Archived - Statement to the media for the signing of the memorandum of understanding with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
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Fredericton, New Brunswick, March 6, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.
Thank you for attending this press conference to celebrate the 20th anniversary of section 16.1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick.
In recent years, we have celebrated a number of milestones related to official languages in Canada and in New Brunswick. In 2009, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick and the Official Languages Act of Canada. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was adopted in 1982. And exactly 20 years ago next week, the principle of substantive equality of English and French linguistic communities in New Brunswick was constitutionalized when the Charter was amended to include section 16.1. This was a historic moment for the province’s official language communities. With this action, the provincial government of the day recognized, in Canada’s highest law, that there is no linguistic minority in New Brunswick—that in this province of hope restored, there are two majority language communities.
Section 16.1 also gives New Brunswick’s English and French communities the right to distinct educational institutions and distinct cultural institutions. By giving a clear collective dimension to language rights, this provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is at the heart of protecting and promoting the vitality of French-speaking communities, especially in the field of education. It gives the province’s French-language schools considerable discretion to develop their programs so that they can fully meet their dual mandate: instruction and identity-building.
It is my very great privilege to celebrate this anniversary with your commissioner of official languages, Michel Carrier.
Canada is a complex country with complex language issues. Language rights are not only individual, they are also collective. They were not designed just to protect a single person, but also to ensure the vitality of official language communities throughout the country. And although language issues are rights-based—enshrined in a charter of rights and defendable before the courts—we must remember that they are also values-based.
Michel Carrier and I are very excited and confident about the memorandum of understanding we have just signed. Of course, the work of our respective organizations does not end with the signing of an official document, but the agreement will enable us to work together on studies and promotional activities. It is also a symbolic gesture of commitment to our shared values.
By signing this memorandum of understanding, we agree to continue the excellent cooperation between our offices and we reaffirm our commitment to the members of New Brunswick’s two language communities. This is a commitment by the Government of Canada to its two official languages and a pledge to protect the vitality of its language communities throughout Canada.
The government of New Brunswick recognized the unique character of its population by declaring itself bilingual—the only province in Canada to do so. The province and its government must continue to be official languages leaders and role models.
There are three factors that determine the success of a language policy: the leadership demonstrated by the decision makers; their willingness to work together to ensure that English and French are truly equal; and productive dialogue between the courts, parliamentarians and the governments.
But beyond the letter of the law, there is the spirit of the law. In order to respect the spirit of the law, which is a spirit of openness and inclusiveness, Canadians need to recognize that both English and French, along with the cultures they represent, belong to all of us. We need to broaden our definition of “us.” And today is the perfect day to celebrate this vision.
At a time when language issues are re-emerging on the Canadian political landscape, it is especially important to remember that the future of Canada’s bilingualism depends on our ability to foster a unified linguistic environment where English and French both have a place—in New Brunswick and in every region of the country.
Celebrating the anniversaries of important official languages milestones gives us an opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made with respect to language rights and to identify issues for further discussion. Commemorations and anniversaries are also an opportunity to take stock of how we got here, to look towards the future and to think about all that we can still achieve together.
Before I finish, I would like to add one more thing.
In a few weeks, Michel Carrier, my New Brunswick counterpart, will be completing his second term as the province’s first commissioner of official languages. For 10 years, Michel’s dedication and tireless efforts to protect and promote New Brunswick’s official language communities have been exemplary. Among his many achievements are his contributions to the New Brunswick government’s two-year official languages plan and its language of work policy, as well as his leadership in the Casino New Brunswick file. He has also devoted his unflagging energy to promoting official languages in the business community through the Miramichi Advantage and Saint John Advantage initiatives.
Michel, I wish you continued success, and I thank you for everything you have done for New Brunswick’s official language communities.
Thank you for your attention.