ARCHIVED - 1. Introduction

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In the context of the obligations described in Part VII of the Official Languages Act, this report examines measures implemented by federal research funding agencies to encourage research by members of official language minority communities (OLMCs) in general, and on subjects related to community development, in particular the promotion of linguistic duality. The study looks at the experiences of researchers—Anglophones in the province of Quebec and Francophones in OLMCs elsewhere in Canada—applying for federal grants, regardless of their discipline. The study also involves researchers in minority- and majority-language institutions who seek support for research on official languages issues.

The present report is divided into five sections. The first section introduces the background, mandate, objectives and methodology of the research. Section 2 describes the obstacles to research funding as perceived by the sample of researchers surveyed. Section 3 presents the federal research funding agencies’ overall evaluation and granting practices, as well as their existing programs for minority-language institutions or for research dealing with official languages issues. Section 4 builds on the previous sections and presents an overview of identified barriers and corresponding best practices. It also puts forward recommendations and proposed suggestions from the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Finally, Section 5 contains some concluding remarks.

1.1 Legislative background

As an Officer of Parliament, the Commissioner of Official Languages is responsible for promoting the objectives of the Official Languages Act and ensuring they are carried out, as stated in subsection 56(1) (Part IX):

It is the duty of the Commissioner to take all actions and measures within the authority of the Commissioner with a view to ensuring recognition of the status of each of the official languages and compliance with the spirit and intent of this Act in the administration of the affairs of federal institutions, including any of their activities relating to the advancement of English and French in Canadian society.

A key priority of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is the vitality of OLMCs. The adoption by the Parliament of Canada in November 2005 of amendments to the Act significantly reinforced the nature of the government’s obligations.

Federal institutions, including federal research funding agencies, must take positive measures to support the development and enhance the vitality of OLMCs, as well as promote linguistic duality in Canadian society. Accordingly, the activities of all federal government departments, institutions and agencies must now encompass and promote the fundamental principle of linguistic duality and review their policies and programs in light of the new provisions of the Act to ensure that OLMCs receive benefits comparable to those of majority communities. These obligations are now subject to review by the courts.

Under section 41 of the Act:

41. (1) The Government of Canada is committed to (a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and (b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
41. (2) Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation of the commitments under subsection (1). For greater certainty, this implementation shall be carried out while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.

1.2 Objectives of the study

In this context, the study has the following four objectives:

  • Examine how federal government institutions that fund research can be more effective in their implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act;

  • From the perspective of present grant application processes, examine the current situation of researchers, especially those working in OLMC settings, regardless of their area of expertise, as well as researchers who study linguistic duality, with a focus on reporting on any obstacles or challenges they encounter;

  • Prepare an inventory of initiatives available to researchers from federal research funding agencies, identify best practices and encourage the exchange of these practices among the agencies concerned; and

  • Draft recommendations and propose solutions that could help federal research funding agencies reinforce their research support programs, promote linguistic duality and encourage research in French in general, assist official language minority researchers and institutions, and strengthen the ability of federal research funding agencies to support the development of OLMCs.

A further in-depth study could look in more detail at the research funding application process, including the sources, subjects, and assessment and selection criteria. This study was limited to examining current barriers faced by researchers and proposing solutions to invigorate research support programs.

1.3 Methodology

The methodology was established in order to give an overview of existing measures taken by federal research funding agencies to encourage research by members of OLMCs in general as well as research on the development of these communities and the promotion of linguistic duality in particular. It also aims to paint a broad picture of the obstacles to research and  funding as perceived by the researchers themselves. The data collection, which was conducted between January 2006 and June 2007, entailed several techniques:

  • An in-depth document analysis of government sources and funding agencies’ Web sites;

  • Forty telephone interviews with researchers who were also sent an electronic questionnaire beforehand: 38 were from official language minority universities (Anglophone in Quebec and Francophone or bilingual elsewhere in Canada) and two  were from majority-language universities;

