ARCHIVED - Part 2: Workshop results

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Language and culture are linked. In order to truly understand someone you need to understand his culture as well as his language.

Forum participant

2.1 Workshop 1: The evolving Canadian identity

Workshop 1 covered two questions and participants were asked to discuss their perceptions of the fundamental values of Canadian society in the context of an evolving identity and their understanding of the term “cultural diversity” and what it means to them personally.

Discussion questions:

  1. As all democratic countries have fundamental values, tell us, in order of priority, what you view as the fundamental values of Canadian society today.

  2. Given your experiences and your understanding of Canadian society, what does the term “cultural diversity” mean to you?

Workshop 1 discussion summary

There was a rich discussion on cultural diversity in Workshop 1, perhaps because cultural diversity is a daily reality in urban centres in British Columbia. There were also cross-over discussions on the relationship between fundamental values and cultural diversity as participants recognized the impact these concepts had on each other.

(1) Participants saw fundamental Canadian values as evolving because more immigrants of diverse backgrounds are arriving daily. They reflected on the different definitions of what we mean by values, and the different types of values, such as political or government values, cultural values, social values and family values. They also discussed whether “fundamental” means set in stone, something to die for or something that can be changed.

Participants identified four main values as fundamental Canadian values:

  • Diversity and multiculturalism – Canada is a collection of cultures and languages that goes back to our founding ancestors, including First Nations peoples.

  • Democracy and justice – including concepts such as fairness, equality, peacefulness and rights to participation.

  • Respect and acceptance – including behaviour such as openness, politeness, sensitivity to others and friendliness. Tolerance alone was not seen as sufficient to create a diverse society and the importance of being a truly inclusive society was stressed.

  • Sustainable development – an approach and policies that stress meeting the needs of all Canadians and preserving the interests and survival of future generations.

(2) Participants first identified what cultural diversity meant to them personally, and then quickly moved to a wider discussion of the benefits to Canadian society. They agreed on the existence of different types of cultural diversity: societal, generational and cultural expressions that reflect interests, education, work, leisure and urban and rural realities. Some described culture as:

A box of tools that you open when you need one; we use a different one according to our environment (at home, at work...)

Notes from Working Group 5

The term “cultural diversity” was primarily linked with the concept of identity. In Canada, people are allowed to promote and live their cultural heritage, creating a multitude of identities that combine harmoniously. Participants recognized that identity is made up of what is learned plus what is adopted from others, so identity keeps building as people are exposed to different cultures and experiences. Cultural diversity means an openness that enriches and leads to a greater sense of global awareness. The following quote helps illustrate this concept:

Vancouver has the privilege of seeing the world, people and community in action (it is not an abstract concept), a diverse society at work, at play and at leisure. This environment speaks to the value of diversity, people living their lives without barriers. There is opportunity for people to develop their potential.

Notes from Working Group 5

Also important to this question was the concept of belonging, which includes acceptance, inclusion and reaching out. If this sense of belonging is not achieved, some new Canadians and immigrants will be left feeling marginalized. For example, one way to address the issues of ethnic polarization in some neighbourhoods is to improve new immigrants’ circumstances by injecting more resources into integration programs.

Overall, Workshop 1 created enthusiasm for the forum topics, as people could relate these topics to their experiences living in Canada and their ideals for the country’s future. It set the stage for lively networking over lunch and informed the afternoon discussions in Workshop 2.

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

There is no difference between cultural diversity and linguistic duality. […] and language is an expression of culture. Cultural diversity and linguistic duality are intertwined. You cannot draw a line.

Forum participant

Workshop 2 had two main questions. Participants here were asked to share their personal experiences with linguistic duality and cultural diversity and to propose courses of action for the future.

Discussion questions:

  1. a)   In the context of Canada’s increased cultural diversity, how would you describe the role of linguistic duality where you live, in your city, in your province and in your country?

    b)   In your opinion, do linguistic duality and cultural diversity contradict or complement each other? Do you see examples of this for yourself, your family and friends, and your community?

  2. What measures can or should be taken to improve the interaction between cultural diversity and linguistic duality? For example:
    a)   What can or should government do?
    b)   Given his mandate, what can or should the Commissioner of Official Languages do?
    c)   What can or should you or your community do?

Workshop 2 discussion summary

The workshop tone was set by the inspiring story of Peter Liang, a young man who immigrated to Canada from Southern China in 2000 (Appendix 4). Mr. Liang first described how he learned English in Britain. When he joined Statistics Canada, he began to learn French, mostly on his own. Two years later, in April 2008, he successfully passed all three of the Government of Canada’s French-language evaluation tests. He believes, however, that passing these tests is only the beginning of a journey of lifelong learning:

What does “linguistic duality” mean to me personally as an immigrant to Canada? It means that I have access to more career opportunities within the federal government. But more importantly, it has enabled me to discover the other important part of the Canadian identity, which sets us apart from others. I am more proud than ever to say that I am a true Canadian.

(3)a Most participants saw the relevance of linguistic duality at the national and the federal political level. People realize that linguistic duality plays an essential role at the national level to promote social cohesion, unity and respect for differences. It represents an understanding of our history as linguistic duality is at the heart of Canada’s heritage.

