ARCHIVED - Part 1: Discussion framework

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1.1   A Vision of Linguistic Duality and Cultural Diversity

Alden Habacon, Manager of Diversity Initiatives for the English television network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, delivered the opening address, which detailed his vision of linguistic duality and cultural diversity in Canada (Appendix 3). To begin, he posed this question for consideration: “What is required for us to see—in our lifetime—the most educated, most culturally intelligent, most diverse generation of Canadians in the highest levels of leadership in our country?” 

As a second-generation Canadian from the Philippines, Mr. Habacon described his experience representing Canada at a South-East Asia conference and realizing to what extent his education and world views were shaped by growing up in a bilingual country surrounded by the acceptance of diversity. “Canadians are free to constantly expand and critically think about what it means to think, sound and act like a Canadian, and it is in this socio-cultural space that Canadian multiculturalism is able to evolve and grow.”

With regard to the first theme, the evolving Canadian identity, Mr. Habacon made the comparison with information technology through analogy: as the Internet has evolved to Web 2.0, so should multiculturalism, to Multiculturalism 2.0. Canadians have moved past the rigid paradigm of the ethnocultural mosaic, replacing it with a schema that he defined as “an internal representation of the world; an organization of concepts and actions that can be revised by new information about the world.” Technological trends are the greatest global influence today and they have increased Canadians’ mobility, psychological connectedness and identification with the collective psyche beyond its borders.

For the second theme, the intersection between linguistic duality and cultural diversity in everyday life, Mr. Habacon pointed out that second-generation Canadians and new Canadian immigrants have very different experiences. Illustrating this with examples from his life, he believes that second-generation Canadians intuitively understand linguistic duality and are fully committed to it. But many young and dynamic professionals who are not fluent in French discover a glass ceiling when seeking leadership positions in Canada and therefore the public sector is missing out on talent that is going to the private sector instead. Nevertheless, many new immigrants in British Columbia think learning French is a luxury. It is difficult enough to learn English once they arrive and there is little or no evidence that speaking French improves an individual’s social and cultural integration.

Commenting on his opening question, Mr. Habacon said the answer is not in loosening our French-language requirements, but in ensuring that future generations of Canadians become truly bilingual. Instead of allowing our official languages policy to become a systemic barrier to leadership roles in the largest Canadian institutions, we have to embrace a vision of Canada “whose leadership intuitively understands Canada’s complexity because they live it, whose vision of Canada is influenced by the rich linguistic and cultural complexity that is Canada today.”

There were questions from the participants and a discussion ensued.

1.2   An Historical Overview of Cultural Diversity and Linguistic Duality

The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, thanked participants for coming to the forum. He then spoke about the evolution of official languages and multiculturalism policies in Canada and gave an overview of diversity in British Columbia.

Some facts about the province:

  • British Columbia is a highly diverse province that is home to 20% of the country’s visible minority population—just over 1 million people.1
  • Two in five or 40% of people living in Vancouver were not born in Canada and the same proportion has neither English nor French as their mother tongue.2
  • There are 16,016 federal government positions in British Columbia and only 532 of those require knowledge of French.3
  • British Columbia is home to 61,000 people whose first official language is French. The Francophone community has deep roots in the province’s history, but today is also largely composed of people who have chosen to move to British Columbia.
  • In addition to English and other languages, 300,000 people can speak French and 35,000 children are enrolled in French immersion programs.

Historical reference points:

In 1963 the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was established. The Commission proposed a new partnership between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians and announced that more would be done to recognize the contribution and heritage of other cultural communities.

In 1967, under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s leadership and then Minister of Justice Pierre Elliott Trudeau, language rights were defined as two-fold: the right to use and the right to learn.

In 1969, the Trudeau government passed the Official Languages Act.

In 1971, the government developed a multiculturalism policy within the general framework of linguistic duality, which led to the adoption of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988.

Language rights were further entrenched in the Constitution in 1982 with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which also included the protection of minority-language education rights.

On a personal note, Mr. Fraser concluded “Support for linguistic duality has gone up significantly over the last decade. Still, Canadians continue to debate the merits of their particular brand of bilingualism within a society that aims to embrace diversity. My own view is that linguistic duality and diversity can and should both be embraced as profound and fundamental Canadian values.” The Commissioner then invited all participants to engage in the debate at hand.

Questions were posed for the Commissioner and a discussion followed.

Pre-forum questionnaire

Carsten Quell, Director of Policy and Research at OCOL, delivered a presentation of the findings of the pre-forum questionnaire, which was completed by 21 participants. Eighteen respondents were born outside Canada—four in Europe, four in Africa, three in Latin America and seven in Asia and the Middle East—and all spoke more than one language. Nine out of ten respondents agreed that linguistic duality plays a role in Canadian society. Respondents said there were both advantages and disadvantages to living in a bilingual country.

Here is what some participants had to say:

Ideally all Canadians should have an opportunity to become bilingual. However, there are many barriers to achieving official bilingualism across Canada including the size of our country and resource limitations.

There is a myth that Western Canadians do not value French; they do, but there are not the opportunities for everyone to get the chance to learn French in a thorough way.

Linguistic duality encourages people to accept cultural differences, thereby making the state policy and multiculturalism more acceptable to the Canadian citizenry.


1. Compared with 16.2%, which is the national percentage of visible minorities.

2. This is double the proportion in the rest of Canada (20%).

3. Position and Classification Information System (PCIS) 2006 (Annual Report on Official Languages 2005–2006 of the Public Service Human Resources Agency of Canada).

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