Canada 360 | The official language law update is long overdue

PHOTO FRANÇOIS ROY, LA PressE ARCHIVES

Jennette Petitbas Taylor, Minister of Official Languages

Valerie Lapointe Gagnon

Valerie Lapointe Gagnon
Assistant Professor of History at Saint-Jean College, University of Alberta

In 2008, Ottawa entered into an agreement with British Columbia to transfer management of Employment Services. Since the province does not have the same obligations regarding official languages ​​as the federal government, this agreement leads to the dismantling of a network established by the federal government in partnership with francophone organizations in accordance with Part VII of the Official Languages ​​Law (OLA), which aims to promote the development of official language minorities. In doing so, centers that provide services in French are closed down, depriving French speakers of support in their language and places for socialization necessary for their survival.

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The case is taken to court. As usual, it takes a long time to get answers. In its January 28 ruling, the Federal Court of Appeals held that the Canadian government had failed to take into account the harmful effects of this agreement and thus had failed in its obligations for the official languages.

swamp file

And although this decision has been passed under the radar, it adds to a long chain of events or events that illustrate stagnation or setbacks regarding the standing of the French in the country. We remember the monolingual English speech given by the President of Air Canada to the Board of Trade in Metropolitan Montreal. Admittedly, the event caused a lot of ink to flow. In the face of public disdain, the concerned director vowed to learn French, but no doubt we’ll have to wait a long time for the culture to change at Air Canada, one of the biggest violators of OLA.

At the start of the pandemic, the French language was also abused by monolingual press conferences or the lack of translation of health product labels. As if French speakers do not deserve, in times of crisis, to have clear information in their own language.

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A survey conducted by the Office of the Commissioner for Official Languages ​​also highlighted the language insecurity of federal public officials: 44% of Francophone respondents said they did not feel comfortable using French at work, a worrying phenomenon in the bilingual public service. .1

In short, the official languages ​​file is stumbling. and update OLA long overdue The Throne Speech on September 23, 2020 kept hope alive. The Canadian government noted the need to “protect and promote the French language” and pledged to strengthen Official Languages ​​Law By “taking into account the special reality of French”. Since then, a bill has been put forward without follow-up due to elections and a change of minister. The deadline for the delivery of the new invoice, set at the beginning of February, has been pushed back again.

A law of true equality

When it was created in 1969, it was Official Languages ​​Law It was for restorative purposes. The country was going through a severe national crisis. The intellectual community and political leaders were concerned about the sustainability of the Confederation in the context of growing nationalism in Quebec. The OLA It was part of an arsenal of recommendations formulated by the Royal Bilingual and Bicultural Commission to combine “two units” and create a real level of opportunity for Anglophones and Francophones. At that time, studies revealed the economic inferiority of French Canadians and the barriers to their development.

Upon its entry into force, OLA It led to a certain relaxation of relations between Anglophones and Francophones. It became acceptable to speak French from one end of the country to the other: “speaking whites” was more conservative. On the ground, great gains were made by the Francophone societies.

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To achieve its goals, updating the law must build on the concrete implementations of Part VII of it which “states that all federal institutions have a legal obligation to take positive measures to fulfill their obligations to ensure that French and English have an equal status in Canadian society. Indeed, as the language minority expert points out, Rodrigue Landry, “If the ambitious goals of Part VII are not translated into concrete and real goals of the vitality of society, and into clear obligations and responsibilities of government, then OLA It is likely to be significant in appearance given its symbolic nature of country, but without much bearing on the true equality of the two major linguistic communities involved. »2

But after more than 50 years, we can also see weaknesses in Law Bilingualism: Making the federal public service bilingual has neither made Canadians more bilingual nor necessarily made it possible to create the living spaces necessary for French influence.

Even with a stronger law, the problems of Canadian Francophonie will continue as long as political ambition does not appear in this file. In 1969, the national dialogue among Canadians about the importance of bilingualism was as much a pillar of modern Canadian identity as the national dialogue among Canadians. OLA This is how progress has been made. At the moment, this modernization conversation occurs mostly in inner circles, and failure to expand it could taint the fallout from this long-overdue reform.

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