  • In-person interviews with 20 representatives of federal research funding agencies; and

  • A one-day discussion forum in Ottawa on November 17, 2006, whose aim was to allow researchers and representatives from the funding agencies to present and share information and best practices intended to reduce the barriers restricting the promotion of linguistic duality and OLMC development.
1.3.1 The researchers

This study targets two populations. The first group encompasses researchers in OLMC settings all over Canada, regardless of their field of expertise, more specifically Francophone or bilingual researchers who publish in French and work in Francophone or bilingual universities outside of Quebec and researchers working in Anglophone universities in Quebec. The second  group is made up of researchers working on issues relating to official languages.

In order to faithfully reproduce the global research population, a non-probabilistic sampling technique (purposive snowball sampling) was chosen.1 The following parameters were used to identify researchers: disciplinary interests, gender, seniority, the general ability to describe the experiences of colleagues as well as their own, and whether they had published in the minority official language of their geographic area (see Table 1). This not only ensured an institution-wide academic overview, but also helped secure the willing participation of the researchers .

The list of proposed names was then validated by comparing it with a list of names of researchers known to regional representatives of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. The final list of recommended researchers satisfied the requirement that those nominated constituted a fair sampling of reputable academics from OLMCs across Canada as well as those who conduct research on various official languages issues (e.g., Canadian language laws, language policy, linguistic duality or OLMCs).

Overall, 40 researchers responded to requests for a telephone interview. Prior to the interview, they all received an electronic questionnaire. Two interviews were conducted in person to pilot test the questionnaire. Exceptionally, two researchers from majority-language universities were  also asked to participate in the study since their research deals specifically with official languages issues.

Table 1 – Higher education institutions from which researchers were selected

A. Institutions in minority situations

- Université Sainte-Anne, Pointe de l’Église, Nova Scotia

- Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario

- Université de Moncton, Moncton, New Brunswick

- Glendon College, Toronto, Ontario

- Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, Quebec

- Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario

- Concordia University, Montréal, Quebec

- University of Sudbury, Sudbury, Ontario

- McGill University, Montréal, Quebec

- Université de Hearst, Hearst, Ontario

- Dominican College of Philosophy and Theology, Ottawa, Ontario

- Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg, Manitoba

- University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario

- Institut français, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan

- Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario

- Campus Saint-Jean, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta

B. Institutions in majority situations

- Université Laval, Québec City, Quebec

- University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


It should be noted that three-quarters of the respondents interviewed also submitted written answers and other supplementary information to at least some of the questions. The questionnaire covered the following elements:

  • Knowledge of federal research funding agencies;

  • The extent to which researchers are applying for funding, the rate of success of their applications and the amount of research funding received by OLMC researchers and by those working on official languages issues;

  • The positive and negative aspects of the application process;

  • The amount of research carried out in French;

  • Their perception of the linguistic capability of peer review committees;

  • Current research on projects or activities related to official language minority situations or to linguistic duality;

  • Types of financial assistance from federal research funding agencies that could assist current projects;

  • The identification of any barriers to success they encountered as members of OLMCs or as researchers working on matters relevant to linguistic duality; and

  • Recommendations or suggestions to federal research funding agencies and institutions to help promote and improve access to grant programs, remove barriers to the equitable allocation of research funding, and encourage and promote research on official languages issues.
1.3.2 The federal research funding agencies

The researchers that were interviewed provided the list of federal government sources of research funding. The 20 agencies most frequently mentioned were selected to be interviewed (see Table 2).

