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Linguistic and cultural diversity, issues of cohabitation – Role of the Francophonie in international communications
Gatineau, Quebec, March 20, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, friends, good evening.
I would like to begin by thanking Claude Robert for inviting me here.
I would also like to thank you for coming here to listen to me this evening. I’m going to be passing on a few thoughts about linguistic and cultural diversity, and the issues they raise. I’ll also be looking at the role of the Francophonie in international communications.
First, a few important points.
In Canada, the national conversation takes place in English and French, our two official languages. If we are to build a strong, well-adapted French-speaking community in Canada, then Anglophones, Francophones and allophones need to learn to work together in a win-win relationship.
In 1967, two years before the Official Languages Act, Laurier Lapierre, a journalist and later a senator who died last December, wanted the government to take action so that everyone—majorities and minorities—would be perfectly bilingual. He said “the modern world is basically a pluralist one. […] No nation on earth has a majority strong enough to prevent another people or another nation from developing and flourishing. […] The majority,” he said, “cannot make decisions that destroy a minority’s acquired rights.Footnote 1” [translation]
Of course Canada does need laws to protect the language rights of its citizens. The concept of linguistic duality is based on the notion that there are two founding peoples in Canada, and the objective of the Official Languages Act is to achieve equality between them. The letter of the law seeks to protect the language rights of the official language minority communities, that is, Francophones outside Quebec and Anglophones within Quebec. 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 must recognize that both English and French—along with the cultures expressed through these two official languages—belong to everyone. We need to broaden our definition of “us.” Even those who are unilingual should learn to think as if we were all “honorary bilinguals” and make sure that the rights of our language communities are observed. That is the spirit of the law.
I completely agree with what Laurier Lapierre said in 1967. I do not think the majority can make decisions that destroy the acquired rights of the minority. I also find it profoundly unsettling when percentages are used to define the language rights of minority communities, for this means allowing the size of the majority to determine the vitality of the minority. Beyond a certain threshold, a community thus becomes a group of second-class citizens.
It’s true that French speakers in North America are swimming in an English-speaking sea. This is an unavoidable reality that affects the feeling of linguistic identity in Canada. We are seeing the language question return to the public scene in Quebec, and with it, a rise in insecurity among the Anglophone minority. An interesting fact is that a recent survey shows that the half million or so Franco-Ontarians are less worried about the future of French in their province than the Francophones of Quebec, four million of whom are unilingual.Footnote 2
The combination of linguistic and cultural diversity is playing an ever more important role on the international stage. But in a changing world where globalization makes it increasingly complicated for citizens to clearly define their national identity, linguistic duality remains an unequivocal Canadian value.
English and French are international languages, and they allow Canada to communicate with a large part of the world and to play a role in both the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. We live in a country where people speak 150 languages, some of which were spoken well before the Europeans arrived.
The new globalized economy is resulting in many language and identity changes. We are witnessing the birth of hybrid cultural and linguistic identities. Identities are more fluid, roots are less evident and human relationships are characterized by movement. The nature of linguistic identity is changing everywhere. It has become less clear-cut and more flexible.
People are starting to develop a plural linguistic identity.
Although English is the international lingua franca, its predominance may wane as a result of pervasive globalization. Bilingualism, and indeed plurilingualism, will make the difference in the world of tomorrow.
International market forces are redefining the value of languages, and a good number of countries have been quick to understand that they can no longer grow using only one language.
In business and education, unilingual citizens will be competing with bilingual and even trilingual candidates who, in addition to their own language, have mastered not only English but also a third language and maybe even a fourth.
The countries of the Francophonie need to redouble their efforts so that French continues to thrive internationally and do a better job of combining linguistic and cultural diversity, and valuing all the cultures of the French-speaking world. French must remain one of the leading languages of international communication.
