Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

This publication marks the 30th anniversary of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

As an agent of change and ombudsman's office, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has the mission of taking all measures intended to ensure the achievement of the three main objectives of the Official Languages Act, namely:

  • the equality of English and French in Parliament, within the government of Canada, the federal administration and institutions subject to the Act;

  • the preservation and development of official language communities in Canada;

  • the equality of English and French in Canadian society.

© Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada 2001
Cat. No.: SF31-56/2001
ISBN: 0-662-65975-9


Contents

Introduction

Section 1: The Spirit of the Country

Section 2: Bilingualism in the Federal Government

  • Knowing how to talk to Canadians
  • Feeling at home at work
  • A reflection of the country

Section 3: Two Living Languages

  • The development of official language minority communities: the impetus from government
    • Touching all facets of life
    • Dynamic communities
  • Teaching the two languages and teaching in the two languages
    • The long road to school
    • School governance
    • The student population of the official language minorities
    • Youth and the second language
  • Promotion of the official languages
    • A matter of the heart

Section 4: The Official Languages in Canadian Society

  • Accepting and understanding the two official languages
  • The shadow of assimilation
  • A changing landscape

Section 5: Fostering the Growth of the Official Languages

  • Commissioners of Official Languages: Guides and Guardians
    • The trailblazer
    • Appeal for support for official language minorities
    • Toward the new Act
    • Enhancing the vitality and supporting the development of communities
    • Noting progress without becoming complacent
  • The Office of the Commissioner: Pursuing an Ideal
    • The trend in complaints

Conclusion

Top of Page

Introduction

More than thirty years ago, when the Government of Canada adopted its first Official Languages Act, it made a commitment to pursue the ideal of a bilingual society. It is an ideal that inspires the men and women, in government and the general public, who work every day to make bilingualism an integral part of Canada's character.

Their efforts express the spirit of this country, in which people of diverse cultures and languages strive to coexist in harmony. As history records, the story of bilingualism has taken some difficult twists and turns. But it is ultimately the story of how, through goodwill and determination, our citizens and governments have worked together to build a society based on linguistic duality.

In the past three decades, the government has created a climate in which both English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians feel represented by the institutions of government. The public service has become increasingly representative of the country's population.

Linguistic minorities are becoming more assertive in demanding their rights, making use of the many government programs designed to assist them but motivated by their own firmly held belief that their language and culture should continue to grow and develop.

Three decades of official bilingualism is not a very long time in the grand sweep of history. During this time, however, we have seen the emergence of a new generation of Canadians who want to know both our official languages, English and French, and are eager to learn more through educational programs and personal contact.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has played and will continue to play a guiding role, but without question it is the people of Canada, whether acting in an official capacity or as ordinary citizens, who have chosen bilingualism and steered its course to date.

True, there have been and still are some setbacks. The rights of linguistic minorities have sometimes been violated. Work remains to be done. Nonetheless, Canada continues to build a bilingual society that reflects its modern world view. In this era of globalization, borders are disappearing and exchanges between people are multiplying. For obvious reasons, a bilingual country is well equipped to play an active part in this global expansion.

In these pages the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages offers you a look at the history of bilingualism in Canada, its struggles and triumphs. The scale tips first in one direction and then in the other, but there is an inexorable movement in the direction of hope, toward a more open world built on harmony among diverse languages and cultures. This is the history of an idea whose roots are in the 20th century and that promises to grow to fruition in the century that has just begun.

Like any historical overview, this one does not seek to be exhaustive or to identify all the events that have played a role, great or small. We simply offer a selection of the facts as a reminder of the road we have travelled.

Top of Page

Section 1: The Spirit of the Country

Since the discovery of the New World led English and French-speaking Europeans to live side by side, the two groups have gradually learned to live in harmony. They have made impressive progress, considering where they started--with the surrender of Quebec in 1760! Having come here to build a country, they undertook to share it rather than perpetuate the conflicts that for long made enemies of their countries in the Old World. In this, both communities received help from the First Nations who had inhabited this bountiful land for many generations.

Together they founded Canada. Quebec, which was largely French-speaking, and Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario, which were largely English-speaking, together laid the foundations of bilingualism, a movement which would grow along with the country.

As of Confederation in 1867, English and French became the languages spoken in the Parliament of Canada. This parliamentary bilingualism gained symbolic importance when French appeared alongside English on postage stamps and bank notes in the 1920s and '30s. It gained vitality with the establishment of the Translation Bureau in 1934. During that same period, the public service, nearly unilingual until then, began to communicate with Quebec in French.

The use of two languages also became part of the country's culture, due in large part to the CBC, the National Film Board and the Canada Council, which used and promoted them.

There were, however, stumbling blocks that slowed progress on the road to bilingualism. For instance, at one time or another, several provinces prohibited the teaching of French at school.

Anglophones and Francophones, who had founded this country together in spite of everything, did not always get along. As friction continued, it became apparent that Canada had to show greater respect for its linguistic minorities and that much more than occasional adjustments were needed to allow all citizens to flourish.

During the watershed years of the 1960s, the country was ripe for serious reflection. In 1963, the federal government created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission), which spent seven years taking an X-ray of Canadian society. Its first finding was that the country was in the "central crisis of its history" and that, to resolve this, it would have to grant everyone the right to an education in his or her own official language, make the federal public service bilingual, and recognize the distinctive character of Quebec. Quebec was beginning to demand greater recognition of its majority language and culture.

Consequently, the Official Languages Act was passed in 1969. The government of the day drew on the commission's work to launch the most ambitious initiative since Confederation to ensure that those with different origins and traditions could continue to work together.

The official languages were henceforth an essential part of the country's development.

In 1970, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages began its work in support of the initiative. Major constitutional conferences were held during that same period, culminating in 1982 with the repatriation of the Constitution and the entrenchment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which made the right to linguistic equality a fundamental constitutional right.

As a consequence, the concept of bilingualism became more important than ever before. It was no longer limited to dealings between the government and its people, nor just to Parliament. Both languages were to become part of daily life, in society and in the institutions of government. Minority language education rights were confirmed. It also became apparent that Anglophone and Francophone minorities needed not only legal recognition but also an atmosphere conducive to their development. Their right to grow and flourish was recognized in the new Official Languages Act of 1988.

The time when bilingualism was limited to symbols and translation was henceforth a thing of the past. Bilingualism can now be felt in many ways.

