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Duality and Diversity: Ingredients for the Successful Governance of Canada

Speaking notes for an address to the Association for Canadian Studies,
Concordia University

Dr. Dyane Adam - Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery

A. Introductory remarks

Good Morning!

It is with great pleasure that I have accepted the invitation to speak to you today. I am confident that this conference marks a new openness in how we think about diversity and I would like to thank the Association for Canadian Studies, and especially Dr. Jack Jedwab, for organizing today's gathering.

Over the next few minutes I will explore the relationship between duality and diversity. Let me begin by outlining the core of my argument:

It is my firm conviction that one of the primary reasons why Canada has been able to build a uniquely pluralist society is because linguistic duality is a cornerstone in the foundation of the Canadian federation. To put it differently, without bilingualism the tolerant and diverse society we enjoy would not have come about in the same way. The conclusion we should draw from this is that the successful governance of diversity in Canada rests upon our continued ability to embrace Canada's dual-language nature.

My remarks in support of this argument are divided into three sections:

  • First, I will talk about how bilingualism and the notion of collective rights have prepared Canadians to accept and embrace diversity, and how our experience differs from that of other countries.
  • I will then look at how bilingualism and multiculturalism are beginning to intersect in the real lives of Canadians. As this is happening, we are witnessing the growth of multiple identities and, as a consequence, the need to revisit how we classify Anglophones, Francophones and Allophones in this country.
  • As a third point I will discuss what my Office has done and what we intend to do in order to ensure that Canada takes a course that builds on our strengths as a bilingual and multicultural country.

I will finish with some international perspectives and then very much look forward to the discussion which will follow.

B. Duality and Diversity - political/historical concept and comparison with US

Let me begin by proposing that we ask ourselves a simple question:

Has the basic compromise between Canada's two official language communities created a society that is more accepting of diversity, or is there no demonstrable link between linguistic duality and diversity?

One way to answer this question is to look at other countries which are also multicultural, but which do not have two official languages. One example, which is always close at hand, is the United States.

Like Canada, the US is an immigrant country.

It is also a multicultural country.

But it is a country where multiculturalism means something very different from Canada.

And this difference can, I believe, be traced to the important role that English and French have played in the history of Canada.

The political philosopher Will Kymlicka has argued1 that one of the strengths of Canada's democracy is the fact that we recognize group rights. Canada would probably never have come into existence if a successful compromise between English and French had not been negotiated. We find the idea of group rights at the very core of our federation and Canadians have learned that in order to respect the rights of persons, we must also look at the groups with which these persons identify. Another political philosopher, McGill professor Charles Taylor, has argued very convincingly that giving rights to a person may, in fact, mean very little if the culture or language of that person are discriminated against. In his famous article "The Politics of Recognition", Taylor makes it very clear that the recognition of a person depends on the collective recognition of the groups to which he or she belongs.

It has been Canada's fortune to have realized the close links between individual and collective recognition from the very beginning.

When it comes to having a great unifying theme, Canada might seem to lack something. There is a certain glamour and sparkle in the American ideal of the great melting pot of people. The motto we find on the seal of the United States - E pluribus unum - is quite evocative.

But Canada succeeds because of its quiet ability to make things work. In Canada, we encourage immigrants to maintain their identities as they become Canadian. Over the past 135 years and in spite of some upheavals, Canada has shown itself to be a resilient political entity.


We may not possess one unifying theme, but we do have something precious and very Canadian. From our past, we have inherited an expertise in the art of negotiation, compromise and accommodation.

Canada's policy of two official languages is the result, and a beautiful illustration of this very Canadian spirit of accommodation.

C. Public opinion on duality and diversity

We see this interplay between duality and diversity also reflected in the attitudes of the Canadian public:

According to opinion polls2, a stable 82% of Canadians are in favour of the policy of bilingualism and 86% think that it is important for their children to learn a second language. 75% of English speakers choose French for their children and 90% of French speakers choose English. This tolerance and openness to linguistic duality is, I believe, echoed in the attitudes of Canadians towards immigration and diversity.

Let me cite the results from a recent study.

The American Pew Research Center3 published a report last month based on a survey of 38,000 people in 44 nations. The report states that, and here I quote,

"Immigrants and minority groups are generally seen as having a bad influence on the way things are going by people in most countries."

But the report continues:

"Only in Canada does a strong majority of the population (77%) have a positive view of immigrants."

77% is a very high number when we compare it with the US and other countries. In the US, only 49% of the population believe that immigrants are a positive influence and the numbers are much lower in Europe: 46% in France, 37% in Great Britain, 35% in Germany and only 25% in Italy.

How can we explain that an astounding three quarters of Canadians feel positively about immigration? I am convinced that the spirit of accommodation, which has accompanied this country from its very beginning, has produced the kind of inclusive social fabric that recognizes and embraces difference, whether this difference is linguistic or ethnocultural.