Among the themes that emerged from this discussion was that, because Canada has two official languages, this creates an important “value added” on the global stage. If we can communicate in the language of our trading partners, it leads to an added degree of respect from these countries.

Linguistic duality was also seen as having a role in broadening people’s world views and “also gets people out of their enclaves; it promotes a society where people are willing to learn” (forum participant).

Participants thought that there was hope for a new Canada because an increasing number of French immersion students are gaining a better understanding of the importance of linguistic duality. Some argued that not being able to learn and maintain French through ongoing immersion and interactions in British Columbia is a barrier to federal government opportunities.

Immigration from French-speaking countries is increasing the Francophone presence in British Columbia. In this context, linguistic duality has a role in helping to improve the integration of immigrants.

(3)b Participants’ opinions varied depending on their different personal circumstances and how they tried to answer this question. However, they all acknowledge that there are both complementarities and contradictions between linguistic duality and cultural diversity.


  • Participants considered linguistic duality and cultural diversity policies as complementary because of the historical connections between the concepts and respective laws.
  • Bilingualism is the first step toward diversity and, as Canada becomes more diverse, is connected to welcoming people from other cultures.
  • Multiculturalism was also seen as a way to foster greater linguistic duality.
  • Immigration and economic development are two major drivers in Canada and both linguistic duality and cultural diversity feed into them.


  • There is a contradiction because linguistic duality seems to imply a superiority of the two official languages over other languages. Questions relating to the place of First Nations languages in this context were raised.
  • French is considered a language of power (most high-level bureaucrats and politicians are bilingual) and therefore people who do not know both languages have difficulty participating in the national discussion.
  • In British Columbia, where there is strong cultural diversity, the traditional Canadian linguistic duality (English–French) seems non-existent in certain areas, so this was considered a contradiction between the two policies.
  • It is a contradiction that French is not compulsory in the British Columbia public education system since we have a national dual-language policy.
  • Not having more access to French-language training for adults and children in British Columbia was considered a contradiction.
  • There was a perception by some that people who speak neither official language are more marginalized from Canadian society than French and/or English speakers.

(4) On measures to improve the interaction between cultural diversity and linguistic duality, there was a difference in opinion on approaches for successful action. Some felt the core problem was a lack of financial and human resources allocated to the integration of linguistic duality and cultural diversity, while others felt that sufficient funding and resources were available. Still others thought that more initiative was required from the national level rather than the regions. Leadership and sound policy direction from Ottawa and the provinces was needed to help struggling organizations successfully assist new Canadians through their integration processes. However, most agreed that greater openness and dialogue between both official language communities was required to maximize the economic incentives and benefits of linguistic duality in British Columbia.

Participants felt government initiative needs to come from all levels, not just the federal level, including the following areas of action:

  • Provide access to bilingual learning to Canadian-born citizens, as well as immigrants and refugees, and emphasize the right-to-learn aspect of the policy.
  • Reach out to young people by supporting French as an intrinsic part of the education system. Core French learning should begin earlier and some French should be mandatory for every child.
  • Raise awareness of linguistic duality in schools and national media, through the use of children’s television programs in both official languages.
  • Make apparent to youths the reasons for learning French, or both official languages, possibly by providing incentives and bursaries to encourage them to participate in activities such as youth exchange programs.
  • Develop policies to support integration of the two policy areas, including building on policies that worked well in the past.
  • Support services to new immigrants, by looking at what is done internationally, and especially through the support of successful local programs, and recognize foreign education credentials. For example, one participant suggested researching the impact of the ulpan programs in Israel, which provide all immigrants with 500 hours of free basic Hebrew language training when they arrive.4
  • Support Francophone communities better by creating more services and providing more resources that will allow an adequate and successful settlement and integration of Francophone immigrants and refugees.
  • Increase funding for literacy skills in general.
  • There was general agreement that the provinces and municipal governments need to work with and support the federal government to improve services to help integrate bilingualism and multiculturalism as important aspects of Canadian society.

OCOL needs to take action in two areas:

  • Advocate for consistency of language service delivery across the country, including in the national media.
  • Promote, through schools, regional dialogues and the media, the historical reasons for and advantages of bilingualism and its connection to cultural diversity.

Ethnocultural community groups can also take action:

  • Raise awareness of Canada’s policies within their communities, through the school system and other educational institutions.
  • Promote economic integration through their businesses and communities.

Workshop 2 also generated debate on opening ourselves to other languages. Some thought that Canada must either open itself up to other languages or make sure that future generations have better opportunities to learn both French and English. On the idea of expanding to include other languages, the majority thought that the costs would be too high to govern in more than two languages.


4. Ulpan is an institute that teaches adult immigrants to Israel basic Hebrew language skills as well as the Israeli culture. Its objective is to better integrate new immigrants to Israel in a timely fashion. Many other countries have developed programs modeled on the ulpan. However, a recent study has questioned the true effectiveness of the ulpan because of the low rate of the oral, written and comprehension language abilities of the participants that completed the 500-hour program.

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