First, it is expressed through government programs designed for minority communities and involving culture, the arts, the economy and education. All departments and agencies, with responsibilities as varied as health, agriculture, labour and communications, must now take both linguistic minorities into account. Second, bilingualism involves not only government services but also the vitality of the linguistic minorities. In several provinces, linguistic minorities have their own economic, cultural and political institutions as well as their own schools. Finally, the institutions of government are increasingly tailored to the country's linguistic profile.

The official languages policy has grown with Canada. It has been shaped by the country's landscape and has left its mark on Canadian society. Today, it reaches to all three oceans, giving rights to the most isolated linguistic minorities and encouraging more and more Canadians to become bilingual.

People of all origins now share this vast land with its first occupants, the Aboriginal peoples. Together they work toward mutual understanding, communicating in one of these two great languages, English and French. They reflect the spirit of Canada, an open country at the forefront of the major changes of our age.

People now travel the globe, thanks to the tremendous reach of modern means of communication. Our official languages policy helps make Canada a leader in the movement toward linguistic pluralism and cultural diversity.

A work in progress, this vision will continue to meet with resistance. Yet it will always be able to rely on forces that are rooted in history and building strength today to lead the country toward a better future.

Top of Page

Section 2: Bilingualism in the Federal Government

Knowing how to talk to Canadians

The bilingual state is characterized by a wide variety of bilingual institutions, designed to guarantee that citizens are not disadvantaged because they belong to a minority linguistic group.

(Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Book I, The Official Languages, p. 12, 1967.)

All those who agree to comply with the laws and customs of their country expect their government to treat them fairly in return. It is only fair, for example, that both Anglophones and Francophones should feel at home in dealings with their government. To achieve such equity, the federal government must be able to speak to Canadians in their language, whether they are part of the majority or the minority. After all, it was the need to communicate felt by all human beings that gave birth to speech and language.

With its goal of achieving equal treatment, the Official Languages Act provides both the use of both English and French in dealings between the state and its citizens.

Shortcomings? Yes, there still are some. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is in a position to see them. But if it had been able to evaluate conditions at the end of the 19th century, the record for a single year would surely have shown more inequities than the sum of all the deficiencies noted since 1970.

Not until 1938 did the federal public service formally take the step of using both official languages. That is when the government, which had essentially been unilingual English since Confederation, began to provide services to the people of Quebec in French. A few years later, in 1945, bilingual federal family allowance cheques were issued in Quebec. Francophone minorities in the other provinces were nevertheless still forgotten.

They began to appear on the radar screen in 1958, when the Public Service Commission decided that public servants serving bilingual communities should be able to communicate in both languages. Four years later, the Royal Commission on Government Organization in Canada stated that the public service should be representative of the cultures that make up the country, especially the English and French cultures. About the same time, the distribution of bilingual family allowance cheques was extended to the entire country.

After 95 years of history, Francophone minorities may finally have felt some recognition, now that families received mail from their government once a month, written in the language of their ancestors. But it was still too soon to say that their government had learned to talk to them in their own language. Far from it. For the most part, federal departments and agencies provided their services in English only outside Quebec. To progress further, the public service needed a fresh impetus.

This impetus came in 1969 with the adoption of the Official Languages Act, which stipulated that, where there is significant demand, services must be provided to the public in both English and French. The following year, the President of the Treasury Board set the objective of guaranteeing that written communications with the public would be in both official languages.

Eventually, all correspondence sent to the entire population would be bilingual. But one milestone was more difficult to achieve than all the rest, namely, that people could receive public services in their own official language, whether they were in a majority or a minority.

The government invested in language training for its employees, and certain positions were designated bilingual. The spontaneous use of English and French is still not part of the culture in the public service, however, particularly in regions where one of the two official languages is in a large majority. Old habits die hard. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has seen this on many occasions since the mid-1990s and recently concluded that the "situation remains quite unsatisfactory."

A further difficulty appeared when the government decided to delegate some of its powers to the provincial governments and private enterprise. For example, it privatized Air Canada and Petro-Canada, among others; private postal outlets now provide Canada Post services; and there are now federal-provincial training agreements.

With new governments come new rules. Not only must the federal public service be reminded to speak both official languages, but now there is also a need to ensure that changes in government do not result in the erosion of the gains achieved by patient and steady effort over more than a century. For these efforts have clearly yielded results. It is undeniable that, in spite of resistance to change, French has become a language of service in the government. Even though much work remains to be done in some regions, about four times out of five, people are able to obtain service in their language of choice. This could not have been said at the beginning of the 20th century, when a greeting in French could not be taken for granted anywhere, not even in Quebec.

Feeling at home at work

An idealist would hope that anyone wishing to pursue a career in the public service could use English or French as they wish when speaking with their colleagues, their subordinates and supervisors. In reality, things are different. There are not many bilingual public servants overall. In order to be effective, people choose the language that allows them to communicate; in most cases, this has been English.

While it may be impossible to fully achieve the bilingual dream, it is clear that the workplace should not make people feel like strangers in their own country. Everyone should feel as though they belong to the same family.

The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism recommended in 1968 that public servants be given the choice of working and pursuing a career in English or French, with some exceptions. The two cultures do not exist side by side everywhere in Canada, since many regions are largely unilingual, so the commission clearly recognized that it was best to be realistic.

Today, people can choose their language of work in regions that are designated bilingual. There, the two official languages must be used in training sessions and administrative meetings and in working documents and tools.

This makes for a striking contrast with the past. Canada's first 15 years went by as though French did not exist widely at work. The first sign of openness was not seen until 1882, when the Public Service Commission allowed job candidates to choose the language of the examinations they had to take. It also began announcing its job competitions in both English and French in the Canada Gazette.

One step forward led to another. A few years later, the public service instituted the first bilingualism bonus. Those who could write in both languages were rewarded with an annual premium of fifty dollars.

In 1958, the Civil Service Act and Regulations were amended to ensure that supervisors had enough knowledge of their employees' language to manage them.

Progress is gradual. The use of the two languages in federal institutions is not yet fully consistent with the spirit of the Official Languages Act, and employees often complain about this. Nevertheless, more public servants than ever before can now work in their first official language.

A reflection of the country

Beyond policies and laws, there is a concrete way to make English and French the languages of service and work in the public service. It is by selecting staff from the two official language communities.

After years of effort, the public service is now representative of the presence of Anglophones and Francophones in the country. French speakers currently occupy 23 percent of management positions, as compared with 18 percent in 1978. Similar progress can be seen in the other occupational categories. In the foreign service and administrative category, for example, Francophone participation has risen from 26 percent in 1978 to 29 percent at present. This gives everyone more or less the same employment and career prospects. If it were otherwise, the objective of equality would be mere wishful thinking.

