ARCHIVED - Ottawa, May 26, 2009

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After 40 years, the government needs to carry the flame of linguistic duality, says Graham Fraser

Backgrounder: Facts about Official Languages
Backgrounder: Report Cards 2008–2009
2008–2009 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Canada has come a long way in 40 years, but has still not lived up to the expectations expressed in the Official Languages Act, according to Graham Fraser. “Despite four decades of work and some undeniable successes, Canada has not taken full advantage of its bilingualism,” said the Commissioner of Official Languages, who this morning presented his annual report marking the 40th anniversary of the Act.

According to Mr. Fraser, “the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act is a perfect opportunity for the federal government and its institutions to showcase Canada’s linguistic duality. They must demonstrate, through concrete measures, that English and French are and will continue to occupy an equal place in Canada.”

Canada’s linguistic duality will soon be the object of international attention. Mr. Fraser has expressed concern regarding the ability of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) and the many participating federal institutions to fulfill their commitment to providing services and communications in English and French.

“Canada will only be able to welcome athletes and visitors in the country’s and the International Olympic Committee’s two official languages if the federal government demonstrates exemplary leadership and commitment on this issue, said the Commissioner. To fulfill this objective, VANOC and the federal institutions involved in organizing the Games will have to work closely with one another and with the Francophone communities from British Columbia and elsewhere in the country. The 2010 Games are the perfect opportunity for Canada to show the world its success and pride as a bilingual country.”

In a larger perspective, the Commissioner also recommended that the government resist the temptation to slash official languages budgets. “A dynamic vision of linguistic duality that is based on respect, dialogue and partnership can only develop if the government shows an ongoing commitment, despite the current economic challenges,” he stated.

“There is a lack of links and coherence in Canada’s language policy, noted the Commissioner. The Canadian government has too often ignored the fact that the health of Canada’s language regime depends on the health of all its components. A weakening of leadership from federal institutions in one area of linguistic duality is all it takes for problems to surface in all areas.”

Graham Fraser recommends, among other things, that a true second-language learning continuum be established, from elementary school to university. The Commissioner expressed his disappointment by stating that “post-secondary institutions very seldom provide students with opportunities to continue studying in their second language, despite the fact that we encourage them to take the bilingual path throughout their academic career.” In addition to allowing Canadians to take full advantage of their county’s linguistic duality, such a continuum would expand the pool of bilingual workers for the country’s employers, including the federal public service.

The involvement of public service managers is necessary in order to resolve certain problems that persist with regard to bilingual service delivery and the workplace, according to Graham Fraser. “Federal institutions often fail to use a bilingual greeting to show that services are available in both languages. Also, we are too quick to settle on providing the linguistic minority with a translated version of the services provided to the majority,” he noted.

Graham Fraser, a former journalist for both English-language and French-language publications, is in the third year of his seven-year term as Commissioner of Official Languages.

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