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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)


Investigating Canada’s status as a bilingual and bicultural nation was a difficult endeavour. It may have caused the death of André Laurendeau who served as co-chair of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism with Davidson Dunton. Davidson Dunton was not the problem. Laurendeau and Dunton were a compatible team.

André Laurendeau died in 1968, at the age of 56, before the Official Languages Act of 1969  was passed. From 1963 until his death, his role “brought him considerable criticism from his nationalist colleagues. The stress caused by this criticism was blamed for Laurendeau’s relatively early death by historian Charles Godin.” (See André Laurendeau, Wikipedia.)

These years were very stressful for certain French-speaking Canadians. At the time, my father was the leader of British Columbia’s French-speaking community. He fell ill.

1. On the one hand, he had to deal with individuals who could not understand why their language was not an official language. They lived in communities where the population consisted of immigrants or the children of immigrants who were more numerous than French-speaking citizens in their community. There may not have been French-speaking Canadians in their community. These people would say that Britain “won the battle.” This could explain why Pierre Trudeau was motivated to adopt multiculturalism as a policy.

2. On the other hand, my father had to face members of a French-speaking community many of whom wanted their French-language schools to be Catholic schools. For them, language and faith could not be dissociated. This question is central to the history of bilingualism in Canada, i.e. bilingualism outside Quebec. In Quebec, French schools were Catholic schools until the Quiet Revolution. English-language schools were Protestant schools.

Yet, had the French language schools or Catholicism been threatened, it is unlikely that the Province of Quebec (Canada East), led by Sir George-Étienne Cartier, PC, would have entered Confederation. The other three provinces, Canada West, future Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, that entered confederation in 1867 did not oppose Sir George-Étienne Cartier’s condition that Canada East retain its language and its religion, nor did London, the senior authority in the matter. It is as though the Quebec Act of 1774 had left a permanent imprint. However, when I was a student, Catholic schools outside Quebec were private schools.

When it entered Confederation, Quebec (Canada East) also kept its Code civil. In fact, if approved, Confederation would be an advantage for Quebec because it would rescind the Act of Union of 1841 that united Upper Canada (up the Saint-Lawrence River) and Lower Canada (down the Saint-Lawrence River).

“Maîtres chez nous”

“Maîtres chez nous” (masters in our own home)
the Language Laws
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day riot (1968)
the Parent Commission (education in Quebec)

During the not-so-quiet Quiet Revolution in Quebec, Quebecers were rebuilding their society and reorganizing their education system. The Parent Commission, named after its Président, Mgr Alphonse-Marie Parent, was established on 21 April 1961. Its mission, restructuring the education system in Quebec, and the passage of language laws in the 1970s, Quebec are separate issues. The video clips shown below are very revealing. It is stated quite clearly that education would be free. If students now go on strike, encourage civil disobedience, intimidate classmates and want to unionize, we can trace that behaviour back to earlier events.

Parent Commission:


But the “maîtres chez nous” ideology was soon expressed by the Front de libération du Québec. We have already discussed the October Crisis of 1970 and the bombs. It was quite ugly. I have a good friend who saw separatist leader Pierre Bourgault ask thugs to start or join a riot during the 1968 Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade in Montreal. My friend was standing a few feet away. Pierre Trudeau, the main guest, was sitting on a platform of honour but he refused to be led away by his bodyguard. Ironically, Pierre Bourgault is credited for creating Quebec’s National Day.

24 June 1968 Saint-Jean-Baptiste Riot

Multiculturalism: a “descriptive ” term

Yet official multiculturalism did happen. As we will see, it was enacted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1988. However, Canada’s two official languages are English and French. No other language is an official language. In fact, official multiculturalism has been viewed as formal recognition on the part of Canada’s Federal Government that the people of Canada originate from approximately 200 countries (See Multiculturalism in Canada, Wikipedia). As such, it is mostly “descriptive.”

