ARCHIVED - Part 1: Discussion framework

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“LINGUISTIC DUALITY AND THE REALITY OF CANADA'S DIVERSITY ARE TWO THINGS THAT I THINK ARE ESSENTIAL TO HOW WE SEE OURSELVES AS CANADIANS.”

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE ADRIENNE CLARKSON, OCTOBER 26, 2007


1.1 A vision of cultural diversity and linguistic duality

In her speech, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson presented her vision of cultural diversity and linguistic duality in Canada. Her speech described her arrival in Canada, her parents’ role played in her integration into Canadian society, her path to adopting Canadian values and her interest in protecting these values.

Ms. Clarkson pointed out that her life path has largely followed the historical course of recent changes to Canada’s cultural diversity and linguistic duality. For her, language is a factor in social cohesion and identity-building, and facilitates mutual understanding. Speaking the language of the country is a wise choice that many immigrants make in order to integrate into their host society and to make the most of what that society can offer. Since Canada has two official languages, speaking English and French is the best way to integrate into Canadian culture and share the lives of established Canadians.

By accepting to become Canadian citizens, immigrants endorse the values Canadians have developed over the centuries, without resorting to war or revolution, but with much thought and negotiation. New citizens must know that, once they have adopted this country, they are jointly responsible for any good or bad decisions that are or have been made. Therefore, they should learn about and know the country’s history.

Ms. Clarkson believes that one of Canada’s key values is bilingualism; the choice of two official languages is rooted in the founding of the country itself. Everyone should be able to learn and use both English and French, and established and new citizens should feel comfortable doing so anywhere in Canada.

She encouraged all Canadians to reflect on the country’s history and fundamental values and what each person can do, individually and collectively, to help make Canada a good country in which to live.

1.2 An historical overview of linguistic duality and cultural diversity

In his opening remarks, Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, commented that Canada’s two previous governor generals are symbols of the country’s cultural diversity and linguistic duality. He then spoke about the major historical milestones in Canada’s move towards linguistic duality and shared his observations and thoughts on the role that cultural diversity can play in building Canada’s future.

(A) Linguistic duality

1963—Creation of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism at a historically turbulent time marked by deep misunderstandings between Quebec and the rest of Canada. The work of the Commission helped create a new partnership through which the Government of Canada agreed to operate more effectively in both official languages, and the English-speaking provinces were encouraged to offer more public services in the language of the minority, where numbers warrant. The Commission also recommended that the contribution and heritage of Canada’s other ethnocultural communities should be better recognized.

“THAT WAS 40 YEARS AGO. TWO QUEBEC REFERENDUMS AND HUNDREDS OF EDITORIALS LATER, A MAJORITY OF CANADIANS IN EACH PROVINCE SUPPORT THE PRINCIPLES OF CANADIAN LINGUISTIC DUALITY, JUST AS THEY RECOGNIZE THE MULTICULTURAL NATURE OF THE COUNTRY THEY BUILT. NATIONAL SUPPORT FOR BILINGUALISM IS NOW AROUND 80% AND A MAJORITY OF CANADIANS CONTINUE TO SUPPORT CURRENT IMMIGRATINO LEVELS”

1967—Pierre Elliott Trudeau, then Minister of Justice, introduced the two principles that would subsequently guide all government action on language rights: “The right to use and the right to learn” the official language of choice.

1969—Two years after the Royal Commission’s first report, the government enacted the Official Languages Act, which established a legal obligation for the government to serve all Canadians in the official language of their choice. The goals of this Act are commendable: minority communities to protect, namely Anglophone communities in Quebec and Francophone communities in the rest of the country, and to ensure that the 4 million unilingual Francophones receive the same quality of service as the 20 million unilingual Anglophones. Official bilingualism is based on the reality of two communities that are fundamentally unilingual. The federal official languages policy, the federal government and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages act as a bridge between these communities, a bridge that we are still trying to expand.

1982—The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms strengthened equality and language rights. It recognizes the right of official language minority communities to have their children receive primary and secondary school education in the language of the minority.

1988—The Official Languages Act was redrafted to bring it in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and then amended in November 2005 to strengthen the rights of communities, to legally require the federal government to take positive measures to support and assist the development of official language minority communities and to promote linguistic duality. The last element created a new dynamic in the federal government’s relations with minority communities.

(B) Cultural diversity

Mr. Fraser demonstrated that the Canadian approach to cultural diversity has taken a similar path to that of linguistic duality. In 1971, the Government of Canada developed a multicultural policy within the general framework of linguistic duality. Then in 1988, it adopted the Multiculturalism Act. This happened when the government was amending the Official Languages Act, as described above, and working on the Citizenship Act. Today, Canada is made up of various cultural identities, but English and French remain its two languages of communication. Bilingualism and multiculturalism policies are based not only on the law, but also on Canadian values.

Mr. Fraser noted that young people today have a broader view of the world and are interested in learning about other cultures and acquiring a command of other languages after having learned the second language. In his view, knowledge of both official languages clearly leads to not only a better understanding of the country, its history and culture, but also greater sensitivity and openness to other cultures. Therefore, bilingualism is not a barrier to multiculturalism; it is a bridge to the world.

Mr. Fraser believes that the cultural diversity of Canadian society is a direct result of the continued growth of the immigrant population in recent decades. It is in part the open-mindedness and spirit of accommodation resulting from the development of Canada’s two main language groups that fostered immigration and diversity in the Canadian population.

“THE FACT THAT THERE ARE TWO OFFICIAL LANGUAGES IN CANADA CONTRIBUTES TO THE EXPRESSION OF DIFFERENCE AND, IN MY OPINION, CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND LINGUISTIC DUALITY ARE TWO GREAT CANADIAN VALUES THAT ARE COMPLEMENTARY.”

Mr. Fraser is convinced that the proportion of immigrants in the Canadian population will increase in the coming years. Canadians are favourable to the growing number of newcomers. Therefore, the government should promote linguistic duality among newcomers, and the Canadian population should change its approach to better reflect cultural diversity.

Mr. Fraser ended his presentation by introducing the themes of the two workshops and their underlying questions. He hoped that some answers would be found by the end of the day.



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