Two official languages worth celebrating

(NC)—It’s one of those anniversaries that may slip by most Canadians. After all, having the right to speak French or English in Canada is no big deal, right?

Actually, there was a time in Canada when having the right to work, be educated or obtain service in the language of your choice was not protected by law. Canada has only legally protected language rights since 1969, when the Official Languages Act came into being. Legally enshrined linguistic duality has become such a part of our national identity that many of us just assume it was always that way. Think again.

The story of official bilingualism in Canada dates back to 1962, when Canadian nationalist, politician, journalist (and some say visionary) André Laurendeau first suggested the idea.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson created the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission (officially known as the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism), which sat for eight years before the Official Languages Act was enshrined in 1969. It was this act that officially declared English and French as Canada’s official languages.

Since then, Canadians have benefited from a legally enshrined, bilingual country. Today, by using English and French as official languages, the Government of Canada can communicate with more than 98% of the Canadian population.

2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. “Placing value on Canada's two official languages is an investment in the future, from a professional, personal and cultural perspective,” says Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser.

There is more information available about official languages on the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages website at www.officiallanguages.gc.ca.

- News Canada
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