Table 2 – Research funding agencies identified by researchers (in alphabetical order)

- Canada Council for the Arts - Canada Foundation for Innovation
- Canada Research Chairs Program - Canadian Heritage
- Canadian Institutes of Health Research - Canadian International Development Agency
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada - Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
- Human Resources and Social Development Canada - Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
- Industry Canada - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (Quebec)
- International Development Research Centre - Department of Justice Canada
- Library and Archives Canada - Millennium Scholarship Foundation
- National Research Council Canada - Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada - Western Economic Diversification Canada

The federal research funding agencies were sent a letter from the Commissioner of Official Languages in which chief executive officers were invited to designate a representative for an in-person interview. A series of semi-structured interviews then followed. Prior to the interviews,  each representative received a questionnaire that they were asked to complete. The interviews allowed the information gathered from the document analysis to be completed or validated.

1.3.3 Document analysis

The study of the relevant documents and Web sites of government and funding agencies, in addition to interviews with key representatives from the federal research funding agencies, led to the collection of data on the following themes:

  • Research funding programs offered and their promotion;

  • Access to programs;

  • Associated application processes;

  • Processes used to evaluate grant applications and to choose the peer committee members who read research proposals;

  • Grants offered to support researchers in official language minority situations or intended to encourage research on linguistic duality issues;

  • Strategic planning for new programs and efforts to address the particular challenges faced by OLMC researchers and any innovative programs specifically designed for them; and

  • Best practices that have produced positive results in the application of Part VII of the Official Languages Act.
1.3.4 Discussion forum

On November 17, 2006, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages hosted a forum that brought together university researchers and representatives from federal research funding agencies to exchange information on the challenges faced by researchers, discuss best  practices from agencies and consider proposals to improve the current situation.

Eight of the 40 researchers who participated in this study (six from official language minority institutions and two from majority-language institutions) and representatives from 12 of the 20 federal departments and agencies that fund research attended the forum.

The program allowed participants to reflect on the barriers faced by researchers who apply for federal financial support, discuss existing best practices within agencies and consider avenues for improved agency performance in light of the requirements of Part VII of the Official Languages Act.

This diversified data collection allowed a picture to be drawn of university research and funding in OLMC settings, regardless of the discipline, as well as research in the field of linguistic duality.

1.4 Considerations

The goal of this study was to provide a broad overview of the reality as perceived by researchers in OLMC settings, as well as those who study issues related to official languages. The goal was neither to study the differences within the population of university researchers at the national level, nor to evaluate the federal research funding agencies’ compliance with the Official Languages Act.

As previously indicated, the sampling criteria aimed to include a large spectrum of disciplines and other well-defined parameters that reflect the realities of researchers in OLMC settings or those studying issues relating to linguistic duality. In spite of the established criteria, researchers in the social sciences and humanities disciplines were overrepresented. As such, even if the sample of researchers allows an accurate reflection of a range of concerns and barriers that the target population faces, which is the main purpose of this study, it does not allow for meaningful statistical comparisons between the perceptions of researchers across disciplines.

One of the limitations of this overrepresentation from the social sciences and humanities disciplines is that it is not possible to verify whether or not funding applications submitted in French receive the same treatment according to the areas of expertise covered by the different  federal research funding agencies.

As for possible explanations for the large proportion of researchers from social sciences and the humanities, the lack of undergraduate and graduate programs in science and engineering in some higher education establishments in minority settings, the primary vocation of universities in OLMCs and the preponderance of English as the working language (for research and publication) in these disciplines may be at play.

It must also be added that not all minority-language institutions are created equal. While Concordia, McGill and Bishop’s universities are Anglophone minority-language universities in Quebec, they are very different in size, vocation and overall allocation of research funds from  most Francophone OLMC universities across Canada. This is especially the case with Concordia and McGill. This study is not a comparison of Francophone and Anglophone OLMC institutions. It does, however, allow us to gain an understanding of some of the issues faced by Anglophone researchers in Quebec when conducting research and applying for funds in the language of their choice.


1 Strategic key informants (e.g., presidents, principals and rectors of OLMC universities) were contacted because of their privileged knowledge of their respective universities and asked to identify researchers who corresponded to the identified characteristics and the purpose of the study. These researchers were then approached to participate in the interview process.

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