Over and above compliance with the Official Languages Act, the participation of the two communities in the workings of government has helped broaden the scope of bilingualism. People with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds working together in government get to know each other. Working together to build the same country, they discover and recognize their respective contributions.

There will always be a gap between the dream and the reality, but it is by pursuing dreams that we can make reality even better.

Top of Page

Section 3: Two Living Languages

The development of official language minority communities: the impetus from government

If there is a difference in numerical strength between the two languages groups, the handicaps implicit in such disparity must be overcome.

(Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Book I, The Official Languages, p. 14, 1967.)

There are Anglophones in the country who cast their nets in Gaspé Bay, right where Jacques Cartier steered his fleet five centuries ago, while Francophones harvest their crops in the Prairies, an area populated by the descendants of Europeans of all origins who now mostly speak English.

These two worlds are separated by more than just a few thousand kilometres. The distance is also measured in their approaches to life. If culture is born of tradition and convention, it is also shaped by the struggle for survival.

Nevertheless, these fishers and farmers have something in common. They share the essence of the official languages, being in a minority and wanting to see themselves reflected in the landscape around them. They hope to find the hospitality of a home in Canada.

The road to bilingualism is not limited to the corridors and agencies of government, the signs outside buildings, or polite greetings in English and French. It is a much more ambitious undertaking than that. Its aim is to allow two languages to thrive in a multitude of communities scattered across a vast expanse. This goes beyond achieving equality. It means allowing all to live and grow in a world that reflects their culture.

This is a major challenge, particularly for Francophones, who are in a minority not only in their country but also in North America.

Touching all facets of life

Not so long ago, the government's role with regard to the official languages was limited to the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. Today, the Department of Canadian Heritage, its successor, oversees a broad program involving all government departments and agencies, namely, the National Strategy for the implementation of sections 41 and 42 of the Act of 1988, launched in 1994. This is certainly one of the boldest initiatives relating to official languages that the federal government has undertaken since Confederation with the aim of supporting community development.

Through this strategy, agencies such as Western Economic Diversification now have a component for Francophones. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has made it possible for Francophone farmers from all provinces to meet and network. These are just a few examples of how this strategy has contributed to the official languages policy.

The Department of Canadian Heritage also supports a full range of regional initiatives in sectors such as education, theatre and sports. Among other things, this assistance allows 350 community associations and organizations to work in their communities and represent those communities in dealings with government.

All these programs help make Canada a country whose minority language citizens feel at home. But wherever they may be, they should be part not only of their own cultural community but of a much larger entity, Canadian society. To achieve this, their isolation must be broken.

Several government initiatives foster contact among minority communities. They can communicate especially through their artists. Theatre companies sometimes receive support from Canadian Heritage to perform outside their own part of the country. Communities are in daily communication through the Alliance des radios communautaires, now established as a national network through federal government support. The CBC has national radio and television networks in the two official languages. As a result, minority language citizens are seeing their communities expand far beyond the boundaries of their own village, town or province.

The sharing afforded through communication will be truly enriching only if the communities also have the opportunity to grow at home. This is why the federal government is working with the provinces to supplement the full range of programs it offers.

There are federal-provincial agreements for the delivery of minority language services in a variety of fields, including health and social services, legal services and municipal affairs. Citizens now have the right to receive services in French in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon. English-speaking Quebecers also receive many services in their first language. Even though we are still far from achieving full bilingualism, these efforts help extend the use of both official languages in society.

In this regard, section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives the federal Parliament and provincial legislatures the power to advance the equality of status of English and French.

Never has the official languages policy had the scope it enjoys today. It extends everywhere. Its effects can be felt in government, in communities, in schools and even in homes. The official languages policy leaves its mark in all areas of human activity (work, leisure, sports, culture, education), a much broader reach than in 1969 when the Act was first adopted.

In the regular course of life, individuals sometimes need to defend themselves. In spite of everything that has been said and written on linguistic equality in the country over the last thirty years, linguistic minorities do sometimes feel slighted. Several of the governments that signed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 have been in no hurry to comply with section 23 on minority language education rights.

The linguistic minorities have had to seek recognition of their rights before the courts and have done so with some success. Although their victories owe a great deal to their tenacity, one should not underestimate the significance of the Court Challenges Program, which gave them the financial support they needed to initiate costly legal proceedings.

This support helps achieve the objective set by the federal government when the first Official Languages Act was passed. Linguistic minorities need not wait for equality to materialize. They can demand it when the scales begin to tip in one direction.

Dynamic communities

Good intentions will be no more than wishful thinking and words of legislation on paper if the impulse to grow and prosper does not come from the communities themselves. It is up to them to give life to the official languages. This initiative does not begin in Ottawa, but in their own homes. History speaks in their favour. Linguistic minorities, in all regions, showed strong resolve long before the Act was passed in 1969.

There can be no doubting the vitality of Quebec's English-speaking community. It has its own schools, universities and hospitals. It contributes to all major economic trends in Canada, since it shares the language spoken by the majority of Canadians. This being said, there have been a few steps back.

The position of Anglophones in Quebec who live outside the major centres is very different from that of the Anglophones in Montreal. In some ways, their position is similar to that of isolated Francophone minorities in other provinces. The lack of resources, which is common in rural communities, may make access to services in their language somewhat difficult.

The Francophones of the provinces and territories other than Quebec have also faced numerous challenges. They speak the minority language in Canada and are in a minority where they live, but this has not prevented them from building their own society.

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, Francophone minorities began to form associations to promote their culture and traditions. The Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario was established in 1910. It experienced the most difficult periods in Franco-Ontarian history, such as the adoption of Regulation 17 in 1912, which limited the study of French in schools to one hour per day. It has had to fight an ongoing battle to keep the French language alive in the province, and it has succeeded.

Other associations have sought and still seek to maintain the French fact throughout Canada. The Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise began work on this task in 1912. The Fédération nationale des femmes canadiennes-françaises and the Société Franco-manitobaine followed close behind in 1916. Today, the linguistic minorities in all provinces and in the three territories have associations representing and assisting them in their development.

What is more, they now know that they can improve things for their people, not only by working locally but also by pooling their efforts at the provincial and national levels. This is why they formed the Fédération des francophones hors Québec in 1975, which later became the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada.

