Language dispute revived in Canada

Controversy about the place of language in Canada is about to flare up again. That comes after a number of managers were recently appointed. Now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on board too.

The question became relevant when it turned out that none of the board members of Canada’s largest rail company spoke French. The company is called CN and is headquartered in Montreal. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec. In this province, about 80 percent use French as their mother tongue.

Should Canadian business leaders be bilingual? The topic received a lot of attention last fall. Air Canada president Michael Rousseau says he doesn’t have time to study French. He had to publicly apologize for this statement a few days later.

State-owned companies are required under Canadian law to offer services in French and English. This includes companies such as CN and Air Canada, as well as airports and federal departments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week that he was frustrated with the situation with CN.

– French-speaking Canadians across the country should feel that they are reflected in our great national institutions, Trudeau said. He himself is bilingual. He asked the minister in charge to ensure that CN quickly resolves the issue.

– Hypocrisy

The furore serves as a reminder that the French language is in a vulnerable position in the sea of ​​North American English speakers. It also harks back to earlier struggles to achieve official language status. French has been included in the Canadian Constitution since 1982.

But the government has failed to live up to expectations, according to a prominent spokesman. Canada has a population of 37 million. 8 million speak French.

– This is clearly hypocrisy on Trudeau’s part, said Stephane Beaulac. He is a professor of law and co-director of the Center for Language Rights at the University of Montreal.

The Prime Minister is distracted by the CN saga. But he voted last year to appoint a non-French speaker as Canada’s governor-general, he pointed out. This person acts as Queen Elizabeth’s official representative in the country.

Mary Simon was the first Governor-General to have an Indigenous background. He is from the Nunavik area of ​​Quebec, and he speaks English and the Inuit Inuktitut language.

English on Facebook

This week, the Prime Minister’s Office was also reprimanded by Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages. The reason is that they have not ensured that all video streams on the official Facebook page are subtitled or dubbed in French.

More than 90 percent of Canadians support bilingualism, a recent poll shows. People believe both languages ​​are part of Canadian culture. However, less than 20 percent said they were fluent in French and English.

– Everyone should be able to be welcomed in the language of their choice because few Canadians are truly bilingual, says Stephanie Chouinard, professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada.

– But, he added, since 2019 Canadians have been waiting for official language laws to be modernized.

Considered pro-separatist

For a long time, defending France was considered pro-separatist, the Beaulac law professor noted.

– Things have changed. Today, people are increasingly daring to challenge the dominant position that the English language holds, he said.

People are outraged and shocked by CN’s recent appointment, explains linguistics law professor Frederic Berard. Anger was natural, he believed.

– Today, however, this type of situation occurs relatively rarely, especially in Quebec, he added. Berard leads Canada’s national consultation on official language reform.

The situation is much more complex for French speakers living outside Quebec, he added, despite progress in recent years.

Ken Robbins

"Bacon nerd. Future teen idol. Zombie aficionado. Troublemaker. Travel buff. Award-winning reader."

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