ARCHIVED - Montréal, May 18, 2006

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"A sharper view" Research for Official Language Community vitality

The Commissioner of Official Languages, Dr. Dyane Adam, today released a study entitled A Sharper View: Evaluating the Vitality of Official Language Minority Communities.

The study provides an overview of existing knowledge about community vitality and brings together ideas and concerns of community representatives, researchers and governments. “The continuous collaboration among these three groups is vital: the synergies they create lay the groundwork for communities to flourish,” noted the Commissioner.

The release is especially timely, given the recent reinforcement of the Official Languages Act. In supporting the changes to the Act, the government has made a commitment to supporting and encouraging the development of official language minority communities. “As every federal department and government agency is gearing up to meet its renewed obligations toward official language communities, this study will help them to better understand their role and the way they might work with their partners,” added Dr. Adam.

"The government must contribute to research on vitality and integrate findings into its policies and programs to ensure that minority communities enjoy the same benefits as majority communities," indicated the Commissioner. This knowledge is also central to community empowerment, allowing them to use best practices and lessons learned to more strategically orient their development.

Evaluating community vitality is a complex, but necessary endeavour. "To achieve more targeted action and tangible results for Canadian society, a consistent approach to vitality based on the use of indicators must be adopted," concluded Dr. Adam.

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For more information, please contact:

Robin Cantin
Manager, Public Affairs           
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Telephone: 613-995-0374
Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368


A Sharper View: Evaluating the Vitality of Official Language Minority Communities

This study is the result of an extensive dialogue on the vitality of official language minority communities. It attempts to shed some light on how communities, researchers and governments conceive the "vitality" of Canada’s official language minority communities (OLMCs).

The current study is based on a review of the literature on vitality and community development as these pertain to OLMCs and as they are viewed outside OLMCs in the rest of Canada and abroad. There were also consultations with a score of researchers in the community sector and in government through interviews conducted in the summer of 2005.

The vitality of OLMCs is one of the main concerns associated with the implementation of the Official Languages Act passed in 1969. While considerable progress has been made since 1969, the fact remains that identifying and evaluating the vitality of OLMCs is difficult.

There is a growing interest in this question of vitality, both in the communities themselves and among researchers, and it is certainly now a matter of great interest for the government. On November 24, 2005, Parliament adopted Bill S-3, which clarifies the obligations of federal institutions under Part VII of the Act. Every federal institution must now take “positive measures” to fulfil the government’s obligations with respect to the vitality of official language minority communities and with regard to promoting linguistic duality. The need to take action implies that federal institutions will be open to acquiring knowledge about vitality.

The study goes over the various concepts used in work that has advanced our knowledge of official language communities and their vitality. It identifies the main contributions of researchers who have sought to describe community realities and to explain the conditions that affect vitality. Such researchers have a key role to play in developing new knowledge about vitality as well as measures that can be put into practice in the communities.

The preliminary results can be found in a discussion paper (Johnson and Doucet, 2005), which provided input for the event titled "Strengthening the Foundations: Discussion Forum on the Vitality of Official Language Minority Communities," which was held in September 2005. The discussion paper and the forum provide a basis for an analysis of the current capacity to recognize the factors that make up vitality, evaluate changes in vitality and find ways to strengthen this ability within OLMCs, with the support of community leaders, researchers and government institutions.

After the exhaustive review undertaken by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the 1960s, research devoted to OLMCs by and large has been limited. Few studies deal specifically with the vitality of OLMCs and, as yet, no recognized body of knowledge has been established.

Four general themes constitute the structure of this report: community, vitality, evaluation and indicators, and empowerment.

The overview provided by this study demonstrates the great interest in the vitality of communities, albeit one that is not understood in the same way by all concerned.

A consensus is nonetheless emerging that taking effective action with regard to vitality requires first getting to know it better, hence the importance of creating a diversity of knowledge about the communities and their development.

To conclude, the communities have good reason—and up to a point, the resources—to take charge of knowledge about their vitality. Such empowerment is a sine qua non for reinforcing vitality and achieving the equality stipulated by the Act.

Resources already in place can be called upon, others are visible on the horizon and a host of new resources are being developed as part of a process of shared governance. At the end of the day, empowerment depends on the extent of the communities’ commitment to take charge of their destiny, but it also depends on the support they receive from the government institutions, which are constitutionally responsible to a greater extent than ever since the amendments to the Act in November 2005. Adding in the expertise of interested researchers completes the makings of the concerted effort needed to move forward on community vitality.

The study points to the importance of proper diagnoses and proper planning of development activities, and the need to draw on knowledge in order to empower ourselves in achieving the objective of greater vitality. All involved need to equip themselves with tools for evaluating activities and initiatives that will strengthen community vitality. The study provides a very useful reference and starting point for those seeking such tools.