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On November 24, 2008, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL) organized a discussion forum in Vancouver on the perspectives of Canadians of diverse backgrounds on linguistic duality. The second in a possible series of three, the Vancouver forum was an opportunity for OCOL to establish a dialogue with Canadians in British Columbia who are from diverse backgrounds. The first forum was held in Toronto in October 2007.

The Vancouver forum’s main objectives were to gain a better understanding of the perceptions of linguistic duality held by Canadians from diverse backgrounds and to explore the links between linguistic duality and cultural diversity. Ethnocultural groups experience linguistic duality differently; OCOL wanted to better understand how they do so, as well as to foster relationships with participants in British Columbia to continue the dialogue in the future. This forum provided important information OCOL can use to encourage the government to take steps to better integrate cultural diversity and linguistic duality into its policies and programs.

To attain these objectives, the forum brought together a diverse group of participants to discuss their expectations and personal experiences of linguistic duality and cultural diversity. The discussions were based on two themes:

  • the evolving Canadian identity; and
  • the intersection between linguistic duality and cultural diversity in everyday life: What are the issues and what needs to be done?

Theme 1: The evolving Canadian identity

During Workshop 1, the participants were invited to discuss two questions with an emphasis on their perceptions, reflections and understanding of the fundamental values of Canadian society and their understanding of the term “cultural diversity.”

Participants agreed on a wide range of fundamental values that they believed strengthen and set Canada apart as a society admired by many around the world. In broad terms, these are diversity and multiculturalism, democracy and justice, respect and acceptance, and sustainable development.

The understanding of cultural diversity was linked with an evolving sense of identity and being allowed to live and promote one’s heritage and culture while combining them with other cultures. Identity keeps building as people are exposed to different cultures.

Theme 2: The intersection between linguistic duality and cultural diversity in everyday life: What are the issues and what needs to be done?

The discussion on the role of linguistic duality tackled the implications of the official languages policy. What are its roles and relevance for Canadians, its challenges, and the strategies that can be devised at a personal, community and government level to strengthen its implementation in Canada?  

On whether linguistic duality and cultural diversity contradict or complement each other, the forum participants were more inclined to say that they complement each other. They pointed out, however, that this perception depends on the different contexts and circumstances of people, such as education, immigration, settlement and integration, employment, and constitutional rights.  

In response to what actions could be taken, participants offered many suggestions:

  • Government should intervene at the policy level, at the education and youth level and at the service delivery level for new immigrants.
  • OCOL should promote policies that integrate linguistic duality and cultural diversity, advocate for consistency in access to language services and work with education systems and youth.
  • Ethnocultural communities should promote official languages policies and their purpose, explain the links between linguistic duality and cultural diversity and support newcomers (refugees especially) by providing more tools for integration. 

In the last part of the forum, participants completed an evaluation of the event. The majority reported that they were strongly satisfied with the forum’s format, its processes and the depth of the discussions that took place. They also provided OCOL with ideas on how to improve the format of future forums.

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