There can be no question of taking up arms against English or any other language. French cannot spread by pushing aside other languages, but by creating a lasting alignment with them. In this era of globalization, we need to affirm the relevance of the Francophonie and the important role it plays in international communications.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that many countries, including French-speaking countries, are going through a period of intense debate about their approach to diversity and immigration. And the situation is changing rapidly; therefore, it is vital that we have tools and flexible policies to enable us to adapt to the current reality. Populations will continue to diversify at an accelerating rate.
For the time being, Francophone communities continue to be a vital presence everywhere, but there are many challenges. For example, Rwanda had French-English bilingualism until English was officially adopted as the country’s sole official language. This decision had major repercussions for a large portion of the population, in a country with a special context and a tragic history. Schools were closed for a year to train the teachers. The Rwandan example should be seen as a warning.
A challenge for North American French-speaking communities is to develop a feeling of belonging to the international Francophonie, a Francophonie that seeks to be inclusive and bring everyone together.
This message must continue to be spread throughout the world and resonate with everyone, regardless of what language they speak, in a positive and inclusive way. French will continue to be relevant and necessary provided that the language is not spoken in a vacuum. The message of the French-speaking world must transcend administrative measures and political commitments. Getting this message across will depend not only on our politicians and other leaders doing a better job, but also on a greater openness to the world on the part of every individual Canadian, so that we may all become enriched through linguistic diversity.
It is becoming ever harder to link language and culture, as these two concepts are no longer necessarily connected in the minds of people trying to define themselves in relation to others. Having a common language does not necessarily mean having a common culture or the same values. In Canada, there are two majority languages—but, officially, there are not two majority cultures. Language is a transactional element. In other words, while the official languages policy is not intended to require Canadians to be bilingual, a certain number of bilingual Canadians are required so that the government can offer services in both languages.
Linguistic duality is a fundamental value of Canada, and serves as a link between the cultures. It is, in my view, the foundation of Canadian multiculturalism—acceptance of a society that speaks another language laid the groundwork for creating a country that welcomes newcomers. Canadian multiculturalism aims to recognize the vitality of diverse minority cultures, without hindering the individual development of their members. For its part, bilingualism is a skill that can build bridges between languages and cultures—this is why I believe that linguistic duality and cultural diversity are complementary, and not contradictory.
Canada’s multiculturalism and official languages policies are both based on diversity. Multiculturalism stems from our belief that all citizens are equal and ensures that they can retain their identities, take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging. These policies originate from the recommendations of the report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which was published 50 years ago this year.
Those recommendations now seem self-evident: that discrimination on the basis of race, creed, nationality or place of origin be prohibited; that the same conditions for citizenship and for the right to vote and to stand for public office be accorded to all immigrants, with no regard to their country of origin; that the teaching of languages other than English and French be incorporated as options in elementary school where there is sufficient demand; and that special instruction in the appropriate official language be provided for children who have an inadequate knowledge of that language when they enter the public school system.
Multiculturalism has become a loaded term in Europe, where it has taken on quite a different meaning than in Canada. In Europe, multiculturalism has often been designed as an alternative to citizenship, for instance, education in Turkish for gastarbeiter in Germany who will eventually return to Turkey. In Canada, multiculturalism policies have been intended as a way of integrating newcomers and connecting them to the broader society, as a stepping stone on the path to citizenship. Whether you call it multiculturalism, pluralism or interculturalism (a term that has become current in Quebec)—it is easy to get lost in semantics—Canadian society is constantly seeking a balance between cultural respect and social cohesion.
I think the situation is very different now from the one that existed in 1971, when the multiculturalism policy was first introduced. When the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism made its recommendations, immigration was still predominantly from Europe, while refugees came from countries behind the Iron Curtain. Asia was poverty stricken, and Asian immigration was tolerated without being encouraged. The vibrant literature of immigrant communities was a literature of culture shock and cultural adaptation to an often hostile majority. And immigration was a one-way street: immigrants came, adapted, integrated and stayed.
Canada is one of the few countries in the developed world where one can find not only consistently high levels of immigration, but also a very positive public attitude in this regard. Since 1986, immigration levels have almost tripled.Footnote 3 However, the government has recognized that this great increase in immigration does represent a challenge for official language communities.
Take, for example, the Francophone community of Manitoba. Over the past five years, there has been a specific government policy to encourage Francophone immigrants to move to communities outside Quebec, and recent statistics show that Manitoba’s Francophone communities are undergoing changes due to growing immigration.Footnote 4 Winnipeg, in comparison to other cities outside Quebec, has the largest proportion of French-speaking immigrants from Africa.Footnote 5
For a Francophone minority community whose identity has historically been based on the traditional cornerstones of parish and church, making the transition from a French-Canadian community to a Francophone host community is a challenge, to say the least. Such communities are experiencing upheaval. They have a lot of preparing to do, both before immigrants arrive and even more so when the newcomers are settling in.
The enhanced vitality of Canada’s official language communities as a result of the arrival of French-speaking immigrants is great news for the Francophonie. The issues of immigration, diversity, integration and accommodation are important both in Canada and in Quebec; they are sometimes seen as threats to “national identity.” We are faced with a major challenge. How can we improve the sense of belonging to a community? How can we change communities that already have solid, cultural identity reference points? How can we help these Francophone immigrants to find their place among “us”?
Our traditional “French-Canadian” communities are changing, little by little, into “Francophone” communities; their cultural identity is being shaken. And this is no smooth process. Both the immigrants and their host communities are experiencing a “culture shock” to which they must adapt. And our whole perception of linguistic duality in Canada is being affected.
As a result of globalization, identities are more fluid, roots are less evident and human relationships are characterized by movement. The concept we have of “our country” is changing. We live together in a diversified world and that is why the concept of “our country” has become more flexible.
The fact that Canada has two dynamic languages and cultures is not only a source of tensions and disagreement—it is also a source of creativity and ongoing dialogue. And the fact that two language groups must constantly work together has helped Canadian society develop values such as respect, compromise, empathy and acceptance.
The tensions that we must deal with can lead to progress and be a source of innovation. This means that the challenges of pluralism are different than those that existed 40 years ago, but not dissimilar. One of the important areas of progress over the past 50 years in Canada has been the degree to which the sense of inclusion has grown. For example, faiths or religious customs that were marginal 50 years ago are now part of the Canadian landscape.
The next step is for Canadian society to develop the same acceptance towards faiths and customs that have recently appeared on the Canadian radar; that is, the new cultural dynamic that is now changing Canada.
Language is only one of many aspects of how Canadians define their identity. But the cohabitation of English and French, in other words, linguistic duality, will always be an undeniable feature of Canadian society. Canadian linguistic duality is a powerful symbol of openness, respect, acceptance and empathy—values which are also held in all the countries of the Francophonie.
- Footnote 1
“Malaises linguistiques au Québec” (video recording), Tirez au clair, television broadcast by Société Radio-Canada, 1967, 19 min 05 s and 36 min 30 s. On-line version of footnote 1 source (French only) accessed March 20, 2013.
- Footnote 2
François Pierre Dufault, “Les Franco-Ontariens moins inquiets que les Québécois,” Le Droit, February 2, 2013. On-line version of footnote 2 source (French only) accessed March 20, 2013.
- Footnote 3
In 1986, Canada welcomed 99,354 permanent residents, and 257,515 in 2012. Source: CANADA, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada – Permanent residents by province or territory and urban area, 2008–2012, Research Data Mart, Preliminary 2012 Data. On-line version of footnote 3 source accessed March 20, 2013.
- Footnote 4
According to Statistics Canada data, the country’s rate of demographic growth has increased since the last census, and has now reached 5.9%. The province with the highest rate of growth is Alberta, at 10.8%. In 2006, 11,955 immigrants arrived in Canada from French-speaking African countries. In 2008 that number jumped to 13,777, and in 2010 it jumped again to 15,608. Source: Idem.
- Footnote 5
Since 2006, a total of 1,500 immigrants from primarily French-speaking African nations have settled in Manitoba. Source: Idem.