At this point in history, the majority of Canadians are no longer of French and British origin. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced in the early 1970s that Canada would adopt a multicultural policy. Multiculturalism was recognized in Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982). But, interestingly, New Zealand born and educated Peter Hogg, CC QC FRSC, Canada’s foremost authority on Canadian constitutional law,

“observed that this section did not actually contain a right; namely, it did not say that Canadians have a right to multiculturalism. The section was instead meant to guide the interpretation of the Charter to respect Canada’s multiculturalism. Hogg also remarked that it was difficult to see how this could have a large impact on the reading of the Charter, and thus section 27 could be more of a rhetorical flourish than an operative provision.’” (section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Wikipedia.)

Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage. Multiculturalism was enacted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and received royal assent on 21 July 1988. (See Multiculturalism, Wikipedia.) Quebec has not adopted multiculturalism. Its policy is interculturalism and it is an “operative provision.”

A Clarification of Terms: Canadian Multiculturalism and Quebec Interculturalism

I rather like Martha Nussbaum definition of interculturalism. She states that it involves “the recognition of common human needs across cultures and of dissonance and critical dialogue within cultures,” (Cultivating Humanity). We may differ in certain ways, but we are nevertheless all the same. Common affinities link humans to other humans. It is also very difficult not to rush to help another human being in distress. The manner in which we all became Charlie is an expression of commonality among human beings. Look at the Nepal tragedy. Kind souls have travelled long distances to help victims.

It would be my opinion that multiculturalism is a very short distance away from interculturalism. One cannot simply stand next to another human being. Canadian multiculturalism has been compared to a mosaic. At first sight, it may be. But Quebec does not want a mosaic. It wants an intercultural French-speaking society.


In short, I doubt very much that bilingualism and biculturalism were the goals pursued by Quebec’s Révolution tranquille “nationalists.” That was happening mostly outside Quebec and may not have been perceived as protection of the French language by Quebecers. Their objective was to protect their own language, an objective akin to the goals of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

Consequently, in the 1960s and 1970s, Québécois were not good candidates for biculturalism or multiculturalism, a federal project. They wanted to be “maîtres chez eux,” masters in their own home. But the declining birthrate that began in the 1960s motivated Québécois to integrate immigrants, who had to learn Quebec’s official language, French, which was interculturalism.

However, failure to learn English is not an option in this world. It could be that Québécois are too afraid of losing their language. Yet knowing English and other languages can improve one’s self-image and definitely benefits the human mind, not to mention, ironically, knowledge of one’s mother tongue.

Besides, in 1969, while Québécois were restructuring their education system, Canada did pass its Official Languages Act, reaffirmed by the 1988 Official Languages Act, which protects the French language and cannot possibly harm Quebec.

Please accept my best regards. 

  1. Front de Libération du Québec (“Separatism”)
  2. October Crisis of 1970
  3. Official Language Act of 1974 (Bill 22) 
  4. Charter of the French Language of 1977 (Bill 101)
  5. Canada Act of 1982 (the current Constitution)

Queen Elizabeth signing the Canada Act, Ottawa 1982 (Photo credit: Google Images)

Sources and Resources 

Royal Proclamation of 1763 (Aboriginal Rights, Article 35 of the Canada Act, 1982)
Official Languages Act (Canada; 1969, Canadian Encyclopedia)
Official Languages Act (Canada; 1988, Canadian Encyclopedia)
Official Languages Act, Government of Canada
Multiculturalism (Canadian Encyclopedia)
Interculturalism (The Globe and Mail)
A Clarification of Terms: Canadian Multiculturalism and Quebec Interculturalism
The Constitution Act (Canada; 1982, Canadian Encyclopedia)
The Constitution Acts, Government of Canada
The Canada Act PDF, Canada; 1982:


Pierre Trudeau on Quebec


Pierre Trudeau sketch

© Micheline Walker
1 May 2015