The Anglophones of Quebec also took on the challenge by founding Alliance Quebec in 1982 and, more recently, the Quebec Community Group Network (QCGN). There are now Anglophone community organizations in all parts of Quebec.

Linguistic minorities therefore have a large network of organizations that represent a real and effective organizational and lobbying force.

A society cannot develop solely through its groups or community organizations, however. People must make every effort, on their own initiative, in every possible field of activity. This is particularly difficult in small communities, but it is not necessarily impossible.

We have eloquent proof of this. Consider for example the Théâtre populaire d'Acadie in New Brunswick, the Cercle Molière in Manitoba or Théâtre Trillium in Ontario, which contribute to the vitality of their communities through the performing arts. This vitality is also expressed through a rich and unique literature. In addition to such well-known authors as Gabrielle Roy and Antonine Maillet, whose works are read throughout the Francophonie and have been translated into many languages, there is now a new generation of equally original and talented authors, such as Franco-Ontarians Jean-Marc Dalpé and Daniel Poliquin, to name just a few. Community vitality is also reflected in the songs and music of talented artists, many of whom have gained a reputation nationally and even beyond our borders, such as Roch Voisine, Daniel Lavoie and Natasha St-Pier.

It is also clear that the minority status of Anglophones in Quebec is not a barrier to their cultural development. There are more than twenty theatre companies, including the Centaur Theatre in Montreal and Lake Brome Theatre, which draw on the work of playwrights such as Vittorio Rossi and David Fennario. And there is of course Montreal author Mordecai Richler, who passed away recently.

The linguistic minorities also have the means to explore and study the world. Francophone minorities have post-secondary educational institutions in all provinces that have an Anglophone majority, with the exception of Newfoundland and British Columbia.

The Atlantic provinces have Université de Moncton and four community colleges in New Brunswick, Université Sainte-Anne and Collège de l'Acadie in Nova Scotia, as well as the Centre provincial de formation pour adultes and a campus of Collège de l'Acadie in Prince Edward Island.

In Ontario, there are two bilingual universities (Ottawa and Laurentian), Glendon College in Toronto, which is bilingual, as well as three Francophone community colleges.

On the Prairies, Francophones can study at Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface in Manitoba, at Faculté Saint-Jean of the University of Alberta, at Collège Mathieu in Saskatchewan, and at the Linguistics Institute of the University of Regina.

In Quebec, the presence of McGill, Bishop's and Concordia universities, as well as several English-language CÉGEPs such as Dawson College and Champlain Regional College, shows that Quebec's Anglophone community can also further its education in its own language. It is in a position to make good progress in all fields, from professional training to advanced research.

This list illustrates that both English and French are central to the transmission and acquisition of knowledge across Canada.

Linguistic minorities also put this knowledge to use. Francophone minorities have successfully established a business network, supported by solid institutions like the Caisses populaires and the Conseil canadien de la coopération, while the Anglophones of Quebec have always fully contributed to the province's economic growth.

There is no doubt that minority communities are alive and well. They are not merely political entities but are made up of real people who are determined to grow by contributing to their country's growth. These communities total close to two million people in all, who have the common objective of seeing their culture flourish in a minority context.

Canada's official languages policy today has in large measure been inspired by the role of community associations and institutions that are involved in culture, education, the arts, community development and the economy.

Teaching the two languages and teaching in the two languages

Communities develop through their children. Minority communities know this, and that is why they have put so much emphasis on developing their schools.

In general, Quebec's Anglophone community has had access to education in its own language.

Denominational schools for Catholics and Protestants existed in Quebec until 1993. As a result of a reform that the Supreme Court deemed to be consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Quebec's school system is now organized on linguistic lines. It accordingly provides a complete education, from primary school to high school, to its two official language communities.

The long road to school

The current school system in minority Francophone communities is both the legacy of the past and the product of a slow evolution.

It is the legacy of religious congregations. Throughout the country, at various times, these congregations provided French-language education. Francophones saw to the development of their schools in their own way, steadfastly defending the right they believed was theirs and obtained recognition for; namely, the right to education in their own language.

It is true that children have been knowingly deprived of this right on several occasions since Confederation. Fortunately, here as elsewhere, the rise in bilingualism has led to the appearance of instruction, books and homework in the French language.

At the end of the 19th century, French-language education was no more than incidental. In 1882, the Nova Scotia public school board decided to provide bilingual readers for Acadian schools. While this was a step in the right direction, it was still far from a full French-language program.

In Manitoba, the Laurier-Greenway compromise allowed English and French to become languages of instruction at bilingual schools; i.e., those attended by 10 or more native speakers of French.

In 1900, the Nova Scotia teachers college began to offer courses of instruction in French for Francophone student teachers. Two years later, the use of French was authorized for the first four grades of primary school. This was real progress, since in 1864, three years before Confederation, the Education Act had made English the sole language of instruction in that province.

Alberta's School Act of 1905 and that of Saskatchewan of 1909 allowed for some use of French in the primary grades.

While there was progress on some fronts, there were setbacks on others.

In 1890, Ontario restricted the use of French to primary grades at bilingual schools for students who did not understand English. It went further in 1912 with Regulation 17, which made English the only language of instruction after grade three and limited the study of French to one hour per day.

In Manitoba, the Laurier-Greenway compromise was modified in 1916 to make English the sole language of instruction in public schools. In 1931, Saskatchewan's School Act declared English to be the only language of instruction in the province's public schools.

For three-quarters of a century, minority Francophones endured countless refusals and rejections, occasionally being granted small bits of what should have been a real education program.

The winds began to shift in the 1950s. In 1955, Manitoba officially instituted instruction in French from grade four to grade 12 in some schools. From that point forward, the language of Molière slowly began to emerge from the shadows to take on a higher profile. This openness was, however, not enough in itself to give the movement the scope it has today. Francophones were still isolated in their villages and neighbourhoods. Alone against their provincial governments, their voices were not heard. They needed a platform and a strong spokesperson to make their concerns heard.

The Laurendeau-Dunton Commission listened to them and made their grievances known to the whole of Canada. In 1968, it recommended that parents be permitted to choose the language of instruction of their children. This was the first time that this issue was formally raised on the national level.

During the same period, Saskatchewan and Alberta showed some signs of openness. French-language instruction could account for up to 55 percent of the school day for Francophone students in Saskatchewan, while Franco-Albertan students could be taught in French from grade one to grade 12 at bilingual schools.

