Canada: Translation World Showcases a Multicultural Nation

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu May 14 16:59:34 UTC 2009

Translation World Showcases a Multicultural Nation
Benjamin B. Sargent 13 May 2009
Filed under (Interpretation, International Policy Matters, Culture & Globalism)

At Translation World this week in Toronto, we met Michelle Munroe, the
Central Coordinator of Parent and Community Involvement for the
Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She facilitates the delivery of
language services – including translation in 12 languages and
interpretation in 175 – for more than 550 schools. TDSB allocates
funding for each school to improve school-family engagement
irrespective of language. Over the past several decades, Canada’s
well-known bilingual policy has morphed toward polylingualism, as
evidenced by its strong record of support for community interpreting
and other language services.

As one of the world’s wealthiest nations and a top 10 trading nation,
Canada nets a high per capita income. While logging and oil remain two
of Canada’s most important industries, the services sector dominates
Canada’s economy and today employs three out of four Canadians. As
we’ve noted previously, the Canadian government plays a strong role in
the language industry. The country’s multicultural policy, adopted in
1971 in response to the grievances of Canada’s French-speaking
minority, took shape in the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and
Biculturalism in the 1960s. The Commission advocated recognizing
Canada as a bilingual and bicultural society and adopting policies to
preserve this character.

In 2009, many Canadians value multiculturalism and see Canadian
culture as being inherently multicultural. Section 27 of the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants what amounts to a right, where
there is sufficient demand, to receive federal government services in
English, French, and official minority languages in the schools in all
provinces and territories. Non-official languages are also significant
in Canada, with five million people (over 15 percent of the
population) listing one as a first language.

As the world economy continues to integrate, the public discourse in
Canada recognizes a connection between multiculturalism and long-term
prosperity. Throughout its history, Canada has depended on a large
stream of immigrants for its economic growth. While the immigration
rate has declined since its peak in the 1960s, Canada still accepts
more immigrants as a percentage of its total population than  any
other industrialized nation.

Government policies supported by allocation of funds — as in the case
of the Toronto District School Board — help guide public sentiment. It
could be that the combination of the country’s inherent bilingualism
and the long-standing policy favoring immigration as a means to
bolster the nation’s economy, make Canada a test case for social
“return on investment” in multiculturalism — and a bell-weather
indicator of the polylingual societies in our future.
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