Canada: Puncturing myths about bilingualism

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Apr 7 13:16:21 UTC 2007

Puncturing myths about bilingualism

The Leader-Post Thursday, April 05, 2007

In his letter, "Equalization, bilingualism -- it's time to end both",
(Letters, March 24), Ken Killington makes a number of unfounded claims,
based on a misreading of both the Official Languages Act and the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms. Let me clarify. The purpose of the Official
Languages Act is to ensure that when Canadians deal with the federal
government, they are served in their preferred official language, where
numbers warrant, with due respect and courtesy. In order to do this, some
four per cent of the federal public service positions in the West are
designated bilingual. That can hardly be seen as "imposing bilingualism"
to Canadians.

Let me stress that the act does not mean, or intend, all Canadians must
be, or even should be, bilingual. It exists so anglophones and
francophones (four million of whom speak no English and one million of
whom live outside Quebec) can receive services in their own language from
the federal government. These are not simply services defined by
legislation, they are rights that have been enshrined in Article 16 of the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and further defined by 25 years
of jurisprudence. It also means that English and French are fundamental to
the Canadian identity. Our two official languages allow Canadians to talk
to each other, to enter into a relationship with one another. The French
language belongs to all Canadians, just as English belongs to all
Canadians. It's part of our heritage -- and one of our greatest assets.

Canadians should take the opportunity to discover the richness of our
heritage. Thus, the French-speaking community of Saskatchewan is solidly
rooted in the province and everyone is welcome to participate and enjoy
the rich tradition of the Fransaskois community. Kellington implies the
federal language policy does not apply in Quebec.  This is simply not
true. Anglophones and Francophones in Quebec have the same rights to
receive services from the federal government as Canadians outside Quebec.
Quebec's legislation has been amended and now fully complies with the
Charter, just as Alberta and Saskatchewan's language provisions do.

Currently, there is an unprecedented support for bilingualism across the
country. Two national surveys show a clear interest for bilingualism. A
survey conducted by Decima Research in 2006 shows that seven out of 10
Canadians are personally in favour of bilingualism for the country. As
Canadians come to realize how important both of our national languages are
to the country, that interest keeps growing.

Graham Fraser

Fraser is Commissioner of Official Languages. Ottawa

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