During the ensuing constitutional conferences, the premiers of provinces with an Anglophone majority accepted the principle of French-language instruction, which they recognized as an inalienable right by signing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. It still remained to be seen, however, what that meant to the signatories of the Charter. The issue was not yet resolved, but from then on it had a solid legal basis.

Through negotiation with their government and long court battles, the linguistic minorities were able to win their case. The crumbs that had been quietly thrown to them in the 1950s were not enough. Bilingual schools and limited hours of French-language instruction, which could not really fight assimilation, did not comply with section 23 of the Charter.

Little by little, the minorities obtained real schools made of brick and mortar, with their own textbooks, teachers and school boards.

Today, the English and French official language minority communities have solid school systems, each protected by the Charter. This being said, several minority communities in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada face enormous challenges. Scattered in sparsely populated regions, they sometimes have difficulty in gathering the resources and students needed to build schools equivalent to those located in major centres.

The next step in the development of minority language instruction will be to compensate for this demographic and geographical constraint. For the Anglophones of Quebec, this will mean preventing a decline in their population, and for Francophones in the other provinces it will mean reaping the gains of recent decades.

School governance

For minority communities, a school is more than a building the children rush to five days a week to learn how to make a living. It is a kind of oasis for those who share a language and culture different from those of the majority. It is also the place where culture is passed on. The education provided at these schools must be of equal quality to that provided elsewhere, although not necessarily identical. This is why Franco-Albertan parents undertook a long battle in the 1980s, which ended in the Supreme Court. What is now known as the Mahé case gave all official language minorities in the country the power to manage their own schools.

As a result of this victory, Francophones in all parts of the country can now choose the direction of the education to be provided in their communities. This goes far beyond the simple right to a classroom or translated textbooks.

The journey toward French-language education is not yet complete, however. Many schools do not have adequate resources to convince their students to stay on until the end of high school. The lean years that the provinces imposed on their linguistic minorities have wrought damage that must be repaired. The French-language school system must be as solid as the English-language one, which is backed up by more than a century of tradition.

As with the other aspects of bilingualism in Canada, there is still room for improvement. The federal government and the provinces show increasingly solid respect for this now-recognized right, through a variety of programs.

In Quebec, school boards organized on linguistic lines have established the educational and administrative rights of the two official language communities.

The student population of the official language minorities

There are now about 160,000 students registered in close to 700 French-language schools in provinces with an Anglophone majority. Quebec's Anglophone school system has about 100,000 students. Minority education can hardly be described as a failure.

That being said, the French-language school system has not yet realized its full potential. It could have close to 300,000 students a year if all parents with the right to do so enrolled their children. There are several reasons for this shortfall. In some cases, parents do not have confidence in these completely new schools. Often, they are located far away from the students' homes.

Students are more than mere statistics. As the adults of the future, they nurture hopes and dreams and seek the best possible route for achieving them. This very human quest shapes their attitudes and expectations.

Students are at an age when they question their own destinies. It is not a foregone conclusion that everyone who can receive an education in his or her own language will choose to do so. Young people look around them, consider and compare. As a result, many enrol in French-language schools for the early grades and then switch to the English-language system for high school. While some do so in order to become better acquainted with the other linguistic community, others have doubts about their own schools when they see the large gyms and well-stocked libraries of the large English-language high schools. The majority of young people in a minority situation live in an environment that is favourable to learning English, so it is easy for them to make the switch if they wish.

A little more than half of minority youth are currently being educated in their first official language. The Commission nationale des parents francophones relies on these young people to pursue its struggle, which is now to obtain "equal schools" and equality in results.

In spite of this difficulty, the proportion of young Francophones with university degrees is higher than ever before, having risen from 3.9 percent in 1971 to 13.5 percent in 1996. French-language schools are clearly playing their role.

As for the young Anglophones of Quebec, the proportion with university degrees was over 10 percent in 1971 and 15 percent throughout the 1990s. This unequivocally shows that an education system can produce excellent results even in a minority context.

Youth and the second language

As a bilingual country, Canada not only seeks to expand the two linguistic communities within its borders, it also wishes to foster mutual understanding. Since knowledge can help lay worries to rest, Anglophones and Francophones will become more accepting of each other if they learn each other's language.

There are now more than 300,000 students in Canada, both Anglophone and Francophone, who are learning their second official language in immersion programs. These programs are part of the curriculum at schools and universities alike. It is now estimated that, by the end of high school, 20 percent of the children attending English-language schools will have gone through immersion programs.

There are now 2.7 million children learning a second language. And it is not just Francophone children who are doing this. Public schools in Canada have more than two million young Anglophones who are learning French, representing a little more than 50 percent of school enrolment. There were barely 40 percent twenty years ago.

These results are already significant. The bilingualism rate among Anglophones aged 15 to 19 is more than double that of their parents. Overall, the number of bilingual Canadians almost tripled between 1951 and 1996, increasing from 1.7 million to 4.8 million.

A generation of bilingual Canadians is now emerging.

The progress of the last thirty years has allowed the linguistic minorities to better assert themselves and has also opened new opportunities for the majority. Being educated in one's own language is rewarding, and learning other people's language helps us to better understand them. Becoming bilingual opens up a new area of knowledge and a window on a new culture.

Promotion of the official languages

Canada's language policy does more than define rights and ensure that they are respected. While some may view the law as restrictive, bilingualism is also an asset for Canada. The effort to achieve bilingualism makes it a richer country.

Having two international languages affords openness to the world and positions the country favourably. Canada's international influence is heightened by its status as a member of both the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. A common language serves as a bridge between countries. It allows business people, artists, academics and government leaders to communicate directly, thereby multiplying exchanges and joint projects.

Both individual and collective bilingualism helps break down walls and barriers. There is no better tool to help a country develop in the new world order, where the power of communications transcends borders. In this sense, bilingualism is resolutely modern.

This is why Canada is trying to encourage an interest in bilingualism among Canadians.

A matter of the heart

The government not only supports the learning of the two languages, it also encourages their use in various ways. It makes concrete efforts to achieve these broad objectives.

It provides financial support to non-profit organizations that seek to promote bilingualism by fostering dialogue, mutual respect and understanding between communities.

The Department of Canadian Heritage funds the official language monitor program and the summer language bursary program, as well as language acquisition development programs. It regularly concludes agreements with the provinces and territories and ensures the administration of justice in both languages.

This department encourages exchanges between provinces and territories and also works with the voluntary sector.

These initiatives are in addition to those of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages which, through its participation in exhibitions and media campaigns among other things, helps Canadians better understand the full scope of bilingualism.

