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Monument to Multiculturalism by Francesco Pirelli in Toronto; four identical sculptures are located in Buffalo City, Changchun, Sarajevo, and Sydney (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Canada is an officially multicultural society, but its official languages are English and French, with the exception of Quebec.

An Overview

Immigrants to Canada enter an officially bilingual country, by virtue of the Official Languages Act (Canada) of 1969 and the Official Languages Act of 1988.

The Official Languages Act of 1969

Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

Canada became an officially bilingual country under the terms of the Official Languages Act (Canada), signed on 9 September 1969. Passage of the Official Languages Act (Canada) was the culmination of an inquiry conducted by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, established by Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Lester B. PearsonPC, OM, CC, OBE on 19 July 1963. The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism is sometimes called the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission. André Laurendeau, the editor-in-chief of Le Devoir, Quebec’s leading newspaper, and Davidson Dunton, the President of Carleton University, co-chaired the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. The findings of the Commission indicated that French-speaking Canadians were at a disadvantage and lived on a lower income than English-speaking Canadians and Italian immigrants. (See Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Wikipedia.)

The Official Language Act (Quebec) 1974

Canada’s two official languages are French and English. However, since 1974, by virtue of the Official Language Act (Quebec) (Bill 22) the children of immigrants who choose to live in Quebec must attend a French-language school. Bill 22 was replaced by (Bill 101) or Charter of the French Language, a stiffer language law passed in 1977 by the Parti québécois (Parti Quécébois in English). Under Bill 22 and Bill 101, only children born to a Quebec English-Canadian parent and a French-speaking Canadian could attend an English-language school. This law was amended to include an English-Canadian parent born outside Quebec.

Bill 22 was a Law to promote the French language in Quebec (Loi pour promouvoir la langue française au Québec). It superseded Bill 63 passed in 1969, when l’Union Nationale leader Jean-Jacques Bertrand was premier of Quebec. Premier Bertrand was in office from 1968 to 1970. Bill 63, presented by Jean-Guy Cardinal, Quebec’s Minister of Education, in 1969, allowed parents to enrol their children in either French-language or English-language schools.

In 1970, the Parti libéral du Québec, led by Robert Bourassa, was voted into office. Four years later, under the leadership of Robert Bourassa, Quebec’s Official Language Act (Quebec), or Bill 22, was passed. It made French the only official language of Quebec. For Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Bill 22 was a “slap in the face.” (See Charter of the French Language, Wikipedia.) It had been a mere five years since Canada had become an officially bilingual country.

Robert Bourassa lost the 1976 provincial election to Parti Quécébois founder and leader René Lévesque, whose government passed Bill 101, or the Charter of the French Language, a stricter enactment of Bill 22.

The Charter of the French Language

Unilingual posting

The main purpose of Quebec’s Bill 22 and Bill 101 was to ensure that the children of immigrants to Quebec enrolled in French-language schools. Given its rapidly decreasing birthrate, Quebec began transforming immigrants into Québécois. This movement started in Saint-Léonard with the closure of an English-language school attended primarily by the children of Italian immigrants. People protested, at times violently. Bill 63 gave citizens the freedom of choice, causing indignation on the part of a sizable group of French-speaking Québécois.



However, the Charter of the French Language also required that Quebecers live in visibly French communities, hence unilingual posting and penalties for “offenders.” Its chief agency was and remains the Office québécois de la langue française, established in 1961 by Quebec Premier Jean LesagePC, CC, CD. Related agencies are the Conseil supérieur de la langue française, the office regulating toponymie, the naming of places, and other groups. The Charter of the French Language, la Chartre de la langue française, was introduced by Camille Laurin. 

The Referendums: 1980 & 1995

Quebec held two referendums on a renegotiation of Quebec’s ties with the government of Canada, or souveraineté-association (sovereignty-association). The first took place in 1980, two years before Quebec failed to sign Constitution Act of 1982. The second was held in 1995 but the result was too close to represent a clear “yes” or “no.”  More than 49% of the population of Quebec voted “yes.” The response of the Federal government (Ottawa) was the Clarity Act. The Clarity Act “was passed by the House on March 15, 2000, and by the Senate, in its final version, on June 29, 2000.”  (Wikipedia). The Quebec Government’s response to Ottawa’s response was the Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State, passed two days after the Clarity Act.

Remedial Measures

The Québécois nation motion, a  parliamentary motion tabled by Prime Minister  Stephen Harper, Canada’s current prime minister, was approved by the House of Commons of Canada on Monday, 27 November 2006. The English motion read: “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.” I am quoting Wikipedia.

In French, the motion read:Que cette Chambre reconnaisse que les Québécoises et les Québécois forment une nation au sein d’un Canada uni.” (See Québécois nation motion, Wikipedia). This does not differ much from the souveraineté-association concept put forward by the Parti Québécois.

Bill 101 has been deemed unconstitutional and an infringement of Human Rights, but it has not been rescinded and schools are filled up with French-speaking Quebecers originating from various countries.

Chronology of the Language Laws

  1. Constitution Act, 1867: Section 133, but no official languages
  2. Laurendeau-Dunton Commission (1963 – 1969)
  3. Official Languages Act of 1969
  4. 1969: Act to promote the French Language in Quebec (Bill 63) http://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/charte/reperes/Loi_63.pdf
  5. 1974: Official Language Act of 1974 (Bill 22)FR & EN http://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/charte/reperes/Loi_22.pdf
  6. 1977: Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) EN http://www.canlii.org/en/qc/laws/stat/rsq-c-c-11/latest/rsq-c-c-11.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Commission_on_Bilingualism_and_Biculturalism
  7. 1988: Official Languages Act of 1988


Temporary Conclusion

Bill 115


Bills allowing education in English in Quebec have been passed. One such bill is Bill 115, passed in 2010. However, I am excluding discussion of Bills making access to English-language schools easier from this post because I need to close it. All I will write is that Bill 101 has been amended six times and that Bill 115 facilitates an English-language education.

Bill 101 is problematical in that it is at cross-purposes with the Official Languages Act of 1969 and the Official Languages Act of 1988. It is also at cross-purposes with a finding and appropriate recommendation of the Laurendeau-Dunton commission: greater prosperity for French-speaking Canadians.

We live in a world where business is often conducted in the English language, which does not mean that one has to unlearn French. I know people who spent a lifetime being impeccably French in an English-language milieu.

Immigrants to Quebec have to attend French-language schools, which seems perfectly acceptable. Quebec needs Québécois. But this does not and should not preclude learning English. English is taught in French-language schools. Why should Quebecers isolate themselves?

Learning other languages is not necessarily detrimental to mastery of one’s mother tongue. Québécois live in French-language milieu. No one has to leave that milieu. In fact Quebec offers two main milieu: a French-language milieu and an English-language milieu. In this regard, Montreal is la crème de la crème as an environment. It is home to thousands of immigrants from all over the world.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Quebec built the Manicouagan Reservoir and there is further untapped wealth in Northern Quebec. Moreover Quebec has large enterprises, such as Bombardier and SNC Lavalin. These have offices abroad.

There’s nothing wrong with a little prosperity.

My kindest regards to all of you.♥

Félix Leclerc sings “L’Écharpe” (The Scarf)
photo14© Micheline Walker
26 April 2015