Are bilingualism rules too narrow? Appointment of Gov. Gen. Mary Simon spurs debate

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Raymond Théberge, Canada’s authoritative languages commissioner, says his bureau has received much than 400 complaints astir the assignment of Inuk person Mary Simon arsenic politician general.

The “problem” is her deficiency of French-English bilingualism, though she is bilingual, speaking some Inuktitut and English.

Canada has had an authoritative bilingualism argumentation for 50 years, established to woody with a 1960s law situation regarding francophone Canadians.

Today a precise antithetic situation presents itself: the reckoning of Canada’s assemblage practices towards Indigenous people. The uncomfortable clash betwixt antithetic number languages is coming to a caput with the assignment of Simon.

But which languages “count” successful Canada? And who gets to beryllium the “right” benignant of bilingual?

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In the 1960s, the Canadian authorities was dealing with the Révolution Tranquille (Quiet Revolution) successful Québec. This play of societal unrest caused the Catholic Church’s power to diminution and placed connection astatine the forefront of Québécois identity.

This was aft a agelong past of economical asymmetry successful Québec. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the English made up the bulk of the governing and merchant class, portion the French laboured for the English (for lawsuit arsenic coureurs de bois, oregon unlicensed fur traders), oregon lived connected subsistence farms. Overall, the French were much populous, but besides much rural, little educated and poorer.

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This signifier changed lone somewhat implicit the decades, coming to a caput successful the 1960s during the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission — besides known arsenic the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission — that revealed heavy economical and societal inequities betwixt francophones and anglophones successful Québec.

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In bid to rise the presumption of francophones successful Canada, Pierre Trudeau’s authorities passed the Official Languages Act successful 1969 (revamped successful 1985), giving French adjacent organization presumption arsenic English.

This acceptable the signifier for today, wherever astir Canadians instrumentality authoritative bilingualism arsenic a given. It is possibly unsurprising, then, that Simon’s deficiency of French fluency would rise immoderate eyebrows.

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The Official Languages Act has ever been astatine likelihood with Canada’s claims of multiculturalism. The Canadian perfect was to beforehand aggregate cultures portion promoting lone 2 languages, oregon arsenic linguist Eve Haque has called it, “Multiculturalism wrong a Bilingual Framework.”

However, fixed that connection is usually believed to beryllium an indispensable constituent of civilization (indeed, Québecers argued this), this is already a tenuous policy.

When we found “official” languages, we demote each different languages to “unofficial.” Equality is lone for French and English, not for Cree, oregon Mohawk, oregon Inuktitut, oregon adjacent German — whose speakers person ever greatly outnumbered French speakers connected the Prairies. In fact, the 2016 census reports much than 66,000 German mother-tongue speakers successful Manitoba, compared to 46,000 French mother-tongue speakers.

Current connection argumentation successful Canada establishes a hierarchy of French and English supra each different languages that underpins however we speech astir everything successful this country. The census reports connected French and English separately, but groups each different languages together. Being bilingual lone “counts” if it is French-English.

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This is wherefore much than 400 complainants to the authoritative languages commissioner see Simon’s bilingualism inadequate, contempt Inuktitut being 1 of 3 authoritative languages of Nunavut.

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Although astir whitethorn hold that it is ever desirable to talk an Indigenous language, it is successful summation to French and English, not arsenic a replacement.

Fast guardant 50 years from the Official Languages Act, and determination is simply a antithetic situation afoot successful Canada.

Today we are reckoning with decades of assemblage authorities practices towards Indigenous radical and languages. Policies specified arsenic residential schools and the 60s scoop were the nonstop origin of Indigenous connection loss.

Removing children from their families and forcing them to larn an “official” connection resulted successful an abrupt extremity of familial connection transmission for astir each of the 70-plus Indigenous languages spoken successful this country.

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action see the revitalization and re-establishment of these languages. The national authorities effect to these recommendations led to the Indigenous Languages Act of 2019.

Canada’s Official Languages Act states that it volition “advance the equality of presumption and usage of the English and French languages wrong Canadian society.” And the Indigenous Languages Act states that the “recognition and implementation of rights related to Indigenous languages are astatine the halfway of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and are cardinal to shaping the country.”

How tin Canada reconcile the two?

While French remains a number connection successful Canada, galore Indigenous languages are connected the brink of extinction. Inuktitut is among the Indigenous languages astir spoken contiguous arsenic a parent tongue, and adjacent it is declining. The national authorities and each Canadians person an work to enactment towards reconciliation with Indigenous people, and to instrumentality the TRC recommendations.

Recognizing Indigenous languages arsenic adjacent successful presumption to French and English, and accepting Inuktitut-English bilingualism successful a archetypal Indigenous politician general, would beryllium a bully start.

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