The federal official languages policy is a major initiative that casts a wide net in Canadian society. It encourages respect for individuals and communities, seeks to give all citizens the means to flourish in their own language and culture, and helps to develop a more positive image of bilingualism among individuals and communities. It works with both government and the general public, with encouraging results.

Top of Page

Section 4: The Official Languages in Canadian Society

Canada has changed since Confederation, and Canadians have changed along with it.

It is easy to imagine what the term "bilingualism" might have suggested, even half a century ago, when we recall the effort that was required to have French accepted in society alongside English. French was often cut from school curricula and was almost never used in some governments.

This was a time of strong resistance, which is now past.

Accepting and understanding the two official languages

By helping citizens become bilingual and giving communities a say in the country's evolution, the official languages policy, which initially caused fear for some, has won strong public support.

A public opinion survey conducted by Angus Reid in 1998 showed that 77 percent of people living outside Quebec considered it is important for children to be taught English and French. Another survey conducted a few months earlier in Quebec by the same company showed that 85 percent of Quebec residents thought that the federal government should do more to promote bilingualism.

Of course, these figures also show that support for bilingualism is not unanimous. This is reflected in everyday life. Francophone minorities are not likely to forget that it took almost twenty years for them to be allowed to manage their schools, even though the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognized that right in 1982. As for the Anglophones of Quebec, it is often difficult for them to maintain their acquired rights because their community has been greatly reduced in size by the migration of a large number of Anglophones to other provinces and territories.

The data show, however, that opposition to the official languages policy is now limited to a small minority of individuals. One can fairly say that the policy's value is now recognized from sea to sea, although some people still need to be convinced of it.

More Canadians than ever before know both official languages. More than a mere trend, the shift now seems to be irreversible. Ontario provides a good example. In 1998, there were 122,000 Anglophone students in French immersion. This figure was higher than the number of Francophones attending the province's French-language schools. The 1996 census showed that 17 percent of the Canadian population could speak both English and French, compared with 13 percent in 1971, a change that can largely be attributed to the learning of French. It is a clear sign that the French fact is leaving a growing mark on the Canadian linguistic landscape.

The shadow of assimilation

This being said, the goal of the official languages policy is not just to promote the two official languages. It is also to help the two communities grow. Unfortunately, it has not yet eradicated the scourge of assimilation that afflicts minority communities.

Due to the influence of the majority and the omnipresence of English on our continent, a great many Francophones still give up their first language.

In British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, seven out of ten families of French origin do not teach their first language to their children. In Canada as a whole, the assimilation rate among minority Francophones increased from 35 percent to 37 percent between 1991 and 1996. The phenomenon is accelerating in spite of all efforts to keep it in check.

While assimilation may have slowed the growth of the Francophone population throughout Canada's history, it had never prevented it. Unfortunately, though, this is what has happened over the past decade. According to Statistics Canada, the number of Francophones outside Quebec dropped by 0.6 percent between 1991 and 1996 to a total of 970,000. This is the first time a drop has been noted in the country's history.

Assimilation also affects the Anglophones of Quebec but, at a rate of 10.2 percent, the erosion is three times slower than for Francophone minorities.

A changing landscape

People who give up their first language, the low birth rate, and immigration have all considerably altered Canada's linguistic make-up in the last thirty years.

In 1971, 60.1 percent of Canada's population cited English as their first language, while 26.9 percent cited French. About 13 percent of the population spoke a non-official language.

The 1996 census showed that the proportion of Canadians whose first language was English had dropped below 60 percent, while those whose first language was French had fallen to 23.5 percent. People whose first language was neither English nor French represented 16.6 percent of the population. The two traditional communities declined proportionally, but Francophones suffered the greater loss.

The fact that this decline has appeared thirty years after the first Official Languages Act was passed gives us pause for reflection but does not indicate failure.

The linguistic minorities carry the weight of history on their shoulders. Without schools or other institutions, without a government to attend to their development, they staggered for decades under too heavy a burden, one that government is now trying to lighten. Canada's linguistic landscape is changing constantly. The state can shape it, however, and this is what the official languages policy has sought to do.

This policy has already profoundly changed the public's attitude toward bilingualism and has stimulated an interest in learning a second language. The next step will be to contain assimilation through the many government programs and initiatives and by keeping a watchful eye on their implementation.

Top of Page

Section 5: Fostering the Growth of the Official Languages

Commissioners of Official Languages: Guides and Guardians

In 1970, unilingualism in Canada was often carved in stone. The indelible English wording on public buildings reveals the history of Canada at the beginning of the 20th century, a country where the French language seemed to count very little. These words also bear witness to the tremendous task facing the Commissioner of Official Languages in addressing old and ingrained habits.

While the Official Languages Act may be restrictive, it was intended not so much to prohibit as to promote. Although citizens and the state alike must comply with it, it is primarily incumbent on the state, its decision makers and its administration to see to its implementation.

Citizens whose rights had been infringed needed an accessible and effective avenue through which to channel their grievances and a voice recognized by government in order to shift attitudes toward greater openness and mutual acceptance.

The trailblazer
Spicer

That was how matters stood when the first Commissioner of Official Languages, Keith Spicer, put things in motion in 1970. Noting that French was virtually non-existent in the majority of federal offices, even in Quebec, he sought to strengthen linguistic duality in the institutions of government.

Keith Spicer quickly realized that he could do more than simply receive the complaints of dissatisfied citizens. Not only did he investigate such matters, he also undertook linguistic audits, which he called "special studies." His first study dealt with greetings over the telephone in ministers' offices. He conducted 80 similar studies during his term in office.

Since he was convinced that bilingualism would be more acceptable if it was learned rather than imposed, he emphasized the training of civil servants, which addressed another of his concerns, the use of the two languages at work.

A good communicator, he devoted great efforts to explaining the Act and its objectives. He distributed information kits, made speeches and launched several promotional and public relations initiatives.

Keith Spicer wanted to help the cultures understand each other by fostering dialogue among young people. In co-operation with the Council of Ministers of Education, he distributed more than two million copies of the Oh! Canada kit, in an effort to encourage young people between the ages of seven and 12 to learn a second language.

The association Canadian Parents for French was founded following a conference that the organized.

Keith Spicer gave a broad interpretation to the Commissioner's position. At the time of his departure in 1977, the Office of the Commissioner had 85 employees, a four million dollar annual budget, and considerable promotional material. The institution was equipped to do its work of receiving and processing complaints and promoting linguistic duality in government and throughout the country.