D. New realities: moving from mother tongue to language use
(focus on Toronto, Montreal and census questions)

Let me now move from attitudes to practices. The latest census data on language provide an intriguing perspective on this point. What they show is not only that English, French and a multiplicity of origins co-exist in Canada, but rather that linguistic and other identities are becoming increasingly mixed within the same person.

What this means is that when we talk about the intersection of bilingualism and multiculturalism, we're not talking about an abstract concept. More and more Canadians are integrating cultural and linguistic diversity into their everyday lives. Multiple identities are a lived reality for many Canadians. For an increasing number of them, the question is no longer whether they are EITHER Francophone OR Anglophone OR Allophone. They are all of these combined!

Let me take you on a brief trip through two Canadian cities - Toronto and Montreal - where the intersection of duality and diversity can be seen most clearly.

Let's have a look at Toronto first. French is the mother tongue of 57,000 people in Canada's largest city4. A traditional analysis would focus on the mother tongue to measure the strength of French in Toronto. But the census data allow us to dig a little deeper. The total number of people who speak French in the home in Toronto is actually 82,000, and therefore 25,000 more than the number of speakers who have French as their only mother tongue.

How can this difference be explained?

Well, to put it quite simply: You don't have to be a mother tongue Francophone in order to speak French! You know, there are some Anglophones who marry Francophones and use French in the home. Mixed couples and families do, in fact, often end up using both languages!

The other explanation is, of course, that there are many immigrants who have neither English nor French as their mother tongue, but speak one or both of our official languages at home.

This situation leaves us with a clear choice. We can insist on a definition of "real" Anglophones or Francophones where we only accept people based on their mother tongue.

I, however, choose, and I urge you to choose, the path which breaks with such a one-dimensional view. I propose that we include all those who speak French as Francophones, including those 13,000 multilingual Torontonians who use French plus two other languages in the home.

In Montreal, the coexistence of different languages is even more pronounced. When the census data were released, we saw a strong focus on the mother tongue. I do not deny that these data are important. It is significant to note that, for the first time since 1971, the Island of Montreal recorded an increase in the number of mother tongue Francophones. At the same time, we should be concerned about the decline in the number of mother tongue Anglophones in Quebec. These figures are important, but they only give us a very partial view of reality. An equally important story is the fact that Montrealers of all origins, Anglophones, Francophones or Allophones, are increasingly bi- or even multilingual. They defy our traditional categorizations. The Lebanese immigrant who uses Arabic and French with her children but reads an English newspaper and might use all three languages in her professional life is simultaneously a consumer and a contributor to three different language communities. And in Montreal, she is more likely than anywhere else in Canada to see her children and grandchildren maintain all three languages. This is because Montreal's linguistic environment promotes not only knowledge of both official languages but actually creates the space which helps immigrants maintain their languages of origin.

I encourage the researchers among you to explore the rich data that the Canadian census provides on language. Our census does, in fact, provide more information on language than any other census in the world. This is quite different from other countries. In Belgium, for example, the language issue is so contentious that all language questions have been removed from the census since 1960. The result has been that the language landscape in Belgium has been officially frozen for over 40 years.

It is to Canada's credit and to the credit of Statistics Canada in particular, that we have chosen a different path. Not only do we ask Canadians about their mother tongue, we also ask them about the one or more languages they speak in the home, about their knowledge of official languages and there is also the new question of the languages spoken at work. My Office has been working for a number of years with Statistics Canada so that Canadians can tell us about their language practices on a variety of questions. Canadians are not monolithic. They display their identities and speak the languages they know in different contexts and for different purposes, and we accept that it would be foolish and hurtful to try and squeeze this plurality into singular categories.

E. The role of the Commissioner in promoting duality and diversity

Let me move on to the third and final section. I began my remarks by pointing out how diversity rests upon the continuing legacy of linguistic duality. Let me close now by pointing out what actions I have taken and intend to take to ensure that the relationship between duality and diversity continues to bear fruit.

Much of Canada's diversity is the result of immigration. That's why it is important to note that in June of last year, a new immigration law took effect. It marked the most important overhaul of our immigration policies in 25 years. I am happy to see that the new law reflects many of the recommendations I had made to Parliament and to the Minister of Immigration. For the very first time, for example, there is an explicit commitment by the Canadian government to support the vitality and development of Canada's official language minority communities through immigration. Minister Coderre realizes how important it is that all Canadians benefit from immigration. One of his much-publicized concerns is that more immigrants settle outside Canada's three largest cities. But he has also been responsive in working towards a better distribution of immigrants between Canada's official language communities. This is important because French-speaking Canadians, both inside Quebec and in other Canadian provinces, are receiving only a quarter of the immigrants that they should receive given their demographic weight.

The commitments made in the new citizenship law now need to be implemented and I call on both the provinces and the federal government to make sure that the demographic discrepancy between Anglophones and Francophones is eliminated as soon as possible.

