and appreciation. We can only hope that the remarkable success of the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv portrayed in the Oscar-winning documentary inspires the world to develop and enhance the vitality of their linguistic communities in order to achieve better social cohesion—which is indispensable to national unity.