Appeal for support for official language minorities
Goldbloom

Maxwell Yalden assumed his duties in 1977, when the country was involved in long and arduous constitutional negotiations. His term coincided with the first Quebec referendum, the repatriation of the Constitution and the entrenchment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He took advantage of this flurry of activity to speak publicly on national unity, language rights and the integration of the official languages in the public service. Under his guidance, the linguistic debate reached a new level. After seven years of efforts to promote bilingualism in the institutions of government, the time had come to pay attention to official language minorities.

From the outset, he drew attention to the situation of minority communities by encouraging federal institutions to consult them on the services they could provide. As well, he defended minority language education, capitalizing on the declaration made by nine provinces in this regard in 1977.

He spoke of "two linguistic minorities" and referred to the need for "an appropriate symmetry of language rights" in Quebec and in the majority English-speaking provinces.

Starting in 1980, he defended minority groups even more vigorously in Ottawa and in the provinces. In his view, the federal government needed to implement an overall policy to meet the needs of the minorities, and the provinces for their part had to be attentive to their demands.

Although he did not hesitate to speak out in public during the constitutional negotiations, this career public servant preferred direct contact with parliamentarians, deputy ministers, leaders of agencies, businesses and universities, editorial writers and commissions of inquiry. He accordingly worked closely with decision makers and those who influenced public opinion.

It became increasingly clear under Maxwell Yalden that the official languages policy should not be limited to the agencies of government. The Commissioner sought to extend the debate to society as a whole.

He accordingly followed his predecessor's lead in this regard. He created a new version of the Oh! Canada game, this time adding a new kit for teenagers called Explorations. Still with the aim of promoting bilingualism, he launched an information and opinion magazine in 1980 called Language and Society. He also sponsored seminars to stimulate reflection on bilingualism.

Maxwell Yalden also believed that Canadians needed better access to the services of the Office of the Commissioner. He opened regional offices in Moncton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Sudbury and Edmonton.

He became convinced that, in spite of its merits, the Official Languages Act was incomplete. He accordingly took great pains to convince the federal government to amend it before yielding his place to his successor in 1984.

Toward the new Act
Fortier

D'Iberville Fortier took office at a time when it was understood that the official languages policy could not simply be concerned with the language commonly spoken and the language of service in government offices. It also had to guarantee both minority communities full and complete recognition. Assisting linguistic minorities was a priority for him.

This was the spirit in which he guided the revision of the Act, which in 1988 recognized the right of linguistic minorities to grow and enhance their vitality. But this significant legislative gain could not make people forget the prevailing language tensions.

The linguistic minorities in Quebec and in the majority Anglophone provinces often appeared before the courts to obtain compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Quebec tried to restrict minority language education rights, an initiative that the Supreme Court deemed to be counter to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (P.G. (Quebec) v. Quebec Protestant School Boards, [1984] 2 R.S.C. 66). Alberta and Saskatchewan abolished the language rights that dated back to their foundation as provinces. In 1990, close to 60 Ontario towns declared their administrations to be unilingual English.

D'Iberville Fortier clearly recognized that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. Linguistic minorities needed greater protection. He used the constitutional negotiations of that period to demand further guarantees for Anglophone and Francophone minority communities.

He saw a need to stimulate thinking and to inform Canadians of the merits of the official languages policy. He conducted opinion surveys, managed studies on the status of the minorities, and made Language and Society an information magazine with a large circulation. He created videotapes, school calendars and pamphlets for young people. He also encouraged dialogue between Anglophone and Francophone minorities in order to identify their common interests.

The end of D'Iberville Fortier's term was marked by unrest. Appalled by the slow pace at which the government was implementing the new Official Languages Act, he threatened to resign his position in 1989. Two years later, he used the new provisions of the Act to launch legal action against Via Rail.

His mandate ended in 1991 after a disappointing finding about minority language education. A study published by the Office of the Commissioner showed that less than half of Francophone children in minority communities attended French-language schools.

In view of the measures instituted by provincial authorities to preserve the French character of Quebec society and its culture, Anglophones perceived a threat to their acquired rights.

Enhancing the vitality and supporting the development of communities
Yalden

When Dr. Victor C. Goldbloom took office in 1991, he sought to put the words of the 1988 Act into action. The linguistic minorities had the right to develop and enhance their vitality. He held office during fiscally difficult times, when the lamentable state of public finances forced the government to make unprecedented cuts. All government departments and programs were called upon to do their share, and the official languages were not spared.

Coming from a minority context himself, this Quebec Anglophone saw salvation in the reconciliation of the linguistic communities. He travelled the country from east to west and from north to south to take part in open-line broadcasts, to address a variety of associations and clubs, to talk to the media, and to meet with representatives of official language minorities. His aim was to establish positive relationships between Anglophones and Francophones. Growth is always easier in a favourable atmosphere.

Dr. Victor C. Goldbloom became involved in the full range of activities required for community development to occur. With regard to communications, he encouraged the establishment of radio stations in linguistic minority communities in order to forge closer ties between them. He focused on the delivery of social, health and educational services. His actions also helped to create a training centre for health care professionals in Ottawa that would serve French-language minorities throughout the country.

In 1994, the right to develop and enhance their vitality took concrete form when the federal government decided to strengthen its community development activities. The Commissioner found, however, that matters were not proceeding quickly enough. In 1996, he expressed dissatisfaction with the laxity of the government in his report, A Blueprint for Action.

Hardly anything had in fact been done to implement the 1994 policy. Things have since changed, and several initiatives have now yielded good results, such as the partnership between the Canada Post Corporation and the Fédération canadienne pour l'alphabétisation en français and the National Human Resource Development Committee for the English Linguistic Minority. A similar committee focuses on human resources development in Francophone minority communities.

Since education serves as the basis for development, Dr. Victor C. Goldbloom closely monitored the progress of school governance. He also sought to establish what schools needed to offer in order to attract students. He published a study on this subject in 1999.

The rapid progress of the last decade posed two new problems, which had been completely neglected when legislators revised the Act.

First, the advent of the Internet, which originated in the United States, favoured English as the language of communication. Dr. Victor C. Goldbloom encouraged the use of both languages on federal government portals. Second, he was concerned with the government transformations, under which Ottawa transferred the delivery of certain services to provinces and the private sector. A study concluded that this process could be harmful to linguistic minorities, a finding confirmed by the report entitled No Turning Back: Official Languages in the Face of Government Transformations, published in 1999.

