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Promoting linguistic duality3 is important to Canada’s international relations for both historical and practical reasons. Canada is widely recognized as a society of diverse ethnic and cultural groups. We owe our reputation for effectively accommodating cultural differences in large part to the way we have managed our linguistic differences. Canada would be seen in an entirely different and perhaps less flattering light if it were a unilingual country.

From a more practical perspective, our linguistic duality gives Canada a definite advantage in competing for international attention and markets. It does this by distinguishing ourselves from other countries and by facilitating direct access to countries and populations sharing either or both of our official languages.

This office therefore became increasingly concerned after a series of interventions in recent years raised questions about the integration of linguistic duality in Canada’s international relations. Studies on immigration issues revealed a need to connect the interests of our linguistic communities and the flow of immigrants to our country. Our Internet studies identified untapped potential in our international policy to promote linguistic diversity on the Web.

Less formal interventions were based on concerns that the federal government, in the global competition for attention, was not sufficiently promoting the Canadian model of social harmony, founded on our linguistic duality and our diversity, as a distinguishing feature of our country. Authorities generally responded positively to this office’s findings and recommendations, but many aspects of Canada’s international relations had yet to be covered.

This study was launched in late 2003 to complete the picture, insofar as resources and time permitted. International relations are complex and dynamic. To complicate matters further, the study saw a change of government and a departmental reorganization before it was completed. Government officials helped us ensure that we covered key sectors and operations. From there we identified programs and activities particularly relevant to the issue at hand.

Our study took place in the midst of a major departmental review of Canada’s international policy. The priorities, objectives and orientations that have guided Canada’s foreign relations since 1995 are up for renewal, retooling or replacement. Before the Government of Canada finalizes plans for a new policy statement, this study assessed the federal government’s effectiveness in integrating linguistic duality so far and recommends ways of doing it better.

The observations are based on approximately 150 interviews with officials in three government departments that have played major roles in Canada’s international relations: the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), Canadian Heritage and Industry Canada. Given DFAIT’s lead role in Canada’s international relations, most interviews were with officials of that department. Interviewees included senior headquarters officials and staff at Canada’s embassies in Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Washington, Mexico City and Santiago, Chile, as well as at its consulates general in New York and Chicago, and at the permanent mission to the Organization of American States (OAS). In addition, a member of our study team participated in the federal government’s December 2003 trade mission to Chile.

This office acknowledges and appreciates the excellent cooperation received from each department’s officials and at each mission we visited.

Our observations are grouped below into five chapters. Chapter One covers the policy dimension, taking into account public consultations during the policy review exercise. Chapters Two and Three take stock, respectively, of linguistic duality’s status in key programs and in the role of diplomatic missions in policy and program implementation. Chapter Four is devoted to the basics of linguistic duality, namely, the language-of-service issues raised during our mission visits, and Chapter Five identifies a number of internal programs important for supporting linguistic duality operationally. The Conclusion brings us back to the key issue of international policy in light of the study’s main observations.


3. “Linguistic duality” refers to the national character of Canada’s English and French language communities, their constitutional status and their legal recognition.

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