Canada's language czar preaches importance of both official languages

Edmund A. Aunger edmund.aunger at
Thu Nov 23 21:30:08 UTC 2006

Ah, the joys and ironies of bilingualism.  The "Jean Delaire Affair" referred to in this English-language newspaper report was actually the "Affaire des Gens de l'Air", that is, in literal translation, the question of the "people in the air."  In the mid-1970s, French-speaking pilots and controllers in Quebec founded the "Association des Gens de l'Air du Québec", in order to lobby for the use of French in air traffic control.  When, in 1976, the Canadian government decided to introduce bilingual traffic control in an aviation industry largely dominated by English-speakers, airline pilots went on strike.  The full story is capably described and brilliantly analysed by Sandford Borins in The Language of the Skies: The Bilingual Air Traffic Control Conflict in Canada (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1983) and, in translation, Le français dans les airs: Le conflit du bilinguisme dans le contrôle de la circulation aérienne au Canada (Montréal: Chenelière et Stanké, 1983), published by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

Edmund A. Aunger
Professeur de sciences politiques
Campus Saint-Jean, University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta  T6C 4G9
téléphone: 780-465-8759
télécopieur: 780-465-8760
edmund.aunger at


----Original Message ----- 
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Thursday, November 23, 2006 8:08 AM
Subject: Canada's language czar preaches importance of both official languages

> Canada's language czar preaches the importance of respecting both of our
> official languages
> Graham Fraser, Canada's sixth Commissioner of Official Languages, spoke to
> a mostly student audience in the Senate and Board Chambers last night.
> Fraser spoke about the history of the French language in a predominantly
> English-speaking country and the challenges associated with supporting the
> rights of a French population. Fraser is a well-known and highly regarded
> journalist with over 40 years of experience writing for various
> publications such as the Toronto Star, Macleans and the Globe and Mail.
> He began the lecture with a history of language rights in Canada since the
> time of Laurier, a time when the French language was under threat of
> extermination by the English elite. Regardless of these attempts at
> suppression, from then on Canada found itself dealing with an increasingly
> French and multicultural society. The interests of French society came to
> a boiling point in the early sixties, as Fraser explained, when an
> important culminating point was reached. In September 1962, Maurice
> Lamontagne, one of Pearsons ministers, handed him a short but very
> important memo regarding the state of the French language, the rest of
> Canada and the relationship between the two. As Fraser explained, the memo
> set forth three agendas which were up to the Liberal party to set out and
> achieve.
> These were the patriation of the constitution, the creation of a national
> flag and anthem and the creation of an officially bilingual country.
> Shortly after, the commission of bilingualism and biculturalism was
> created, which today still seeks to answer important questions regarding
> Canada and its two official languages. Theres a tendency to think of
> French language laws in Canada as a Pierre Trudeau dream, says Fraser. In
> fact it was Maurice Lamontagnes proposal that did this groundwork.
> Language policy in Canada has come a long way since then, after
> experiencing a few bumps in the road along the way.
> One such bump was the Jean Delaire Affair which was a battle fought by
> French-speaking pilots over their right to communicate in French to air
> traffic controllers. It was such a contentious fight that Trudeau lost two
> cabinet members over it. Today, the situation is much different as the
> French language is more prominent within most parts of Canada. As Fraser
> pointed out, it is almost unthinkable these days to have a unilingual
> Prime Minister. He wasnt so quick to dismiss Canada's language policy as a
> problem solved, however.
> There continue to be seriously dysfunctional elements in Canada's language
> policy, he says. There are seven million French-speaking Canadians, four
> million of whom do not speak English. Here Fraser points to the importance
> of bilingualism in Canada. That vibrant and culturally diverse population
> has so much to offer the rest of Canada but it all goes to waste if we
> cannot comprehend their message. How can it be that English Canada cannot
> understand their films, their plays, their music, their debates? he posed.
> Fraser reminded the audience of just how close the issue of language is to
> Canadians. "Language remains at the core of the country just like race in
> the United States and class in Britain," he said. He concluded by saying
> that French, although a minority language, is not to be treated as an
> alien one, which it is by many Canadians.
> "English and French are Canadian languages, not foreign languages, and
> they belong to all Canadians."
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