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The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL) organized a Discussion Forum on the Perspectives of Canadians of Diverse Backgrounds on Linguistic Duality in Toronto on October 26, 2007. This forum brought together some 30 leaders from various ethnocultural groups, representatives of multicultural associations and organizations, and approximately 10 government representatives working with ethnocultural communities. The purpose of this meeting was to gain a better understanding of the issues and perspectives of Canadians of diverse backgrounds in order to develop a strategy to influence government action on cultural diversity and linguistic duality.

The discussion forum program was put together based on the profile and expectations of participants, who discussed their perspectives during two workshops and plenary sessions, focusing on the following themes:

  • Linguistic duality, cultural diversity and the changing Canadian identity
  • The day-to-day interaction of linguistic duality and cultural diversity

The forum was opened by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Co-Chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and former Governor General of Canada. Her speech presented her vision of cultural diversity and linguistic duality in Canada. This was followed by an historical overview of linguistic duality and cultural diversity in the Canadian context, presented by Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages. Later in the day, Lorena Ortega, a young student and winner of the French for the Future essay contest, spoke about her efforts to learn both official languages and integrate into both cultures. She talked about the satisfaction and benefits she gained from these efforts.

Theme 1: Linguistic duality, cultural diversity and the changing Canadian identity

During the first workshop, participants identified some of the fundamental values of Canadian society and talked about how they complemented linguistic duality.

Then, they analyzed how these values challenge Canada’s linguistic duality.

Theme 2: The day-to-day interaction of linguistic duality and cultural diversity: What are the issues and what should we do?

Participants identified many issues in the day-to-day interaction of linguistic duality and cultural diversity.

  • There is strong support for bilingualism in ethnocultural communities, but they must mobilize to take appropriate action and express their vision of linguistic duality. Lack of funding and information are limiting their participation and development. They fear losing their heritage languages.

  • For Anglophone or allophone immigrants, there is no economic interest in learning French; moreover, second language immersion programs are not sufficiently supported.

  • There is a gap between the demand and the offer of services in French; the concept of Francophone must be redefined to provide better access to the public education system in French to minority language communities.

Participants’ proposals regarding the action to be taken were addressed to the government, the community and the Office of the Commissioner.

  • For the government, the proposals focused on identifying and implementing new strategies to promote and solidify linguistic duality through increased cooperation between the government and communities.

  • The communities need to step up to meet the needs of the populations they serve and defend their interests, and get organized to play a more effective role as a government partner in carrying out linguistic duality programs.

  • For the Office of the Commissioner, proposals focused on promotion and education efforts to reinforce the right to learn and the right to use both official languages across Canada, and access to services in French.

At the end of this discussion day, participants analyzed and evaluated forum results using a form they had been given. An analysis of the answers shows a high level of satisfaction among participants, who also made suggestions to the Office of the Commissioner on how to improve the format and content of proposed future consultations in 2008 on the same topic.

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