Canada: two messages about defense of bilingualism

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 16 13:31:37 UTC 2007

1. Defending Bilingualism in Canada
May 15, 2007

The Conservative government must stop ignoring the needs of Canadas
official language minority communities, Liberal Leader Stphane Dion said
today. Canada has had a policy of official bilingualism for almost 40
years, said Mr. Dion. It's the basis of this country and there is
consensus amongst all political parties. However, the Prime Minister has
not rallied behind bilingualism until 2005, after denouncing it as a
failed god. The Prime Minister abolished the Court Challenges program and
has shown his true colours by doing so. He is now asking that the Official
Languages Committee be muzzled so that it cannot take into consideration
the Official Language Commissioner's report.

Why is the Prime Minister ignoring the needs of minority language
communities and its own obligations under the Official Languages Act? In a
report released today, Canada's Official Languages Commissioner found the
Harper governments cuts have undermined the development and promotion of
bilingualism across Canada. In particular, the Commissioner ruled that
Conservatives move to eliminate the Court Challenges Program violates the
Official Languages, depriving minority groups of adequate access to the
courts to defend their rights.

Todays report falls in line with a growing pattern of abandonment of
linguistic minority communities by the Harper government. Recently, a
meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages to discuss the
elimination of the Court Challenges Program was cancelled without notice.
Appointments of unilingual Anglophones to key federal institutions, such
as the new ombudsman for crime victims, have also been criticized by
minority language defence organizations. Deputy Liberal Leader Michael
Ignatieff pointed to the report as an example of the Harper governments
track record of picking and choosing which rights to respect.

As Liberals we believe that language must never divide Canadians from each
other or from their institutions. That is why we support bilingualism, so
that we can be linked together in common understanding and respect, said
Mr. Ignatieff. But that is not the position of this government. Today, the
Commissioner of Official Languages condemns the government, for its
apparent lack of will in sustaining bilingualism and protecting the rights
of minority language communities in Canada. Will the Prime Minister commit
today to act on the Commissioner's recommendations?

Canadas bilingualism is an important part of our national identity, and
this governments relentless attacks on it are appalling. Prime Minister
Harper must make amends for his disgraceful actions beginning by
immediately reinstating the Court Challenges program.

2. Conservative Government Violates Minority Language Rights
May 15, 2007

OTTAWA - The Conservatives must reinstate the Court Challenges Program and
reverse the damage done to official language minority communities as
outlined in today's Official Languages Commissioner's Report, Liberal
leader Stphane Dion said today. "The Commissioner's Report goes straight
to the heart of the problem: the ideological cuts made by the Conservative
government completely neglected the needs and interests of minority
language communities," said Mr. Dion. "Specifically, the elimination of
the Court Challenges Program is a direct violation of section VII of the
Official Languages Act and deprives minority groups of adequate access to
the courts to defend their rights."

The Official Languages Commissioner's Report also highlights other
programs and organizations affected by the cuts, including Status of Women
Canada and the Adult Learning and Literacy Program. "The Report
demonstrates the Conservatives have abandoned these communities and have
grossly underestimated the impact of their cuts,"  said Mr. Dion. During
his press conference, Mr. Fraser also underlined the flaws in the
evaluation process used by the government to determine program cuts.
According to Mr. Fraser, the review conducted by the government did not
take into account the effect of the cuts on official languages.

"What is worrying is that the complete lack of consideration toward
official languages seems to be embedded in the review process," said Mr.
Dion. "The Conservative government wilfully ignored its responsibility
toward official language minorities." The Report follows a series of blows
the Conservative government has dealt linguistic minority communities.
Today, the Conservative government effectively ended the work of the
Standing Committee on Official Languages by refusing to appoint a
replacement Chair. Opposition members of the Committee voted to remove Guy
Lauzon as Chair, following his unilateral cancellation without notice of a
meeting of the Committee, where the elimination of the Court Challenges
Program was to be discussed.  Appointments of unilingual Anglophones to
key federal institutions, such as the new ombudsman for crime victims,
have also been criticized by minority language defence organizations.

"The Conservatives must immediately implement the report's recommendations
and demonstrate a genuine respect for the rights of official language
minority communities. They should not be considered solely as another
voting group that has to be taken care of. They are an integral part of
Canada's social fabric," said Mr. Dion.


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