Today, the official languages policy must continue to evolve, not only to improve but also to adapt to an environment that is undergoing constant and rapid change. Dr. Victor C. Goldbloom began to respond to this challenge.

Noting progress without becoming complacent
D Adam

Canada is entering the new millennium as a bilingual country under much more favourable conditions than existed in 1970. The current Commissioner, Dyane Adam, who took office in 1999, recognized the legacy of her predecessors from the outset. She does not think that the state can rest on its laurels yet, however. The changes made since 1970 have been slow, superficial and, in many cases, not very lasting in effect. As a result, the official languages policy still suffers from too many chronic ills.

The most serious of these ills, in the Commissioner's view, is the lack of leadership. Canada's political leaders should publicly and openly defend the fundamental values of the Official Languages Act. Senior government officials and managers should create a bilingual culture that would pervade the public service. Unfortunately, politicians speak timidly and departments and agencies are labouring to change their old habits. The last decade has been marked by changes that have unfortunately contributed to some setbacks for the language rights of Canadians. In addition to the hesitancy of politicians, transformations in the institutions of government and the devolution of responsibilities to other administrative entities have been harmful, since they did not always incorporate acquired language rights.

It is clear that, although linguistic duality is one of the pillars of Canadian identity, it does not have enough strong and proud defenders.

In order to get results, the current Commissioner will not only serve as an ombudsman, she will also be an educator and an agent of change. She will attempt to guide all official language stakeholders, in federal institutions and the minority communities, toward several major objectives. Her priority will be to foster a revival and renewal of the official languages policy and to once again make this fundamental value central to government priorities. To this end, the Commissioner intends to serve as a facilitator and to work with all the key people to foster the mobilization of the federal administration. Emphasis will also be placed on the delivery of services, the use of the two languages in the workplace, the development of minority communities, the provision of social and health services suited to the needs of the linguistic minorities, and the making of inroads as regards the Internet.

The Office of the Commissioner: Pursuing an Ideal

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is now the sum of the legacies left behind by all the Commissioners who have directed it since 1970. It has approximately 125 employees and an annual budget of ten million dollars.

For citizens, particularly those in a minority, it is the first line of defence in obtaining respect for their language rights. Filing a complaint often leads to the correction of the problem reported.

However, the role of the Office of the Commissioner is not restricted to representing complainants. It also includes the active promotion of the official languages, and that involves communicating and getting down to work.

Once a year, the Office of the Commissioner paints a picture of the status of the official languages in the country, for parliamentarians and the general public to see. Its Annual Report reviews the progress made and the setbacks encountered by the policy. To keep citizens informed, the Office publishes a language profile of the country, which summarizes the distribution of the two official language groups within Canada. It also takes part in exhibitions, distributes posters and conducts public relations activities.

To play its role more effectively, the Office of the Commissioner forms partnerships with people who want to advance the official languages policy. It addresses Francophone minorities directly via community radio stations to publicize its services and talk about language rights. Together with the Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF), it holds a writing contest as part of the Semaine nationale de la francophonie.

In Quebec, it encourages the translation of literary works from English to French and from French to English through an annual award given in co-operation with the Quebec Writer's Federation.

The Office of the Commissioner also encourages public servants to learn their second language through a partnership with Language Training Canada.

As an ombudsman, the Commissioner defends citizens whose language rights have been infringed, helps Canadians from both communities gain a better understanding of each other, and articulates the ideal that Canada has pursued since the first Official Languages Act was passed in 1969.

The trend in complaints

Over the years, Canadians have gradually learned about their language rights and the means available to defend them.

As a result, the complaints unit, which was rarely contacted in the Office of the Commissioner's first year of existence, now processes more than 1,500 cases a year, compared with 105 in 1971 and an average of 600 a year during the 1970s. A majority of complaints have come from Francophones, who accounted for 81 percent of complainants in 1971 and 83 percent in 1999.

This points to the inadequate use of French in service to the public and as a language of work in the government. In 1999, close to 78 percent of complaints dealt with service to the public, and 11 percent dealt with language of work.

This does not mean, however, that we are on the wrong track. More people complain primarily because many more people are aware of the Office of the Commissioner and the official languages policy. Rather than indicating a weakness, their actions show that we are moving in the right direction. By increasingly becoming part of Canadian culture, the official languages policy leads citizens to defend it themselves and makes them responsible for drawing attention to deficiencies that the government has not yet corrected.

Top of Page

Conclusion

Thirty years later... and where are we now?

It is clear that the 1969 Act responded to two pressing needs: to relieve the major crisis that the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism had examined in detail, and to respect Canada's two founding language groups.

The country has undergone significant change since then. Both English and French are now languages of service and of work in government, official language majorities and minorities have their own school systems, and the networks of minority language institutions are becoming stronger and larger all the time. The official languages policy, which initially focused primarily on government institutions, now uses a whole range of tools involving many components of Canadian society. The country has the most highly developed regulatory framework in its history as regards official languages. Citizens are now receptive to the idea of living in a bilingual society and are open to learning their second official language.

Since the report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Canadian society has undergone major transformations. In addition to the important contribution of the First Nations to Canadian culture, Canadian society has become much more diverse. As a result of immigration from all parts of the world, a great variety of cultures and languages now enriches Canadian life.

Although the changes are numerous, they are still too slow for the taste of many Canadians.

Canada as a whole--including governments, the public service and the general public--is slowly moving toward the ideal created with the 1969 Act. It would of course be desirable for the whole country to be imbued with its official languages policy as soon as possible, so that everyone could exercise their language rights in the most natural way in the world. But like all great ideals, this huge undertaking is the product of an ongoing effort, with some great successes but also some setbacks.

Building a bilingual society is a tremendous challenge. It requires new attitudes, both individual and collective. Year in and year out, the pace changes along with our evolving society. But make no mistake, this movement is not coming to a halt. It is like a large freighter that takes time to respond to the pressure of its crew, but whose momentum is so powerful that it will continue on its journey in spite of occasional mechanical breakdowns.

The task is certainly not complete. Those seeking to achieve the ideal will no doubt face obstacles along their way. But the trend over the last thirty years offers hope to carry on.

It is the mandate of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages to guide and support them in their journey toward linguistic equality and all the objectives set out in the 1969 and 1988 versions of the Act.

The Office of the Commissioner and all those who treasure bilingualism defend this ideal, which so well represents the spirit of Canada, a country open to diversity.

Sources

Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.