But I am also glad to report that some progress is being made: tomorrow, a Steering Committee made up of representatives from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and from Francophone minority communities across Canada will hold their third meeting in less than a year. This committee was created in response to the demographic gap. On their agenda tomorrow will be an action plan with concrete measures to help Francophones in a minority context attract and benefit from increased Francophone immigration.

My Office has also contributed to enhancing general awareness on this important topic by publishing two reports on immigration and Canada's official language minority communities in the past year. For anyone who is interested, copies of these reports are available at the entrance.

A related issue that I am involved in is Canada's new Citizenship Act. This Act is currently before Parliament and I appeared before the Citizenship and Immigration Committee in December to urge our legislators to modify the Act. I believe that the 160,000 immigrants who become new Canadian citizens each year ought to be better informed about the dual-language nature of our country and of the opportunities that bilingualism presents to them and to their children. Canada's citizenship judges can and should play an active promotional role in this process.

My Office will itself be starting to co-host some of the 3,000 citizenship ceremonies which take place in Canada every year. Through our involvement we hope to make these ceremonies even more special and celebrate our dual-language nature with the truly amazing diversity of immigrants who join the Canadian family in these ceremonies.

For all of these issues, the support of the federal government is, of course, of crucial importance. The revitalization of Canada's Official Languages Program through Minister Dion's Action Plan is not a negligible item among many government priorities but it is a key component for the continued successful governance of our country.

In order to build on our Canadian framework of duality and diversity, we need two basic ingredients: We need the commitment of our various levels of government but we also need to develop a mindset which recognizes and understands the interdependence between official languages and pluralism. The future lies in open concept communities which reach out to all those who wish to associate with them. This is why we need to be clear that one does not need to be born Anglophone or Francophone in order to participate in Canada's English- or French-speaking spaces. They are open to all.

F. Closing remarks with an international perspective
(Sri Lanka and Ireland)

Let me close on an international note: Canada's official languages policy is not just for internal consumption. It is sometimes easier to recognize our achievements by taking a wider perspective. Let me give you two examples:

The Canadian Government through the Canadian International Development Agency is currently helping Sri Lanka heal the scars of its civil war. As part of this assistance, the University of Ottawa is undertaking a so-called Governance and Institutional Strengthening Project. An important part of this project is to help implement a successful official languages policy in Sri Lanka. Canadian experts on linguistic rights5 are helping Sri Lanka address issues that sound highly familiar to Canadian ears: equitable representation of both language groups in the government, the ability of civil servants to work in their preferred language, the promotion of the other official language in schools, the availability of higher education in both official languages and access to courts in both official languages. The promotion of both Sinhala and Tamil as official languages is an active contribution towards peace and stability in this country whose civil war has cost the lives of 60,000 people. Of course, I am not suggesting that an official languages policy is a magic cure. That would be presumptuous. But it is an important part of the solution.

Another example is the Republic of Ireland from where I have just returned. The Irish government is working hard to promote and protect the Irish language. This is the national and historic language of the country, intimately linked to Irish identity, but which is currently spoken by just 5% of the population. An Official Languages Equality Bill is being debated by the Parliament to promote the Irish language and to provide for language rights of citizens. Ireland is going one step further in proposing the creation of a post of Commissioner of Official Languages. Indeed, their proposed legislation is very much inspired by Canada's Official Languages Act and while they are just starting out, there are many parallels to be made with the Canadian experience. I was pleased to have the opportunity to offer some practical suggestions on the implementation of language legislation based on more than thirty years of official bilingualism in Canada.

In many ways, Canada is fortunate because it has been given a head start. Our experience with two languages is allowing us to interact with ease in a complex and increasingly hybrid world. When we look at Canada today we see that the picture of two linguistic solitudes and a multitude of self-contained ethnic communities is clearly no longer accurate, and I doubt that it ever really was in the past. The way in which people use and juggle languages and identities is the best proof. The intersection of official languages and diversity is becoming a busy Canadian crossroads, and we should all rejoice in this fact. What we do need to do, however, at this particular juncture in time, is to ensure that in building the Canadian house we do not forget the English and French pillars of the foundation.

As a society we must nurture both duality and diversity. If we do, Canada has the potential to be a leader in setting and advancing a successful bilingual and pluralist agenda. But what is even more important: if we succeed, we as Canadians will continue to enjoy a privilege - the privilege of living in a country where two official languages open the doors through which we accept our nation's increasing diversity.

Thank you.


1 This argument can be found most explicitly in Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights and Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ethnocultural Relations in Canada.

2 Centre for Research and Information on Canada (CRIC). Portraits of Canada 2001. Montreal.

3 The Pew Research Center is an independent opinion research group in Washington, D.C. that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues.

4 Single response.

5 See mission report by Marc Cousineau of the University of Ottawa. Mr. Cousineau has also been legal counsel in the Montfort case.