Language disputes are reignited in Canada

Controversy about the place of language in Canada is about to flare up again. It comes after a number of managers have just been appointed. Now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also on board.

The question became relevant when it turned out that none of the board members of Canada’s largest railroad 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 speak 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 learn 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 both 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 he was frustrated by the situation with CN.

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

– Hypocrisy

The clamor is a reminder that the French language is in a vulnerable position in a sea of ​​English speakers in North America. It also harkens 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 top spokesmen. Canada has a population of 37 million. 8 million speak French.

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

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

Mary Simon was the first Governor General who had an Indigenous background. She is from the Nunavik area of ​​Quebec, and she speaks English and the Inuktitut Inuit language.

English on Facebook

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

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

– Everyone should be addressable in their language of choice because very 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, says law professor Beaulac.

– Things have changed. Today, people are bolder and bolder to challenge the dominant position that English has, he said.

People are outraged and appalled by CN’s recent appointment, explains law professor of linguistics Frederic Berard. Anger is justified, he believes.

– But right now, situations like this are relatively rare, 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 adds, although there has been progress in recent years.

Julia Matthews

"Aficionado Twitter ninja. Infuriatingly humble problem solver. Gets dropped a lot. Web geek. Bacon aficionado."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *